Breathing Again   3 comments

My spirit opened up last week like a hiker breaking into a wide, sunlit meadow after a steep, shadowed ascent.  Room to breathe, to get my bearings, to feel freedom from the hedged in trail.  I was inspired by the kindness of an author I read and began imagining myself living from such a generous spirit.  I journaled about my new inspiration to speak and live kindness into the world.  As I read back to Kimberly those two pages, I felt the shadows swirling back in.  The inspiration was sucked into the undertow of obligation.  The joy of it turned into duty, a gauge to measure my adequacy.

What had seemed life-giving was now a tick on my to-do list, and I couldn’t restore the magic.  Goading myself to be kind only deepens my legalism, and forced smiles are creepy, not uplifting.  But spotting the problem did not deflate it as usual, so I had to shake off the shackles by backing away from this new prospect.

On Wednesday my therapist led me through an enlightening self-reflection: I was raised to believe that the task is more important than the person, that the one who shirks obligations is of little worth.  When my worth is on the line, duty becomes a crushing weight.  These were not conscious thoughts, but the underlying tint, the blue shade of light by which I see my world.  My subconscious outlook shapes the way I feel about myself and God–in this case, I felt devalued.  Tearfully realizing that, I embraced once again the God of grace, and the dark curtains shrouding my soul were pulled back.

But haven’t I known about this for a long time now?  Why does it feel like a new revelation?  As Kimberly and I drove to the mountains yesterday for a hike, I tried to focus the blur.  After years of personal work, I no longer think my worth depends on fulfilling my duties.  So God was not judging me, but he still needed me to complete the to-do list.  That stuff mattered, mattered a lot, mattered more than me.  His focus on the task devalued me as a person, one who is of great worth apart from anything I do.  “Work before pleasure” was a core family value of ours.  We took care of the work before we took care of ourselves because duty mattered more–studies over sleep, devotions over breakfast, clean-up before rest.  Finish the task at all costs, then we have the right to consider our own needs and pleasures.

This turns truth upside down.  A task has no worth except as it helps us–we are what matters, the object of God’s whole heart.  We do not compete with tasks for his attention.  When I think that God wants to use me for his purposes, seeing me as a means to his goal rather than seeing me as the goal, I lose sight of his love and objectify myself (something God would never do).  Living under the weight of law ruins myself and the good I’m trying to do.

Then, instead of good work flowing from a deep rest in God and a discovery and joy in my gifting and beauty, I ignore my needs and belittle my worth, working against myself to fulfill a task that has now become not only meaningless, but damaging both to me and to the one I hope to bless.  I do little good to others with my forced virtue, while I do serious harm by reinforcing belief in an uncaring God.  Our impact on the world flows from our core beliefs, not from our carefully crafted behavior.

If my singular role is to spread God’s love as demonstrated in Christ, I can only do so by believing it for myself wholeheartedly.  “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:29).  May I rest in that truth more each day.

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Posted August 8, 2018 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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3 responses to “Breathing Again

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  1. This is very timely for me Kent. I recently had a conversation with a mentor of mine, he was helping me reflect on my last 10 years out in Portland and he made the statement, in effect, ‘sometimes we do more harm than good if our goal is to be used, as opposed, to resting in Christ’. Why is this so dang hard? I have spent so much time in the desert trying to “do things” for the Lord, instead of just learning to BE. And the worst part is, I am not a driver or type A or come from a family that is all about performance yet, I have managed to, almost, ruin my life, by trying to ‘do stuff’ for the Lord. It’s absolute insanity!

    • Brett, our primary way to validate our experience is to check it out with others, and if everyone says they don’t see what we see, we conclude we must be insane… but what if everyone else is deluded? The whole of American culture asserts that we are only of value if we do good (though they differ in their view of “good”). It takes a huge, continual effort to pull free of that gravitational vortex. What is natural and widespread is buying into that worldview, just the fact that you challenge it makes you unique, but sets you in conflict with the rest of the country. It is amazing that you still struggle with this instead of just giving up and going along with everyone else. Bravo. And let’s keep encouraging one another.

  2. Kent, thanks for the encouragement. I will take “unique” over “crazy”, although the latter seems a little more plausible most of the time. I feel like most people in my life have been a lot more gracious to me than I have been to myself, but you are right, there is plenty of errant advice. I am very encouraged by your perseverance and unwillingness to give up. Following your journey over the past 5 to 6 years has given me, much needed, hope and courage to keep going.

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