“clear thou me from hidden faults” Psalm 19
Whenever I mow a certain patch of grass in my backyard, thirty feet west of our back door, an incident comes back to me that some force in my soul will not allow to die. It’s not just an incident really; what I feel when mowing the grass right there is something of shock, anger, envy, and pain. And the incident happened 20 years ago.
When my daughter was in middle school, she was quite unceremoniously booted from the clique in which she’d been running. She cried for a day at least, nearly refused to go back to school, and wouldn’t eat. Her father didn’t understand what was going on. Her mother did because she’d once been a middle school girl herself.
Why that incident is conjured from my mowing a certain section of my backyard is a complete mystery, but what I feel at that moment—every summer weekend—is not. Even though the mower is roaring, a certain junior high girl leaps into my consciousness and flashes her fangs, while her parents, friends of ours, smile innocently. That’s what I see. Once I’m out of the bushes out back, I’m okay.
I don’t like to admit this, but my daughter’s father hated, deeply, the innocence on the face of our friends at that time because he couldn’t, just then, smile himself. My daughter, our oldest child, was suffering, and her father, himself a child as a parent, was only beginning to understand that about some things his kids would encounter, he couldn’t do a blasted thing. I hated both the kid and her parents, and the memory of that intense hate, I think, is what just won’t die.
My daughter went on to high school, college, marriage, a career, and became herself the mother of three beautiful kids. Her nemesis is married with kids, too. I don’t hate her any more than I do our friends, themselves proud grandparents. But every time I mow a certain patch of grass in my backyard—I swear it!—I get dragged back to a particularly painful moment in my life as a father. In a few quick steps across a spot of lawn, it’s the powerless that returns somehow, the seething.
Not long ago I was visiting a classroom somewhere where students were required to read some short stories I’d written. In preparation, I looked those stories over, not having read them for some time. When I did, what returned, as fully weekly mowing pain, was my state of mind when I wrote that particular book. No one else on the face of the earth would recognize what I felt, but reading those stories were like turning back the pages in an emotional journal that I don’t actually keep but is somehow, mysteriously, kept for me, it seems, by something in my mind or my heart or my soul—I don’t know which.
Maybe I’m going too far here. Maybe what David intends in this petition is simply asking that the Lord clean out those sins he’s not aware of, those sins of omission that escape his own self-assessment. We all have those too, at least I do.
But when I become captive of my own consciousness, I can’t help but be amazed at the sheer power of the human mind and spirit, and of our immense depth of our memories. I can’t help but think that there’s more going on, Horatio, even in the world of our minds and hearts than we are aware of.
Maybe it’s a scary thought. Maybe it isn’t. Whatever’s there, David begs, clean it up. Whatever I’m forgetting or missing or not acknowledging, please make it shine, Lord. Forgive me. That’s what’s he’s saying.