Wanting to Want To
If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creature; the old things passed away. – 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NASB 1995)
In the early church, some bishops believed that Christians who sinned post-baptism (especially The Big Sins, like fornication, fraud, apostasy, and murder) were not Christians at all. Baptism made you a new creature, so if you were still sinning like an old creature, clearly it didn’t take. Big Sinners got excommunicated. No way back in.
Pretty soon the bishops realized that a church of the perfect was doomed to extinction. Christians were going to sin, even if they knew they shouldn’t, tried not to, and didn’t want to. So church leaders began thinking of baptism not as a one shot transformation, but as a life-long unfolding, a grace that recreates us over time.
And because people grow and change better inside community than outside, they also developed reinstating rituals of forgiveness and healing for whenever people needed them. Good thing, too, because to this day most Christians still don’t stop sinning cold turkey, even if we try to, even if we want to, or want to want to.
Saint Teresa of Avila once came upon a moving image of the suffering Christ. Falling to her knees, she determined not to rise until Jesus healed her moral carelessness, which she believed was wounding him. Her pious biographers claim she was immediately converted. But Teresa knew better. She wrote, “From that moment on, I began to begin getting better.”
No perfection, instant or otherwise. Just the good news that we’re not done; that grace never runs out; that beginning to begin and wanting to want is not deficiency or failure, but a holy path; and all the way to God is God.
Give me the grace to want to, O God. And to want to want to. And to want to want to want to…
Mary Luti is a long time seminary educator and pastor, author of Teresa of Avila’s Way and numerous articles, and founding member of The Daughters of Abraham, a national network of interfaith women’s book groups.