Deep down you may still be that same great kid you used to be. But it’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you.” Whew, Rachel’s line wrecks me every time I watch “Batman Begins.” It challenges both my mind and my soul to make sense of my role in God’s story. But immediately, I begin to defend myself against this affront to my identity and this exhortation to action: “Am I really defined by what I do for others? Isn’t that salvation by my works? Isn’t that an overfocus on achieving? What about my unassailable identity? What about my rights and freedoms? What about all the stress I’m under? I do what is right. What about me?”
Then, I remember that too easily I seek to justify what I am doing in the present and make it about me. I think: “I am the same as I have always been. I am a good person! I have good intentions in all things. They know that! They’ll forgive me for being late to the meeting or class or for not having my work done. And look at the situation. COVID-19! My friends in quarantine! Ugly rifts in the American identity and body politic. People suffering. Restrictions on group activities here on campus. There are plenty of things to bring stress that could excuse my poor effort on this assignment, my attitude towards them or my bending the truth.”
“Oh no, he didn’t! I have all the reason in the world to lie about chapel, to shirk that assignment, to be apathetic about class or to not serve that person in love.” Really? Check yourself. I am not going to argue with you and say that these times aren’t hard, but be real. These aren’t the only hard times humans have lived through. These are the times that try your souls, as all times are. So, invite the Lord to try your soul. Let him test you and see if there is any way in you that is good and admirable or warped and in need of reshaping. He is a carpenter, you know.
Here is one suggestion for you and your close circle whom you live with, those whom you are accountable to: Pray by confessing to and exhorting one another. The ancient practice of examen is a way of God helping you remember the day, exhuming the good and ill that you have done, and letting God remind you of what you might have done better. It is a way of walking with the Lord because he has already promised to walk with us. And you can do it together.
So, though there are restrictions, though you cannot meet in groups larger than 10, though the news is discouraging, though sickness and injustice in the world is malignant — be strong, take heart, and wait for the Lord. Persevere. Think not of how you may be served or consoled, but of how you may serve and console. Ask not what others can do for you, but what you can do for others. Consider this following scene while dwelling in this present moment in this community. Let words and stories such as these inspire you to act rather than to spectate, to be rather than to seem.
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”