Most of us falter at the prospect of making an honest personal inventory. Rationalizations and excuses for avoiding this step abound. The bottom line is that we know there is an enormous amount of sadness awaiting us, and we fear the pain that facing the sadness will bring.
The Jewish exiles who returned to Jerusalem after captivity in Babylon had lost touch with God. During the Exile, they hadn’t been taught his laws, so naturally, they hadn’t practiced them either. After rebuilding the city wall and the Temple, the priests gathered the people together to read the Book of the Law. The people were overwhelmed with grief and began weeping, because their lives in no way measured up.
The priests said to the people, “Don’t mourn or weep on such a day as this! For today is a sacred day before the LORD your God. . . . Go and celebrate with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared. . . . Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the LORD is your strength!” (Nehemiah 8:9-10).
The next day marked the beginning of the Festival of Shelters, a required Jewish feast celebrating the Israelite’s escape from bondage in Egypt and God’s care for them while they wandered in the wilderness.
When we set out to face the pain and sadness of making a moral inventory, we will need the “joy of the LORD” to give us strength. This joy comes from recognizing, even celebrating, God’s ability to bring us out of bondage and care for us as we pass through the sadness toward a new way of life.