The Spiritual Exercise of Shirking Duty   2 comments

Continued from “Addicted to Effort” 

As a boy I believed my worth depended on being good, on meeting expectations, especially God’s expectations.  So when my worth seems challenged, I try to rescue it with redoubled effort driven by a sense of should.  As long as I keep feeling this weight of duty, I know that below the level of conscious thought, my heart is entangled in fear, and by acting from fear, I strengthen its power over me.  It is no use to tell myself, “Okay, regardless of how I feel, I am now going to act out of a security in God’s grace instead of from obligation.”   Motivations are deeper and more complex than that, often tied to subconscious beliefs, and so they can’t be controlled directly by an act of the will.

Every time I “do right” from obligation, I feel better about myself and more secure in God’s love, but it is a false security based on my good behavior.  Each “good” choice then strengthens my belief that God’s love depends on what I do.  As long as law and grace agree on what is best to do, and I conform (successfully meet the expectations), I assume my trust in God’s grace.  Just as a rich man can trust God’s provision easily, so I can trust God’s love when my cache of good behavior is full.  But an empty account reveals the source of my trust, and failure forces me to face my fears.  If failing is my door into self-knowledge and grace, should I aim for it, shirk my duties in order to grow in grace?

Too Much of a Good Thing Is a Bad Thing

That sounded wrong.  So I kept meeting all the demands of duty while constantly identifying and challenging my underlying legalism.  It was a long, slow process in which my choices to satisfy the should seemed to continually pull me back from grace.   Then I started realizing that my perceptions of responsibility were largely shaped by my insecurities and the expectations of others, present or absent.  Those who promoted these duties tried to anchor them in Scripture as divine law, but the great majority came rather from culture, family, tradition, personality, and the like—a prescription of what good people do.

Good people get up early, make their beds, take a shower, eat a healthy breakfast.  They mow their lawns, wash the dishes, exercise, change the oil in their car every 3,000 miles.  They limit their TV viewing, work hard at school and office, live within their means, answer emails and phone calls in good time.  They don’t cut folks off in traffic or spend too much on luxury items or make others wait for them.  I could go on for 1,000 pages.  If I don’t conform, my sense of worth languishes.  I spot it in my tendency to deny my own needs in order to meet these obligations, in my embarrassment (i.e. shame) if others find out what I have or have not done, or in my need to find an excuse for my behavior—I didn’t have the time, money, strength, opportunity, support.  I could never appeal to my own needs, desires, or feelings as a legitimate reason to ignore these expectations, for that was simply selfishness.  Perhaps no confusion has done more damage to us all than equating self-care with selfishness.

Since my (faulty) conscience cried out against me if I chose my needs and desires over these duties, I found a huge opportunity to face my own shame.  I really could “shirk my duties” as a means of spiritual growth!  I could choose for myself against these demands, feel the sting of shame, and then apply grace to this fear.  The question stopped being “What would people think?” or “What should I do?” and became “What does my soul need.”  Unfortunately my soul was so long ignored, that it had no voice.  I often did not know what it needed.  But I knew one thing for sure–it needed fewer demands placed on it.

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Posted March 29, 2012 by janathangrace in Personal

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2 responses to “The Spiritual Exercise of Shirking Duty

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  1. Pingback: The Strange Turn « Janathan Grace Reflections

  2. Pingback: The Spiritual Discipline of Idleness | Janathan Grace Reflections

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