Our culture is all about competing, performing, and winning. We can think our value and significance depends on our performance. We can believe that we are only loved by what we do. God says our value was bestowed on us prior to our ability to perform. We can lose sight of the fact that we are not the sole creators of our destiny. We do not become who we are all by ourselves. Of course, much of who we are is nature and a great deal is nurture. It is not nature and nurture alone, as believers in Christ, we have a partner in the Holy Spirit guiding us every step of the way.
But we can find ourselves stuck in the pattern of seeking our significance, value, and love through what we do. We want to trust and believe we are loved for who we are but continue striving in exhaustion in the belief that we are loved by what we do.
Do we find ourselves stuck in the old patterns that keep us seeking the same old achievements? Do we want to get beyond our need to fix everything and control?
We seem to be born with an endless sense of inadequacy that causes us to think achievements will resolve. Augustine oddly labeled this inadequacy original sin.
Death: The process of changing the old patterns of belief starts with death, like a grain of wheat that first must die in the dark ground, the birth of a new self requires death of the old. It will require taking responsibility for all our wrong choices, contrition, and releasing all the blame.
Recognition: It will require a moment by moment catching ourselves in the prideful patterns of desiring to be recognized. Recognizing our desire to feel virtuous, coveting power, and position. It is a never ending process of recognition, repentance, and asking God for forgiveness. This process leads us to joy, a joy that comes through love, not the love that is possession, neediness, or desire, but a transcendent love that is rooted in forgiveness.
Transformation: God is a God of forgiveness and mercy who embraces all the paradoxes of life. This is a forgiveness that exchanges anger for forgiveness. And the transformation creates union with God.
How do we cultivate humility and reach the vulnerable state that becomes transcendent? Humility is always the beginning.
Confidence: To assume true humility through the acceptance of all of our flaws, one must first have spiritual confidence. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to be humble without knowing that we are secure. For Christians this means finding safety in God’s love. We live our lives balancing the fact that we are made in the divine image of God, and at the same time we know we are flawed, limited, and disconnected souls.
Balance: We often forget we are made in God’s image and are bowed down by the weight of our flaws. Thomas Merton once said, “If we knew how much God loved us, there would be no sin.” We would be free of spending most of our life proving we are okay. There wouldn’t be anything to win; we are already there, living in the shadow of God’s boundless grace. We neglect this delicate balance to our own peril. We are neither wholly divine nor wholly inadequate. We are always both.
The burden of striving is lifted when we purify our motives. When we do all for God, and to the measure that we put aside our hope for recognition and financial success, the burden is lifted. The old longings don’t disappear but they don’t control us, and we are able to let go of the results.
Gratitude: Over time gratitude grows in us, a gratitude for what we have. There is nothing complete, nothing to finish, just the gratitude and delight that comes from contributing our share. It may take many struggles, many awakenings to release the anguish of desire, to move beyond distractions into serenity.
Serenity comes after practiced surrender, to all the little flaws and rancor, letting God lead us to be overwhelmed with gratitude and harmony. What is holding you captive and keeping you from surrendering to God’s love?