We all want to believe that our lives are mostly propelled by good - that the fuel that motivates our actions and decisions is ultimately beautiful and wholesome. We know the power of positive thinking. We are familiar with Philippians 4:8
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
And so, we recoil from the idea of meditating too much on our own failures - our own ugliness. We convince ourselves that this couldn't possibly be a healthy practice, that we must focus on the positive and the holy, in order to be holy.
James 4, however gives us a glimpse into a healthy attitude of searching our own hearts. James provides a call to sober connection with our faults and failures - an exposure of the wounds of our own sinfulness. I have been struck lately by James 4:8-10
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
How do I integrate this into the regular cleansing routines of my life? Just as my body, my hair, and my clothes need regular cleaning, so my soul requires that necessary attention. And just as I learned, in my early years, to take responsibility for the cleanliness and health of my person, so must I learn to care for my mind and soul. Sometimes a meditation on what is not lovely is exactly what I need. But routine and self-discipline will be necessary, for it does not come naturally to face my failures and sins. It is not appealing or exciting to gaze on the ways I have been selfish and greedy. Just as it is not glamorous or stimulating to scrub away the dead skin that has accumulated on the bottoms of my feet. But it is done for the benefit that comes after. No one can deny the glorious feeling of crawling into a freshly made bed with smooth, clean feet. This is the motivation of self-examination for sin. It is the blessing of what comes after - that precious closeness with God when I know I have hidden nothing from Him or myself. Only what is exposed and acknowledged can be cleansed. And such a cleansing! He is a most gentle and fragrant soul-cleanser.
God has given me many, many good gifts. One of the most powerful is the understanding that He is good. This confidence creates a safe place for me to expose my weakness. I bring my shame and, instead of punishment or condemnation, I receive healing, cleansing. I have found that the only cure for shame is exposure to a safe source (with thanks to Brene Brown.) It is true that we must expose shame to heal it. To hide or ignore shame is to give it free reign in our lives. It will indeed cripple us. But to expose shame makes us very vulnerable. Only someone who loves and respects us can facilitate diffusing our shame. That's the best description of God I know.
I hope to integrate the practice of soul-scrutiny into my regular self-care routines. Have a shower. Have a time of confession and grief. Brush my teeth. Have an honest moment of self-examination. Fold some laundry. Examine my heart for ugliness hiding in the folds of the lovely and good.