Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Stop Making Excuses

Third Sunday of Lent Year C

Yes, it’s true. I’ve finally gotten myself enrolled for a long overdue fitness training programme. I’ve been putting it off for a long time, often giving one or more of the following reasons: “I don’t have the time,” “I don’t have the money,” “I don’t have the stamina to endure the rigorous routine.” But at the insistence of some very good friends, I finally gave in and signed on. Having been on the programme for the last 3 weeks has taught me an important lesson: physical fitness has a lot to say about spiritual fitness. I’ve come to realise that as much as I need a personal fitness trainer to ensure that I keep on the programme (I swear that I would have quit after the first session without his help and motivation), my spiritual life equally requires someone else apart from myself to keep it on track. The reason is because we are masters of rationalisation – we are really good in making excuses, and most of the time we know they're lies. I’ve learnt from this whole experience that it is much easier negotiating with a terrorist than with your fitness trainer. I’ve exhausted my whole arsenal of excuses, ranging from bad weather to crams. At the end of the day, the fitness trainer never takes a ‘No’ for an answer. And I guess that’s my salvation.

Making excuses is nothing new. We are pretty good at it. Sometimes we make excuses to try to keep from hurting someone's feelings. Sometimes we make excuses to avoid responsibility for our actions. We make excuses for things we did wrong, times we failed, things we don't want to do, situations we don't want to be in.  You may be comforted to know that Moses was adept at this. Moses grew up as a prince in Egypt, but fled from Pharaoh after he had broken up a fight between a Hebrew and an Egyptian, and killed the Egyptian. Having been in exile in the desert for about 40 years, Moses was tending sheep near Horeb, when he saw a strange sight. Flames were rising from a bush, but the bush wasn’t burning up. As Moses approached the bush, he heard a voice calling his name. The voice revealed itself: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” God then proceeded to share His plan with Moses: He had heard the cries of His people about their oppression in Egyptian slavery. And He wanted Moses to join with Him in their deliverance. At this point, Moses began presenting a series of excuses, some of which may sound familiar to you.

First, Moses' response to his calling was to say, “Who am I”. You’ve heard it often enough. Expressed in today’s language, it’s simply stating what you believe to be a fact, “I’m not qualified.” Second, the “Who are you?” naturally follows the “Who am I”. Moses pleads lack of knowledge in that he did not even know God’s name and what to tell the Israelites. Moses’ third excuse to God was that he did not believe he had the power to fulfill the calling that God had told him to do. It’s the pessimist’s answer to every proposal, ‘Forget about it, it won’t work!’ The fourth excuse was that his speaking and leadership abilities were lacking. In other words, we lack the talent or gift to carry it out. But Moses’ final excuse to God betrayed his real intentions - he simply did not desire to fulfill his calling and lead the Israelites out of Egypt. So, there you have it, the classic list of excuses to turn down any invitation from God to serve:
“I’m a nobody.”
“I don’t know enough about God or my faith.”
“It won’t work.”
“I’m not gifted.”
And finally the classic, “Choose someone else.”

Just like Moses, many of us grew up making excuses. We make excuses when we don't want to obey or listen. We make excuses when we don't want to go where we do not wish to go. We make excuses when we don't want to do what is required of us. Over time, we even come to believe in them. I don’t go for confession because … I have no sin (yah, right!); my sins are too trivial; I don’t see the point of going for confession because I’m going to repeat the same sins again; I don’t understand why we need to confess to a priest when I can confess to God; I don’t know how to make a confession. And then there’s the classical litany of occasional or infrequent church goers: I don’t come to church, but there’s a good reason for it: I don’t have the time; I’m too tired; I pray at home; I want to spend quality time with the family over the weekends; I’ve got some important errands to run; I don’t understand what’s happening; the mass is boring; the church is too hot; I’m having a headache; my children don’t like to go to church so I have to keep them company; I angry with the priest; I don’t like the people. Bottom line is this: I don’t want to go to church because I don’t see it as something important. I have other priorities … Period.

Excuses are actually lies we tell ourselves to avoid dealing with unpleasant truths.  They are ultimately ways of avoiding responsibility, especially the responsibility for our sins. When we choose to stop making excuses, we then can begin to take steps to change. Accepting responsibility is the first step to repentance. The second reading and the gospel reminds us that we should take full responsibility for our actions and decisions. We cannot deflect the blame and push it to others, neither can we plead ignorance because there have been constant reminders and warnings in both the Scriptures as well as in our daily lives. Ignorance is just another excuse. A mature Christian is ultimately accountable for his life; he can’t blame fate, his past, his parents, his environment or even God for what he has freely chosen to become. We are not victims of our circumstances. It is true that we are not always in control of time, the information which is disseminated or even the resources available to us. But the problem is never about the lack of time; it’s more about the lack of will to make changes to our priorities. The problem is never about not knowing; it’s about choosing to be lazy or to work at learning. The problem is never about the lack of money; but rather about how we choose to spend our money. 

It appears to me that regardless of the excuses that man concocts for not doing the will of God, God always has an answer. God, just like a hardy fitness trainer, will not take ‘No’ for an answer. Here is the bottom line. If you have missed everything else, then get this: it’s not about you. It’s never about you or about your personal abilities. Moses’ excuses were based on his inadequacies and limitations. But the story isn’t about the merits of Moses but the providence of God. God matches Moses’ excuses with these answers – God will provide the strength, God will give the support, God will be present throughout each moment of our lives, God will teach and instruct us, God will make available the necessary resources. God will provide companions for the journey. When God has chosen you, he will provide you with the necessary grace and assistance to carry out his will. So, no piece of excuse will suffice to silence God. God will never give up on you. God will not take ‘No’ for an answer.

So don’t let excuses run your life because it would mean living a lie, and Satan is the Father of lies. Fr Peter once told me that we belong to the Adam’s family (not Addams, mind you). We are in the business of blaming others and making excuses for our own mistakes, just like our primordial parents. Spiritual growth means facing the truth; it means having the courage and the humility to admit our unwillingness, our laziness, our sinfulness, our lack of faith. Shoot down your excuses, face the bitter truth, and start taking the steps necessary to change in the direction you want to go. The Sacrament of Penance would be a good place to start. Stop making excuses, get with the programme!

1 comment:

  1. Profound wisdom. Absolute truth spot on! May the Lord continue to bless and keep you, Fr Michael


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