“What are your vices?” Now there’s a conversation starter.
Try asking your dinner guests to weigh in on that question or drop it into family reunion conversations. That’s exactly what happened to me recently with a small group of friends. I can’t remember how we got started on the subject, but it definitely was a turn away from normal chit-chat.
We teased each other about things like our consumption of certain substances and questionable entertainment choices. We debated what was a vice and what was simply a bad habit. We cheerfully volunteered our perspectives on each other’s vices.
One friend described me as being “preachy,” which caused me to wonder, “If a preacher preaches, is she preachy? How would a preacher preach without being preachy?” (You can sense, Gentle Reader, that I am still feeling a little sensitive to this particular critique. Perhaps the resolution lies in the degree to which the preacher is preaching in a judgmental, strident or self-righteous manner. Perhaps not.)
At any rate, when one friend offered, “I haven’t always stood up for the people that mattered most to me,” we heard honest vulnerability. A holy moment as one person bravely examined her heart and confessed a vice.
It’s Lent. Our vices—our sins—might occupy some of our focus during this season. “Vice,” by the way, means wickedness or moral defect. Its synonyms are strong words like “depravity,” “corruption” and “iniquity,” a word familiar to Bible readers. On Ash Wednesday, we may have heard these words from Psalm 51:2: “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.” The psalm is credited to King David, written after he acknowledged the vices of sexual wrongdoing and murder he had tried to hide. Hearing this verse at the beginning of Lent compels us to examine the secret places of our hearts, and bring to light the vices that lie there.
Similarly, on the first Sunday of Lent, churches using the lectionary always read the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. As we contemplate our humanity, with its vices and virtues, it is helpful to remember Jesus’ humanity, the temptations he faced and his response to such temptations.
Jesus answered the tempter with sharp, clear principles, direct quotes from Deuteronomy. One does not live by bread alone. Worship and serve only God. Do not put God to the test. With such resistance, Jesus affirmed his unity and oneness with God, rooted in his deep understanding of God’s word.
Our resistance to temptation, our capacity to avoid giving into vice, is strengthened by our rootedness in God, and by our intimate connection with God’s word, keeping it “in our hearts and on our lips.” We know that word through Scripture; through Jesus, the word-made-flesh; and through the living word moving among us today.
There is good news to be gleaned in examining our vices. When David cried out for God to wash him from sin, and make him clean as snow, God answered in the affirmative. Jesus’ life, his teachings and his shameful death on a cross are aimed at freeing us from our vices and sins, and opening to us the oneness he shares with God. The Easter celebrations we walk towards on the other side of Lent are God’s resounding yes to free us from our vices.
God certainly knows our vices, and loves us all the same. How might we be freer and stronger if we face them squarely and confess them to at least one trusted friend?
Melissa Miller (firstname.lastname@example.org) lives in Winnipeg. She is wrapped in the family ties of daughter, sister, wife, mother, friend and pastor.