by Catherine Malotky

OH, GOD, IT WAS YOU WHO BROUGHT US OUT of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You are my source and my liberator. I need your law because being true to you is illusive and hard, a daily commitment, and a path I so easily reframe in my own image rather than yours.

You call me to honor you as the one, true God, but we humans seem to drift away from you toward so many other gods. We orient our lives toward enhancing our own status among others, toward accumulating all that we think we are entitled to, toward our own happiness too often at the expense of others, tward our own definitions of success. But bigger cars and full-up retirement accounts and lovely attire and the most favorable address will not bring me out of the house of slavery. In fact, these things may be the very things that do enslave me, that hide me from others who suffer so I might spend more. I am enslaved to a false image of the whole of your creation.

Or, my god may be my clarity about the rules you have offered for ordering our lives. Like the Pharisees of old, I may want it simple and clear, no nuance or complexity allowed when I am living as a “good” Christian. I can project my zealousness on others, too, and in doing so, enslave myself to a faulty belief about your mercy, that it is only earned by copious perfection. My idolatry can blind me to my own faults as I scan the failure of others, my hypocrisy and selective application evident to everyone but me.

Or it can cause me to fixate on my own errors and miss the wonder of your forgiving and creating power at work. It is no better to undervalue the beauty of my own self, created in your image, than it is to undervalue the beauty of another. If worthiness is only about perfection, or what our world defines as perfection, then how can anyone measure up?

This is the gift of your gaze, honoring instead all the idiosyncrasies and faults that make each of us who we are. Not that anything goes, I know. Your love invites us to a world where all deserve dignity, where there is enough for everyone, where our lives are sustained generation to generation, called from despair by your mercy, and called to do better by your justice. You will walk with us as we unravel the damage prior generations have left with us, just as someday, you will accompany our children and our children’s children as they heal from our shortsightedness. This is a mystery, God, that you love us into better health, even when it pains us, even when we are impatient.

Free us from idolizing work. Teach us to rest, and in resting, to see fully your grace and generosity among and around us. You have created us for this, to work and to rest. May we honor your wisdom by keeping Sabbath. Open our eyes to the ways we enslave ourselves and the ways we enslave others. You are our liberator. Show us your better way. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The Rev. Catherine Malotky is an ELCA pastor, retired from full-time paid work for the sake of dear relationships and interests.

This article appears in the January/February 2023 issue. To read more articles like it, subscribe to Gather.