A Quiet Reflection on Verses from Psalm 51(50)
Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
In the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt
And of my sin cleanse me.
For I acknowledge my offense,
And my sin is before me always:
“Against you only have I sinned,
And done what is evil in you sight.”
For you are not pleased with sacrifices;
Should I offer a burnt offering, you would not accept it.
My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit;
A heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.
This is one of my favorite psalms. It gets at the heart of our existence. It looks at the reality of our lives, but it does not leave us wallowing in our tears, or sinking in depression; rather, it fills us with the hope of compassion and forgiveness.
The psalmist is showing us more here too. The most important element of this beautiful prayer to me is the honest self-reflection modeled by the writer. Self-reflection is a skill that we must develop. Everything in our culture seems to militate against it though. The busy-ness of our lives, the demands of work, parenting, school, and the seemingly endless desires to be entertained, seem to swallow all of our time. At the end of the day, we collapse into our beds, exhausted, eager to escape into the oblivion of sleep.
If we want a healthy inner life, if we want to grow in our spiritual lives, if we want to develop a mature moral character, we need to develop the habit of conscious self-reflection.
How do we do this? First of all we need to plan time into our days for solitude and silence. We plan everything else, don’t we. Our personal calendars fill up fast with meetings, social events, family responsibilities, and so much else, but we never set aside a regular period of time to be alone with God. This solitude and silence is necessary for our psychological, our physical and, most importantly, our spiritual health.
We are surrounded by noise and motion all day. From the first buzz, chime, or music of our alarm clocks, to the traffic jam on the way to work, to the whir of machines, or the hum of voices, TV, smart phones, or radios, our days are filled with noise. In C.S. Lewis’ “Screwtape Letters” he has the senior devil, Screwtape advising the apprentice tempter, Wormwoood, to fill his ‘patient’s’ day with noise. Never let him have, or enjoy either silence, or beautiful music. “We want to fill the entire universe with noise.” Why does the tempter want this? Because in silence the whisper of God in our hearts, minds and souls can he heard. In silence we can be rid of all external distractions and we can focus entirely on the stirrings of our deepest souls.
Distractions are troubling in at least two ways. First, many of them are the very things that cause us to sin, that take our eyes off of the eternal things, the things that give grace to our souls and our lives. These distractions focus on temporary pleasures, that often prove to be unsatisfying in the end. Second, they can become habits of their own, means through which we attempt to excuse ourselves from our failures to meet the demands of personal responsibility. As a result, we are often filled with the very opposite of our desires. We are filled with anxieties, fears, angers, and even despair, rather than the happiness that is our natural desire.
Self-reflection is our best survival skill. If we develop the habit of taking ourselves apart each day, into the silence, we will, of course, become aware of our failings and we will see them for what they truly are, and their danger to our souls. But we will also become more aware of our need for God’s forgiveness and the grace to “Go and sin no more.” We will become more aware of God’s goodness and love in relation to the shallowness of the world.
In our developing relationship with God through our conscious commitment to listen to his voice in the silence of our hearts, in the purposeful quiet of solitude and silence, we will more readily and healthfully develop a “contrite spirit; a heart contrite and humble.” Though we will know our failings more clearly, we will also know the inner joy that the psalmist expresses in this powerful prayer-poem. When our spirits and our hearts are shaped and energized by humble contrition, we will come to know God’s limitless compassion for us, and we will desire to share this knowledge with others.
It is a humble and contrite spirit that God wants of us, not some material, finite sacrifice that can be accomplished in a few moments, then be forgotten until the next time one feels the pressure of guilt. He does not want this contrition for Himself, but for us. He knows that when we finally develop this attitude of humble contrition, we will begin to know the true happiness that our hearts desire. It will be the driving force behind our growing desire to serve our brothers and sisters, like Jesus, out of an attitude of true compassion. In this honest self-reflection in solitude and silence we will come to know that God will never “spurn” us. We will recognize that He is not interested in our sins, but in our love. He has no desire to punish us, but every desire to love us. It is OUR attitude then, that becomes the key here. We can not form this attitude of a contrite and humble spirit if we are always lost in the maelstrom of noise and busy-ness.
Go to Him, then, every day. Make it a daily date. After all, a healthy and honest relationship saves everything.