Betty Duffy

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Beginning of Sin

My two year old is a grateful baby. When I pick him up, when I put him down, when I change his diaper or pour his milk, he always says, "Thank you, Mom," as though it's the nicest thing anyone has ever done for him. I realized this morning, how much it endears me to him--how much more I want to do for him because of his unassuming gratitude.

I love my other children no less, reared them in a similar fashion, but perhaps in confidence that their needs will be met, or maybe because age brings along with it a heightened concern with self--they often forget to be grateful. And as a result, or maybe it's the egg that came before the chicken, I dole out my works for them like a cafeteria line lady: "Here's your canned peaches, Kid. Fries cost extra--and if you ain't got it, don't ask. Next!"

And lo, though peaches are a perfectly adequate food, someone's not going to like them, because they're slimy, or one's got a brown spot on it, or they had their heart set on something else. And though no one's starving, no one's satisfied, and it makes me want to go in my room and shut the door. Impossible to please, they are.

It's something the kids, and I, never seem to grasp, that when you're ungracious, when you express dissatisfaction--it doesn't get you what you want. Complaining about brown peaches doesn't make me want to take them back and serve something else. I think, "Take it or leave it, but for the love of God, quit complaining." I'm still going to feed my kids, because I love them, but I might send them to bed without a story because they're annoying me.

I don't want to ascribe too many of my human feelings to God, but I wouldn't be a bit surprised if God has a similar reaction to our whining. When I can only find the trouble with my lot, I cut myself off from extra graces God wants to give me, extra graces that I need to live a good life.

Sin begins as ingratitude.

I don't like my food. All I get is the same old food. I'm going to look for better food somewhere else. Good-bye, Will of God. We go looking, looking, looking for something easier--but nothing satisfies--because essentially, we are ungrateful people. And if we are not satisfied with the gifts of God, we are not likely to remain satisfied for long with the life of our own choosing.

Lent is a time to pair away the things I've come to take for granted, so that I can appreciate the gifts I've received. It's a time to repair the damage done by my ingratitude, perhaps retrieve some of the graces I have rejected. Not in a Uriah Heep sort of way: "I'm so umble, Lord--don't I deserve a bit more?" But in a way that treats gratitude as it's own reward, to reclaim a sense of wonder at the goodness of God, at the kindness of other people, at the miracle of childhood, at the blessing of marriage.

My life has challenges, and it's work is hard on my body. But now is not the time to consider my cost. I've done that already. And the endless calculation of my output, and what I feel I'm owed is a drain on gratitude. It's the beginning of sin.


karyn said...

Whenever I read the Exodus story, I always think that, surely, I wouldn't have complained so much. I mean, really, they had a tower of flame traveling with them, and the sea parted for them, and manna just falling out the sky! But I know, of course, that I would be right there grumbling with the best of them. In all reality, I live in the closest thing to the Promised Land this side of Heaven and I still managed to moan everyday.

Calah said...

I really needed to hear this. I don't think, on my own, I would have made the connections you made here, but they are true nonetheless and I'm really grateful that you don't pull any punches.

Thank you. This is probably one of my favorite posts.

Margie said...

I've been mulling this over since you posted it, especially the phrase, "Sin begins as ingratitude." I'm not sure I have ever recognized that, although I'm aware of how little I like the practice of ingratitude in others. But with me, it's always justifiable - too much to do, too little help, yada yada yada. But even a thought along those lines is dangerous - it leads to all manner of selfish and sinful behavior.

And this post corresponds with the awakening to gratitude spawned by Anne Voskamp's new book. I haven't read it, but friends who have feel enormously convicted by it. Are you familiar with it?

BettyDuffy said...

Margie, I'm intrigued by Ann's book, especially since some sort of controversy broke out about the last chapter. If you get it, let me know what you think.