by Michael Maciel
If sin is “missing the mark,” then we have to ask, what are we aiming at?
You may have heard the adage, “I reached the top of the ladder of success only to discover that it was leaning against the wrong wall.” Also, “No one on their deathbed wishes they had spent more time at the office.” A sinful life doesn’t necessarily mean a life of debauchery. It could also mean being unfaithful to our heart’s desire, to our calling, or even ignoring the still, small voice within. How true are you to YOU?
If our sense of God is one of a strict and judgmental father, then repentance feels like avoiding punishment through shame and self-hatred, but if God is a loving, nurturing Mother (or Father) then repentance feels more like turning away from bad choices and rededicating ourselves to what the angel in the Book of Revelation calls “your first love.”
What worldly concerns have replaced our heart’s desire? Isn’t that the worst kind of betrayal? What has our soul come here to do, to learn, to contribute, or to share? What unique role are we here to play? What would the world be missing if we as unique individuals weren’t here? These are virtuous questions.
Perhaps the worst way to miss the mark is to not aim at anything at all, to just simply give up. That’s when we sink into despair. That’s when we say to ourselves, why even try? What’s the use? Or, I just want to die. What could be more sinful than that?
Well, actually, a lot. Sometimes, our despair can turn into resentment. We can start to hate God for creating such a pointless and painful world. And if our hatred becomes strong enough, it can turn into a pathological desire for revenge. Like Cain, who killed his brother Abel because God favored him more than him, we begin to hate anyone who is more fortunate than we are.
We might even internalize our hatred and start to hate everything good in ourselves. We become cynical. We start to regard our own feelings of kindness and compassion as evidence that we are weak and pathetic. We might even decide to turn that self-hatred out onto the world and find perverse comfort in harming others. Once we start down that path, hell starts to feel like home, and we can’t get there fast enough. And if we can take others with us, so much the better.
The best thing about having good aim is that we will eventually hit our target. But life doesn’t end there. Each accomplishment opens new doors of opportunity. Having climbed the top of our hill, our horizons suddenly expand. We not only see farther, we also see where we have been. And that can inform our future choices. That’s how we grow.
We might also, having gotten what we wanted, realize that it’s not all that we hoped it would be. A course-correction might be in order. But that’s good too, right? Isn’t that the way it usually happens? Our efforts make us stronger and more mature, so our goals in life naturally evolve as we evolve. What we thought was the top of the mountain now proves to be just one step towards a loftier peak. How exciting! What new adventures lie ahead? Having accomplished one goal, we can’t wait to try for another. Success breeds success. Life begets more life. The strong get stronger. Our cup runneth over.
Missing the mark isn’t so bad, as long as we keep shooting. In fact, not missing the mark might just mean that our target is too close, too easy, and too tepid. And souls aren’t usually tepid. Our soul is that part of us that is always face-to-face with God, and God is a consuming fire. So when we are in touch with our soul, our hearts are inflamed. And like actual fire, our lives are in a constant state of change. Everything we touch is affected by the heat. People are either drawn to us or they run like hell. Few are lukewarm.
So, it’s important that we kindle that fire. It’s important that we be true to our “first love,” our soul’s longing to blaze towards the heavens. It’s not what we want to do, it’s what we have to do. That’s what matters. And it’s the “have to” part that sometimes makes our lives uncomfortable. When it comes to soul work, there will always be pain. Fire burns. But it also forges. It purifies. It enlivens. It opens the way. If we resist it, we will always be running from it, but when we accept it into our hearts, it lights the way ahead. It’s better to run towards something good than to run away from something bad. But hey, most of us need a little of both, don’t we. That’s life. And given the inertia of this world, that’s a good thing.