Though I was raised as a hard-core pessimist I have, over time, come to a different point of view. You might call it “moderate cynicism.” This view is expressed well by Jesus in this Sunday’s Gospel passage when he tells his disciples: “For human beings [salvation] is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God” (Mark 10:27).
The fact is that we are weak and prone to make poor choices, often the same ones repeatedly. We get into patterns of behavior and we stick to them even if they are detrimental. Call it neural conditioning, habit, addiction, vice, whatever. We don’t just ‘up and change.’ I’m never surprised at that. Saddened sometimes, but not surprised.
Like the rich young man in today’s Gospel, it is nearly humanly impossible for us to simply lay down those things that hold us back from becoming the person God created us to be and embrace our true worth. They are too familiar...to close to us. Like the rich young man’s possessions, they become part of our identity. Whether it is an unhealthy life situation, a detrimental relationship or an addiction, we have a tendency to incorporate those things into our image of ourselves. We simply can’t imagine life without them.
Yet there is hope. It may take divine intervention, but change for the better can occur. People can get out of their ruts and into new life, but it takes grace...and faith. We have to believe that we are worth more than the nonsense that we have been accepting. We have to take God at his word that we really are beloved sons and daughters: accept that we have been selling ourselves short, sometimes for decades.
This is repentance...and it is an often slow and painful process. Of course, there is sometimes an ‘a-ha moment’—a moment of conversion where we begin to see things in a radically different way. Usually, though, that moment is preceded by a lot of other painful moments where, like the rich young man, we realize that we want more and ask “what must I do...?” but then walk away from the answer because we feel that we aren’t good enough or strong enough to make a change.
It is a painful process to live through and a painful process to watch others go through. It is especially hard when you see people that you love struggling under burdens that they could put down—but won’t. It is heart-wrenching to see someone settle for brokenness and misery when you can clearly see that they are worth so much more. They have to see it themselves, though.
For us “moderate cynics,” there is no shock or surprise when, like the rich young man, the people that we love hang their heads and walk back to their old patterns. Yet we don’t give up hope. We pray, and keep praying. Like Jesus we continue to ‘look at them with love’ and hold out our offer of help until the day they are willing to take us up on it.
Sometimes they do. When that happens, you know it is a miracle.