Saturday, November 28, 2015

Fear Not: Work Unto the Lord and not for Man

For a talk I'm giving next weekend at a women's retreat, I've been thinking lately about how and when exactly creativity came into my life: how does it fit into my story, why do I do it now, and how has it become a natural, consistently practiced dedication and passion. 

And I am realizing that one of the things that makes a life of following our passion possible is fearlessness: this counter-cultural- sometimes seemingly counter-human- sense that we can press ahead sensing everything will work out, or that we can go on regardless of knowing exactly how; that adventure is a worthy cause, that life is short and needs to be really lived fully and each day, not just occasionally. 
And that doesn't mean base jumping and mountain climbing and skydiving and exotic travel all the time. It doesn't mean completing a checklist of self-glorifying things that would prove to other people that we did something cool with our life. It's got to be more real and honest and unique- personal to us- than that.

It's got to be a choice made between ourselves and our conscious. It means living well, and knowing that we lived well in the deepest parts of who we are; that when we get to the end we'll have to offer more than just, 'this is what I did for myself and my glory.' For my earthly well-being, for my retirement fund, for my kids' approval, for the advancement of my knowledge, for the manifestation of my dreams, goals, and wants. For me, for my comfort. 

In a way, fearlessness is the act of facing the fact that all of that- me, my comfort- won't be enough. There's a great big space in every single one of us that knows the answer: we are here to live selflessly, for each other, and for God.
A life without fear is one where our character is consistent in the best and worst of time, whether with abundance or with lack; and this isn't a quality of thought, of thinking, but of fundamental perception: of how we see the world. When we think our thoughts control everything that happens in our lives, we set ourselves up for disappointment and micromanagement of situations we should simply be living in versus just thinking about. 

Our thoughts are always a step behind our wisdom- a cultivated instinct which comes from the heart- when it comes to matters of problem-solving, moving ahead, and knowing what to do in life. If we know the mind, we can manage life: think through it with a calculated timidity that is ultimately concerned with our self protection. 
But if we know the heart, we can truly live: move to the next place in peace and fearlessness because our eyes, hearts, and minds are set on what is eternal, secure, creative- on God. On something higher than ourselves.

For the believer, life is a matter of taking our eyes off the self. A life well-lived is a matter of inner conviction: the belief that I am not actually my thoughts about myself, nor am I other peoples' thoughts about myself, or their imposed 'assignments' of who I am in life. And, that I am not in this world to impress others, or to impress myself. And that I am not here to manage my life, to calculate my way through it- but to trust, follow, love, journey, and be creative with God. This is a meaningful life. 
It is also a spiritual life: the realization that our truest life begins when we stop trying to use ourselves for our own purposes and we start letting God use us for HisTo let His qualities- love, light, inspiration, purity, hope, steadfastness, timelessness- be seen in the world. To let something of His purpose- love, healing, change, authenticity- be seen in the world. 

To show that deep gratitude and deep pain can't coexist- to show that lasting happiness cannot be found within, it can only be guaranteed when we are looking at the thing that contains it. Which, as long as we admit we're looking for it, we have to admit is not in us.  

When I first became a Christian and began surrounding myself with people who truly knew and loved God, I noticed as an outside observer something different about their thinking: not their practices or even their God, I guess, at the time- it was more in the way they internally thought about, knew about, and were aware of the world: they were willing to constantly think about- no less love, follow, and deeply revere- something so far beyond themselves as the center of the universe and the carrier of all wisdom and righteousness. 
Without a perception of God, we tend to think we are that thing, the container of all the wisdom and knowledge we will need in this world. We suppose we can be our own masters- and this always leads to pride. But the Lord says differently: you are not your own. You are Mine. Apart from Me you can do nothing (John 15:5). 

I think I'm learning that truth appears to me through God not because 'someone told me so' or even 'because the Bible says so'- truth appears to me through God because when I practice it, it works. It is true. It surpasses any understanding I could come up with myself, and it satisfies wholly. Apart from God, nothing means

But when I do all things with a reverence for Him, they become deep and real and purposeful not because that's how I think, but because that's the way this life was designed: we're not our own. We're not meant or made or designed for self-mastery at all. And when we try living this way- even when we feel up or accomplished or good- we still feel lost, like something's missing, because something is.
So for the Christian, spiritual practice is not a method or a step-by-step program, but a way of living in gratitude all the time: not just when it seems like, externally, there is 'something' to be thankful for. Thankfulness doesn't come from circumstance, it comes- like life itself- from God. And from our perspective to be grateful not for things, but for the mere fact that those things have been given. 

There's a difference: being thankful for the thing is putting our thankfulness in something that serves us. 'We are thankful that we feel good that something came our way.' Which means we're susceptible to feeling ungrateful when things don't come our way. 

But being thankful for the giver is consistently acknowledging the source: 'we feel thankful that the hand that gives us all things good continues to do so.' Which means we're cultivating an ability to say thank you, to be in gratitude for what we do have versus cynicism over what we don't. 
The secret is something like this: it is impossible to depreciate the value of life (or anything in it) when we hold the perspective that it was freely given. And when we are conformed to God versus to the teachings of his world, we have this perspective all the time. We need to acknowledge not just the gift, but the giver.

If we don't learn to see the hand from which everything we have comes, we can always find a reason not to be grateful- and to be possessive and righteous. There is no 'checklist spiritual practice' in Christian life- no selective, fragmented parts of life where sometimes God gets our love and awareness and sometimes He does not. The whole thing, life itself- they way they live and the core of our identity, our character, is from, for, and by the Lord. It touches everything.  
And that, I guess, is how I became creative. 

There is inevitable grace and freedom when a person decides to give their life back to where and to Whom it belongs: we no longer have to try anything. When we're right with God, we're right with everything: ourselves, other people, relationships, work, money, our bodies, our food, our problems; all things start straightening out in unforeseeable, un-humanly possible ways. 

It is most wise to let something other than ourselves take center stage in our life. In hindsight, before even investigating the qualities of God, merely the fact that I tried to see Him, or maybe entertained the importance of seeking Him, did something within: it took me from a place of pride and self-dependence to a place of humility, of non-self-righteousness, of deepened interest in pure wisdom (not self-guided or self-seeking wisdom).

This thinking lead to a heightened quality of love in life, and contained in that is everything the human soul needs to live without fear. And it is when the human soul lives without fear that it is most creative, most truly alive. 
(Print of this painting available here.)


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