I hadn't intended to work my way through the Collect for Lent in this blog, but it seems that I am - so carry on I shall.
I was trying to explain to two Year 4 classes why Christians 'do' Lent. I told them about reflecting on the events that follow on from Lent, that by giving things up we give ourselves space to think about God. I said that some Christians like to take on new things like helping other people, doing some good deeds maybe. They coped with all that very well.
Then I said that Lent was a good time for us to think how we have sinned and how we might like to change and be a little better. A lad asked if it was my job to tell people that they have been naughty. I said no. He asked if someone else told Christians that they had been naughty. I said no, no really. He then asked why Christians thought they had been naughty when no-one had told them. I said that because we know we are not perfect that we kinda just know. He then asked if that is why Christians are always sad-looking. Game set and match the lad. I was lost for a quick-fix answer!
The thing about being a Christian is that we are in constant danger of getting the focus wrong. Many of us seem driven to place our sins in the middle of the canvass that is our lives rather than the goodness and love of God. I think that that is because we can more easily believe that we're 'but worms', rather than believe that God loves us. One is innate, the other acquired. I don't believe that we worthily lament our sins. I think that we tend towards obsessively grieving them.
So what is worthy lamentation, Mr Curate? - I hear you yell with one voice.
Worthy - useful, of value, virtuous
Lament - to express grief, mourn, to regret
In short, we are called to attend to our sinfulness and our sins with valuable regret, with virtuous mourning - not obsessively. In other words, we take note, we regret, we mourn and we learn; we learn, we express sorrow, we seek forgiveness and we move on. This takes inestimable courage. Most of us are given two arms, two hands and one heart. As I say to my kids, there is only so much I can do at once, and so it is for us. If we are laden with our obsessive griefs, we will never have the capacity to embrace the love and hope that underpins any and all forgiveness.
I think there is merit in assessing the value of self-reproach that never wains. Many (if not all) of us have those things in our hearts that we labour with after years and years. Such energy and dedication is required to carry such a load when in the end we are called, as Jesus followers, to lay them at the foot of the Cross and accept the gift that was once hanging upon it. I might even go so far as to say that endlessly burdening ourselves with our past sins, especially after receiving absolution, is a sin itself - a sin of ingratitude and wasted time and energy. At worst, it may even err towards a sin of vanity.