“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.” Psalm 51:10-11
We read Psalm 51 on Ash Wednesday each year as we begin our spiritual journey of 40 days with Christ moving toward the cross for our sins. This Psalm restates for us the nature of the loving, and forgiving God to whom we pray, as well as our need to seek God for our cleansing from sin. This God is filled with steadfast love and abundant mercy, a God who is eternally “for us” with the endless love of a mother for her child. Asking for God to give us a clean heart and a right spirit is the beginning of being right with God. It is also the beginning of being right with our neighbor, and treating them with a concern for their feelings, thoughts, and understandings.
Unfortunately we have a habit of believing too readily in our own competence, our own brains, our own plans or instincts, to the exclusion and omission of the competence, brains, needs and plans of those who may think differently than do we. The inability of governments to agree on much of anything is a direct result of a lack of consideration. The belief that any idea that is not mine might have any possible merit sometimes never enters our minds. It can also relate to something very simple we do without thinking that we may hurt another. Sometimes we make decisions for others with good intentions which demonstrates how we typically think that we know what is right, or what is needed.
I recall when I was babysitting my nephews one Saturday morning several years ago. Paul, age three, came in the kitchen and asked me for a banana. Knowing how small children often take one or two bites of something and put it down, I peeled the banana and cut it in half, and offered him half a banana. He began to cry unmercifully as if his heart was broken. He said, “Put it back together.” Well, that option was not really possible, so I just reached for another banana from the fruit bowl, partially peeled it and gave it to him whole. He smiled at me through his tears and took the banana and went back into the den to watch cartoons with his cousins.
It was a small thing but it reminded me of how we assume that we always know what is right, or how to fix things for others. It reminded me of how we daily need our hearts to be cleansed with God’s right spirit put into us anew, so we know how to treat others, and can see things as others see them. I was completely out of touch with a three year-old boy’s need to hold a banana, with the skin in-tact as he enjoyed peeling it and eating it like he had watched the monkeys do on the nature film he was watching on TV.
- Can you remember a time when you made a decision about something that was not at all what those who were affected by your decision felt should be done?
- Can you identify with the need for God to cleanse your heart and put a right spirit within you?
- Can you think of times when all you could do was rely on the grace promised to you — grace that may have let you ‘begin again’ by ‘blotting out’ your sin or by repairing your brokenness?
Rev. Sue Beall -National Lutheran Secretariat Spiritual Director