Sgt. Steven Rogers of New Jersey is an honest cop. One day he spotted a woman struggling with some packages. He pulled over to the side of the street, parked his car, and went to help her. Then forgetting about his car, he went to a nearby diner for lunch.
While there he was notified by a dispatcher that someone had reported his car was illegally parked. Rogers promptly went outside, moved his car, and wrote himself a parking ticket. Later he said jokingly, “I was thinking about pleading not guilty, but I would have had to cross-examine myself in court.” Then he added more seriously, “I gave myself the ticket because my integrity means a lot to me.”
It is sometimes easy for us to “give tickets” to other people, that is, to criticize and judge them for what they do. We think or say things like: “She’s so bossy… he’s a real pain… they’re both so selfish.” But what about ourselves? Are we completely free of the failings we note in others? Do we ever stop and write ourselves a ticket? Every time we say “I’m sorry” or apologize to someone, we’re giving ourselves a ticket. Going to Confession is another way of giving ourselves a ticket too. What kind of ticket? Maybe a ticket for being crabby, for assuming the worst in people, for belittling someone, for being selfish, for being ungrateful, for being judgmental.
But there are also times that we should give ourselves an ice cream cone…
A number of years ago, I was driving alone on my way home from a meeting in Cleveland. It was a sweltering day and I had no air conditioning in the car. I was wearing the full black habit, so I was very hot and sweaty. I found myself thinking, “Now, if I had someone in the car, I’d stop and treat her to an ice cream cone.” It was a passing thought, nothing more. I kept on driving—and sweating.
Later, as I reflected on my day, that thought came back to me: “If I had someone in the car…someone in the car…” I suddenly realized, I did have someone in the car: myself! Why, in heaven’s name, didn’t I stop and treat myself to an ice cream cone? After all, I’m someone! But, at that time, the thought never occurred to me. The incident spoke volumes to me about my lack of self-care and even self-esteem during that particular time in my life. I was busy doing all kinds of favors for others, but none whatsoever for myself.
The spiritual life is all about balance, isn’t it? We balance these two aspects of ourselves: we are sinners and we are saints. We are capable of doing evil and doing good. During Lent we tend to focus on our sinfulness. And that’s important. But at the same time we must never lose sight of our goodness. We are sons and daughters of a God who made us and loves us more than we can imagine. And, what’s more, we can partner with this God and with others to bring about a better world.
This week, if the opportunity presents itself, write yourself a ticket. At the same time, don’t forget to give yourself an ice cream cone!
(This reflection was adapted from my book, Rummaging for God.)
Sometimes we work so hard in our prayer and in our everyday life, we become exhausted. This song by “Casting Crowns” reminds us that sometimes God calls us to “let go…and just be held.” May we hear God saying these words to us today:
Do you ever give yourself a ticket? Do you ever give yourself an ice cream cone?
What are some ways you keep mindful of your sinfulness and your goodness?
Do any words in this reflection or this song speak to you today?
PS: This Saturday, March 5, I’m leading a retreat day for the Associates of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Erie, PA. I ask your prayers for this prayerful event. Thank you!