This reflection is offered as part of a series on the Year of Mercy hosted by my friend and writing colleague, Becky Eldredge. I have to admit, this was a tough one! I would love to spend more time teasing out the image of “the sting of soapy water and a rough wash cloth” as an analogy for Admonishing the Sinner. For now, this short blog entry will suffice. My gratitude to Becky, my childhood friend (Tina), spiritual guides (Al G., Fr. Jason and others) – and my mom! for their inspiration.
Growing up on a farm, my best friend and I had a well-worn path on the gravel road between her house and mine. A long hill separated the mailboxes that marked our driveways. More than a few times, I remember toppling down the hill on my bicycle in a hurry to get to her house. Holding back tears, I would wipe away the dirt and keep on going. It was only when I arrived back home a few hours later that my mom would take one look at my skinned knees, and in her most loving yet insistent “mom voice” would beckon me over to the kitchen sink. “Get over here right now and let me wash you off! Don’t you know that you’re asking for an infection!”
Oh, how I resisted water and wash cloth rubbed against raw skin! The sting of soapy water was even more painful than the original fall. I would cry and cringe and pull away – all the while, my mom insisting, “This will only hurt a little bit! We have to get the dirt out.” Moms are usually right about these things. It stung like crazy, but within a few minutes she would be blowing cool air onto moist clean skin and sending me off with a stack of band-aids.
The Truth of Soapy Water and a Washcloth
I don’t exactly remember how my spiritual director and I got into this difficult conversation. All I know is that it ended poorly – or better yet, messy – which is, in God’s eyes, another way of saying sacred and profound.
I’m sure that I was re-hashing the details of a stressful week. At one point, he asked me if I had brought my concerns to God in prayer, and I quickly dismissed his question as unimportant – or, at least, less important than my busy week at work.
Call it what you will – pride, ego, sin. I had once again found my way onto the slippery slope of self-importance, and my spiritual director did not hesitate to point this out to me. As I listened to him echo back to me the various ways I was resisting God’s presence, I could feel the sting of shame wash over me. We sat in silence for a long time, as I held back tears, confusion swirling in my mind. How did I get here, again? In my propensity to do everything (and do it all perfectly), I often forget that “God is God, and I’m not.”
I can always count on my spiritual director to be kind. But his words stung and the truth hurt – like soapy water and a rough wash cloth.