In my files, I keep an email sent to me about a month ago from a person who has become my devil’s advocate, doubting my worth as a human being, doubting my capacity of doing good things. Sometimes, as I work out my various self-inflicted problems and make right the sins that I have committed because of them, I pull out the email to remind myself not to be complacent, not to take the world for granted.
I don’t know if he knows just how effectively corrosive his self-righteous words were, in burrowing deep into my heart like a flagellant’s barbed wire and stabbing me as a reminder of my sins: “Spare us your false contrition and appeals for pity” and “you should give Daniel up for adoption and spare him the misery of having the kind of motherhood you’ll provide under your current trajectory.”
The Hubby, in seeing these words, wrathfully declared a month ago, “Two wrongs do not make a right.” For he could see that I was asking for mercy but only received cold judgment instead, from a person who neither really knew him nor me. But, as I’ve posted earlier about the Enchiridion, these words do not seem wrong to him, my devil’s advocate: “Setting out, then, from these principles, you will meekly bear with a person who reviles you; for you will say upon every occasion, ‘It seemed so to him.'” I believe, in his own way, that he was not trying to be malicious (although the words he used were poisonous, intended as a ward against me). And what I want to say to him, but have been barred to do so, either in email or face-to-face, is this: “Thank you.”
Thank you for giving me something to strive against. Thank you for reminding me that the world of man is *not* always a loving, open place. Thank you for instilling a fear in me that I can work to remove, in order to make Daniel’s world a better place, to make for Daniel a better mother. Thank you for being my devil’s advocate, for testing me.
My first response is, of course, to shut down — to close up my heart, to throw up the walls. But I’m reminded of C.S. Lewis’ words on love:
Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.
So I must not shut down, must not close up, but be open. My greatest sin, I have come to realize, is that I have not been more open in my heart — not been more open to being broken, penetrated, and therefore redeemed. I have abused “Need to Know” in regards to people I care about deeply — which is ironic, since in the past, I have blogged about just how much I hate Need to Know.
And so, I have blogged these past few weeks, my heart wide open — raw and beating and, although my devil’s advocate disbelieves me, sincere: “The sheer unmitigated cruelty of your blog postings have been filling me with dismay; I shudder to think how you treat the man behind closed doors” he writes. But what my devil’s advocate cannot fathom is that I was not being cruel — I was being raw. In the past, I have blogged just as raw about various personal things in my life over the years: my childhood trauma, my accidentally physically hurting a close friend, my bouts of depression, and so on. My main fault, if anything, is my need to be open about them, to work out the troubles in my mind, spirit, and body, in a space as public as a blog. But the irony is, in order for me to make things right, I must be even *more* open, for how else can my heart be redeemed?
What my devil’s advocate perhaps disbelieves is that I, bad deeds as I’ve done, am not a bad person. At least, I hope and pray that I am not. What my devil’s advocate places before me is the denial of redemption. And from him, perhaps there is none. I don’t know, for I have respected his desire to keep him “off limits” — to respect his desire to keep away, to spare his psychological safety and peace.
But I thank him, for he has reminded me that the true source for redemption, for salvation from my sins, is not any man, but God. And so, because of my devil’s advocate, I have cleaved closer to God than I have done so in quite awhile, and I pray for the grace to endure what I must endure, to accept what I must accept, to love what I must love. In Him, I pray not to fear. Through Him, I can be a better sister, a better daughter, a better mom, a better wife, a better friend: a better person.
Dante and Flannery O’Connor were right — only by going through hell, can we truly be prepared for grace. In receiving the flesh-flaying, soul-stripping words of my devil’s advocate, could I truly be prepared for the Confessional and the mercy found therein.
As my sister Wen has said a couple of weeks ago, “Everything has a reason, everything has a purpose.” I see now that my devil’s advocate is part of my preparation — my preparation for Daniel and my new life in it. And that is why I keep his words, close to my heart.