Three o’clock. That’s when they usually come, the gremlins that wake me from my sleep and dance around my bed, reminding me of all the things I don’t want to think about. Three o’clock in the morning, and the beautiful wide world has shrunk to this small room and all the voices from my past echoing off its walls.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not a terrible person, not in the great scheme of things. I’ve never murdered or stolen or done any of the offenses that society judges as dire; but then again, I have a different judge, don’t I? And at three o’clock, the judgment is pretty grim.
I have on occasion not only hurt someone, but hurt them deliberately. I have failed to listen, to reach out, to be as compassionate as I’m called to be. I’ve missed opportunities to bring the Good News of Christ to someone when those opportunities have presented themselves. I’ve been selfish, vain, and short-sighted. Most of the time I balance all this with the times I have been kind, have gone out of my way to help others, have taken a stand. But not at three o’clock. Only the bad memories, the failures, the transgressions appear at three o’clock.
When I looked up today’s readings, I winced. Oh, no: the story of David and Bathsheba and Uriah. I don’t like this story. I want God’s chosen leader to be a good man, a man I can admire and respect, a man of principle and conscience, and instead I see someone willing to kill another human being just so he can essentially take that man’s wife. I’ll write about the Gospel instead, I decided; the parable of the mustard seed is far easier to get behind.
But as I thought about it, I realized God has so much to teach us through this story, and maybe if I’m a little less judgmental I might be able to listen to it—and hear something. The lesson starts in the first few lines: the spring has come, and it’s time to go to war. David’s whole past has been military, ever since as a teenager he killed a giant of a man and secured his fame; but this spring, instead of leading his troops, he sends them out without him. Maybe he was feeling lazy. Maybe it doesn’t matter what he was feeling. I’m the king; I can do whatever I like. But leading his men was his responsibility, and one of the first steps we take away from God is when we shrug off our responsibilities. It’s been said that 80% of life is just showing up, and this spring, David didn’t show up. My middle-of-the-night gremlins are quick to remind me of all the times I haven’t shown up, too. Made excuses; made rationalizations. I’m tired; I’m busy; I can do whatever I like. So far, this story is hitting very close to home.
Despite having been cautioned against it in Deuteronomy, David has also catered to his more carnal side. After a teenage marriage that failed, he started marrying—and also not marrying—quite a substantial number of women. So it’s little surprise that when he watches Bathsheba taking advantage of the coolness of the evening to bathe, he decides he wants her, too; and what the king wants, the king gets.
I’ve also indulged some of my whims. Money that could have gone to help people in dire need has been spent on things I wanted: books, clothing, gadgets, oh and did I mention books? I didn’t need any of it; but I catered to my desires anyway. Don’t be so quick to judge David, the gremlins whisper.
Bathsheba didn’t have much recourse. She’s often cast as a temptress, but it’s hard for me to see her at fault here. The king sends for you; you go. There were a number of possible solutions to this problem that wouldn’t have involved killing anyone, but David’s first thought is to send Uriah into battle—the battle he himself couldn’t be bothered to fight—and make sure he’s killed.
He went for the easiest, most immediate solution. He didn’t take time to think about it, pray about it, get advice. And it’s times like that when my impulses have gotten me into trouble, too. When I’ve panicked and looked for the quick and easy way out. When thoughtful consideration and prayer would have shown me a better solution.
Today’s reading ends with Uriah’s murder. But the untold part of the story, I think, is the most important: David finally got it. He realized the magnitude of what he’d been doing. He became estranged from God and depressed. He later wrote three psalms describing those months out of fellowship with God: Psalms 32, 38 and 51. Read them, and you’ll realize how deeply he got it. He, too, had gremlins haunting him at night.
That brings us to the happy certainty of forgiveness. David will finally acknowledge his sin. His spirit was broken; his heart was contrite. And as a result, he will hear the sweetest, most beautiful, most reassuring, most encouraging words known to humanity: “The Lord has removed your sin” (2 Sam. 12:13).
My gremlins are still there, because I’m a lot slower to forgive myself than God is. I remember once going to confession; at the end, the priest said, “You’re all set.” I loved that phrase and remind myself of it when memories and sadness and fear keep me up at night. You’re all set; the Lord has removed your sin.
And I pray to be able to take God at his word. To tell the gremlins: You can go away now.
Like everything else in life, that’s a work in progress.
Jeannette de Beauvoir is a writer and editor with the digital department of Pauline Books & Media, working on projects as disparate as newsletters, book clubs, ebooks, and retreats that support the apostolate of the Daughters of St. Paul at http://www.pauline.org.