Last week I reflected on kindness, and as I move to my reflection on goodness, I need to identify how they are different. Both are inner qualities, a part of our character and personality; but both are also woven into our relationships. Is kindness balanced more towards the outward relationships and goodness more toward the inner landscape?
Christians are told that when we allow the Holy Spirit to enter into us, we will be filled with goodness. What does it feel like to be filled with goodness? As with many of life’s riddles and complexities, I find if I turn the question around, search for understanding from another perspective, I gain clarity.
I can definitely tell when I’m not filled with goodness. I feel edgy-mean inside, like there are dark grey storm clouds rolling around. This edginess is hard to contain, spilling out in very subtle ways, with a dull sharpness. I can wound people while laughing. My introversion becomes a cold shoulder or neglect or crossing the street to avoid speaking.
As I move around those parts of my mind where goodness is absent, I discover memories of shame. Does the lack of goodness come from shame? In my distant past I carried some heavy burdens of shame, formed when I was too young to realize that acts committed against me didn’t make me ugly. But shame is very controlling and doesn’t like being exposed. It is so much easier to live our controlled, hidden lives that keeps others at a distance than to risk having them see our ugliness, our brokenness, our shame.
Christian doctrine tells me that Jesus died so I don’t have to carry shame. But knowing this in my head doesn’t always help my emotional understanding. The paradox is that it was people who looked into my eyes, who didn’t care what they saw, who only wanted to love me… they were the ones who taught me how to face my shame and love myself. I didn’t want these people to see the damaged me, but they were the ones who taught me that forgiveness is possible, both of self and others. They helped me shed the cloak of shame. It was only as the shame dissipated and I was able to hold my head high that I began to feel goodness warm my soul. Before that I had to pretend goodness, hold a mask of goodness over the cloak of shame. Real goodness is light and almost effortless.
Hear no Evil:
I enjoy this real goodness that resides within me, but I have to guard and protect it so it doesn’t become tainted. I have to be careful of what I listen to. If I listen to hatred I become sour; I begin to hate the spewers of hate; I become like them. Hearing beauty restores my sense of goodness – the sounds of birds and waves, of laughter and truth, of lilting music and prose. I experience goodness when I hear passionate words spoken from truth and with hope, when I hear tears shed as a shared ceremony of healing.
Speak no Evil:
I must also guard against speaking evil. Goodness cannot thrive when I lead others down false paths with words of deception, when my words bring shame or loss of hope. Sometimes we see truth and the truth isn’t pretty, is even ugly, and we have to speak out. Speaking truth can be softened, however, with love and caring, making it easier for others to hear these truths. I spend my time with people who seek goodness and try to speak truths. J is a good man, and he frequently calls me out when my speaking is evil. I trust him, I listen and appreciate his way of hushing my destructive voice and keeping evil from creeping into our lives.
See no Evil:
How can I see no evil when there is evil around me? When do I stick my head in the sand and when do I look into the eyes of evil? Do I need to protect myself from seeing evil so my goodness can flourish? I was a therapist in another lifetime so I saw a lot of evil that resulted in human suffering. I chose to see this, but refuse to see movies that are brutal. I know how to respond to human suffering without letting it pull me down; I don’t know how to watch movie brutality without feeling brutal. I need to see evil that is close to home, but become overwhelmed when I see too much evil that is too far away. When I see too much evil, I begin to shut down to protect myself from the pain of helpless. I am thankful for my capacity to not see more than I am able to cope with, but sometimes not seeing erodes the goodness within me. I need to see and name evil when I have the capacity to speak against it, to heal it. It seems like my criterion for what I allow myself to see is if, through seeing, I find some redemptive goodness and hope.
My wish for you, on this Good Friday, is that you continue on your journey to goodness. It is a personal journey that takes courage, the courage to face your private demons that block the way. It takes time, energy and thought, and a willingness to expose the secrets hidden under layers of false beliefs. It requires a trust in God and a few good people who can hold your hand along the way. And I hope you will take hold of someone else’s hand, someone who needs you, so they can find their own spirit of goodness by experiencing your goodness.