How’s this Thomas Merton quote sit with you?
In order to become myself I must cease to be what I always thought I wanted to be, and in order to find myself I must go out of myself, and in order to live I have to die.
It might sum up my struggles of 2017. Really and truly. So many of these past 365 days I’ve wrestled with authenticity and truth. I’ve wanted God to make it clear where I should work, where I should live. How our family should move forward. And often, I admit, this was much more me trying to be something that wasn’t yet ready, or, something I wasn’t supposed to be at all.
It’s an ugly wrestling match, because it’s always a loss. Like Sisyphus rolling the rock to the top and dropping it just before it reaches the pinnacle.
So how do I/we stop striving after the fruitless labors? How do we turn off the notion (and lie) that we need more? That more will breed happiness, success, and yes, even joy?
I’m typing this and realizing that the first step must be stopping. Plain and simple. Stopping with a metaphorical emergency break, which will feel like what it does if you’ve ever pulled the E break during a winter storm in traffic. It’s not pretty. There will be grinding sounds and other unnatural noises. But it’s possible.
Then, once the skid has evened out, even with a fender bender or two. The righting can begin. This ‘going out of ourselves to find ourselves’ can be initiated. It’s right in front of us all the time, but the world, and our flawed desires cause us to go inward. The love of self. Self-fill-in-the-blank. Self-love. Self-awareness. Self-centeredness. Self-consciousness.
It’s something A.W. Tozer called the “God-and” symptom. When we operate as if God requires a supplementary aid. It’s not enough in our culture to just strip off the self and chase after God. We want to add to Him like we would our shopping basket online. God + free shipping + maybe another item or two, and then, it’ll be sufficient to get us through the year.
But God never wanted this for us. He wants all of us, and He doesn’t settle for substitutes. It’s 100 percent or nothing.
And this leads into the dying portion. As antithetical as it might seem, think about the old cliché: Tis better to give than to receive. (Which is actually biblical. It’s what Jesus said in Acts 20:35 – ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’) While our first worry when giving might be that we’re going to lose something, but what inevitably happens next? The gift creates blessings we never expected. The Holy Spirit falls on us, and we are met with a sudden urge to give even more. Whether it’s tithing or spending time at a soup kitchen, the giving brings more joy than the gift itself. The giver gets to experience God’s rich blessings, and even better, God Himself.
Brian L. Tucker