I had the fortune to see a much-needed short film at my church last night, a good, accurate, so simple reminder of what happens when we decide to let go, to give our lives to the Lord.
This little animated short began with a man desiring to please God, so he brings Him his house. But God isn't moved, and doesn't want the man's house. So the man tries next to bring God his possessions- but God doesn't want the man's possessions. So the man tries next to bring God his money- but of course God doesn't want the man's money. God doesn't want the man's good deeds, awards, achievements, or any other measurable things. Frustrated and unsure of how to give to God, finally the man realizes what God wants from him: his heart. His life; just him.
There was a long time in my own life that I didn't understand what God wanted from me either (not that I was looking, honestly; I was very self-secure in my own knowledge and didn't believe I needed a God- and certainly couldn't conceive of the idea that He wanted me). But now I feel nothing but gratitude for having spent many years in darkness before seeing the light.
It has been a long journey of coming all the way over (and it's a certainty that it will never easy for anyone) but there is something so freeing about renouncing the ego so completely and fully that we willingly desire to give up our lives to God, forgoing what we think are our desires, and say, 'use me to be a reflection of your Love everyday.
Let this be my primary identity. In this alone I am content. I may not have what I want right now, but since my primary work is to glorify you, to be in relationship with you, as long as I have those things, I am at peace.' I've tried to hitch my sense of inner peace to a lot of other things, but a relationship with God through Christ is the only thing through which it's ever lasted.
And there is quite a bit to move out of the way before we develop that willingness (and that's okay, a natural part of the process): attachment, the desire for control, possessiveness; care for how others will perceive us; covetousness- which is being greedily engrossed or preoccupied with wealth, gain, or possessions. We have to move out of the way a desire to be right, we have to lose the fear of losing, we have to shed self-pity, we have to not want so much stuff; we have to adopt forgiveness. When we're working for God, there's a great deal of work- that we are not naturally inclined to do- to be done.
Except once we arrive at this point (or continue to arrive at it, over and over again each day), we are no longer slaves to the world: the thinking of the world does not rule over us, the ways of the world do not own us; we are free to live from our souls. We have identified one unchanging, endlessly loving, eternal master, and that- amidst a world that constantly tries to sell us happiness or promise us peace- is Who we answer to.
And then it is natural (eventually) that we want all of our life to be integrated this way: our work to reflect God, our hobbies to reflect God; our gifts to praise Him, our scars and our wounds to show how knowing Him has healed and redeemed us; we want how we spend our time, what we choose to say, what we choose not to say; what we choose to risk; how we choose to love; our life, our marriage, our friendships, our relationships- all of it to be integrated with our awareness of Him- of Love- in our lives.
We begin to desire to give love the way we understand God has given it to us: sacrificially, as a selfless thing that always desires to help others so much that the ego is gone and we can be, in the words of Mother Teresa, the 'living expression of God's kindness.'
We learn the importance of exchanging pride for humility. CS Lewis says it well: "a proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you." Pride distances us from God, of course, but before that it distances us from the possibility of clear thinking at all: it is a self-focused thing, and you cannot really lose ego- or see reality- while fixating on the needs of the self.
And here's what you don't realize until it happens to you, I guess: to get from pride to humility, being humble, hurts.
"Humility requires pain. None of us are naturally humble, and the beast of pride is an instinct that must be swiftly struck down. It will hurt. Self-awareness always cuts the ego. Saying 'I'm wrong' in a way that doesn't call attention to itself, but is truly repentant, is horrifying. But anyone not in this process is not truly free. Anyone who sees this surgery to the end is light enough to see God." -JS Park
So that's what happens when we gain wisdom and knowledge of God: self-importance lessens. And while it's distinctly scary at first- to give up the image of yourself that you have built up, with opinions (of other things- and of yourself), and intellectual knowledge, and achievements and accolades and possessions, things, wealth, security, money- following Christ promises something beautiful: that beneath who we thought we were, is who we actually are.
Sort of our purest, realest, most authentic self. You can call people over to religion pretty easily, but you cannot call them over to Jesus- it has to be their own natural evolution of the understanding of the self as a thing to be given up in order to truly be found. But once we do decide to come to a place of humility of such depth, though it seems like we're giving a lot up, we're really gaining so much more.
Once our identity- our self- is in what God has done for us through Christ and not what people or the world suggest we be, we are not only free from the unattractive self-ruination of arrogance- success, knowledge, and what we have gained pridefully going to our heads- but also from failure going to our hearts. And that's really the thing that enables love to live consistently in our hearts- and it changes everything.
When we observe carefully, we learn that failure going to our hearts is the first cause of living in fear. Many people recognize the importance of living in love versus fear, but I think fewer see the correlation between 'the true state of our hearts when God is absent from them' and 'what's really going on inside there to prevent that kind of living from happening.'
There are many people who live with wounds so old, so deep, and so unresolved- the feeling of rejection from a parent leaving a family, having divorced parents; the feeling of rejection of love, heartbreak; having 'failed' in school, having been told (verbally, abusively, or even more subtly) that they are a less-than-perfect son, a less-than-perfect daughter; having simply received a message from 'society' in general that they are not perfect, not good enough; not feminine, not masculine; not wanted or desirable in some way... all these things, these so, so common things that the world feeds us nearly constantly, break us.
The common things that happen to so many people every single day- these are the places, the common experiences, to which- once we truly begin to look lovingly through the eyes of God at the hearts and souls of other people- we can trace back the pain with which most of us live having never gotten rid of.
At the core of anger, self-doubt, control, anxiety, worry, and every other feeling we try desperately to rid ourselves of, is an absence of fundamental love: love that does not waiver, does not want; that is eternal and consistent; that values us (us- not our money or our stuff or our accomplishments) more than we could possibly ever understand. It is infinitely deeper even than self-love. This is the love we realize has been given to us all along in Christ. This is the love that heals whatever the world breaks in us.
This is the love we are ultimately looking for: love that makes us free.
I never quite got all that when I used to hear Christians say cheesy things like 'Jesus loves you.' I never quite thought all that deeply about God's love actually meant when I heard Bible verses at weddings or funerals or on greeting cards. But there's a surreal depth to feeling this love in your everyday life that permeates your whole being, bringing what Paul in Philippians calls 'a peace that transcends all understanding.'
And I feel like God calls each of us, in whatever way we were gifted, to share our hearts once we actually heal them in Him- and that calling is connected to the purpose we are all looking for. It's not always going to be well-received in a world where self-protection trumps sacrificial love, but that doesn't make it wrong, either.
It's literally and actually why and how I make art and write: because these are not things I could say or do if I didn't feel empowered or if my heart were broken. Not that it hasn't been broken (like many people, I guess, it has been broken many times and shattered quite a few), but now it has also been healed- and when that happens, freedom happens too- and you want to bring light to love itself- not necessarily to you yourself.
And things automatically start happening to your life anyway when your heart is right with God: you love again, or you're happy again; you can fail freely; you can paint again, you're un-bothered or you feel free again; who you simply are- not what you do- starts to matter again, and your dreams and desires become worthy of your time and energy again. That is what the Lord does: provides rebirth.
And as far as I understand, that is all God wants from any of us: whatever it is you've got, whatever it is that is your life. Even if it's a mess or a work in progress or you're still learning.
That's all real love ever asks for: just your heart, just you.
"Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom." -James 3:13