Friday, July 25, 2008

On the Road to God, Self, and Transformation: Part II

Lesson Three: Get Still.
“It is by losing our self in God that we discover our true identity.” David Benner

Some months back, I came to the understanding that my transformation is not up to me. I’m still learning this one (and all of this, for that matter). I guess I’ve been under the false assumption for a long time that this spiritual process is more about what I do than what God does. Then I worry about not doing enough to move forward. But is God the first mover or am I? He is the one that begins it and He sees it through. I don’t have to answer my own prayers for transformation—He revealed the need I’m praying for in the first place! I can offer them, let go of them, and wait for Him to reveal what He wants me to do in His time. No striving or arranging on my own is necessary. He’s not going to forget what He was doing. He’s not going to let me forget for long if I stay with Him. So, I can rest as I commune with Him and let Him dredge up the muck of my soul. He’ll show me what’s next on the road to transformation, and He’ll wait until I’m ready for it. Good plan.

Of course, this does require me listening to Him. Communing with Him hasn’t come easily for me. It means I have to stop medicating myself with distractions. I’ve had to get comfortable being alone with God. I had such a difficult time “entering” His presence, or really just being aware of His presence and His voice. I’m just now remembering a poem I wrote back in March about trying to “ascend to where God is” and not being able to find Him here through the clutter of life. Then earlier this summer I remember the dread I felt going home to a quiet and empty apartment, knowing God wanted to meet me there. Just Him and me. But now I’ve come to delight in His presence. For it is there that I come discover the imago Dei that has been placed within me, and it is there that God reveals Himself and His purposes. Novem te, novem me.

On the Road to God, Self, and Transformation

“We do not find our true self by seeking it. Rather, we find it by seeking God.” David Benner

Sometimes I’m amazed at how I can miss something so essential. The lessons I have been learning in the last year seem so apparent to me now that I wonder what took me so long. Why didn’t I get it? I guess it’s because I have a tendency to view through for-your-information lenses instead of viewing for my transformation. Truth wasn’t moving from my head to my heart. Pride blinded me to my need. I was comfortable with status-quo, good but not best. The list goes on… In spite of my blind ignorance and rebellion, God has wooed me through desperation and pain so that I could finally hear His Voice and let Him reveal truth and reality. What a beautiful Voice! I’m seeing now that the pieces are taking me on a journey to know Him and to know myself. “Novem te, novem me.” –St. Augustine

I assumed I knew me. I think of me all the time. I live with me. I am my priority most of the time. I must know me. It’s funny how you can go through life assuming you know yourself, and then one day realize that the image you’ve created isn’t really you at all, but because you’ve been pretending to be that person for so long, you don’t really even know who you are. The road that leads to true knowing of self isn’t what I thought. It’s not about figuring out who you want to be. It’s not about creating an image that you want to project. It’s not about letting others tell you who you are or who you should be. It’s not even about introspection and self-improvement plans. I saw a piece of flair on Facebook that read, “Life isn’t about finding yourself. It’s about creating yourself.” But that is the surest road to a false and inauthentic self. The path God is taking me down looks a little different…

Lesson One: Get Real.
“People who are afraid to look deeply at themselves will of course be equally afraid to look deeply at God. For such persons, ideas about God provide a substitute for direct experience of God.” David Benner

So, honesty is where this journey always begins, from my perspective. I started moving forward when I started being real. I had to stop lying to myself and pretending with God (as if He doesn’t know). I wasn’t prepared to let all the ugliness that is part of me rise to the surface. But nothing can happen to transform all the hidden parts as long as they stay hidden. I wrote this poem back in January about my thoughts on this—though at the time, I had no idea God was speaking to me or taking me anywhere in particular. My fear was keeping me from being honest—that much I knew. I’d been hiding from God, myself, and anyone else who cared to look my way. I was comfortable with my false self. And I thought I was safe, but safety is a prison.

My instinct is to cover up.
My fear tells me to hide.
What if You see me as I am?
How can I let You try?
If I invite You to my bed,
I dread You may find out.
You might see through my pious gown,
You might look underneath,
and find unlovely all that’s there,
then toss me to the street.

Have I confused you with myself
and all who’ve come before?
Can I fail You and yet be Yours
and can I disappoint?
Then find your tender arms still there
not turned away in scorn?
I want to hide in Your Cocoon,
not lodged inside of mine.
But trapped within my shame, my pride
disclosure is a curse.

I need You to undo, unleash,
I need You to reverse.
Free me from this captivity,
enthrall me with your force.
Throw aside my beloved dress,
strip me down to bare
to let You see my nakedness
and let You love me there.

I don’t know when I started being vulnerable and honest with God. But the more I spoke freely to God, the easier it became—and the more He was honest with me. And it was ugly.

Lesson Two: Accept It.
“Our knowing of ourselves will remain superficial until we are willing to accept ourselves as God accepts us—fully and unconditionally, just as we are.” David Benner

Once I took my hands off my eyes, God has been faithful to reveal the depravity in me that I couldn’t see, and continues to do so daily. I’m often shocked by how blind I’ve been when my sin seems so obvious now. But accepting that I am that person is my constant ego-battle. I don’t like who I am, when it comes down to it. But when acceptance comes, freedom comes—I’m released from my safety prison and the pretend self becomes less cumbersome. For so long, I’d only embraced the sin I could spin. Receiving it all as mine now allows me to release it to God. And that allows Christ to do His transformational redeeming work in me. But it has been difficult sitting in my shame as the spotlight of God’s truth shines on me. The taste of freedom urges me forward. And I’m a little closer to knowing my true self, and knowing God. Novem te, novem me.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Surrender and Freedom

“We do not become free of God by a disregard of Divine will. Instead, by such disregard we forge the chains of our bondage.” David Benner

I’ve been trying to understand how freedom comes through surrender. It’s another beautiful paradox that reveals our foolishness. Here we thought our independence would give us freedom. Like our predecessors Adam and Eve, we want to be like God without God’s help, and it leads to our ruin. But God wants to rescue us and give us life. It’s a running theme throughout His story. Truly living comes through freedom. Freedom comes through our death. So we cannot truly live unless we die. We cannot experience freedom except through our destruction—the destruction of our self-made godlikeness in exchange for the God-given likeness that sets us free to be the self He has created us to be, an exchange made possible through the death of Christ. But we are so unwilling to die that we don’t experience this life and freedom. Ours is a story full of irony and delusion.

John Donne understood this. This poem of his has held its place as my favorite for many years because he so masterfully reveals this paradox, this battle between the forfeit that he knows will bring freedom versus his will to persist in captivity. We need God to break in and set us free—by Divine imprisonment.

Batter my heart, three-person'd God ; for you
As yet but knock; breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp'd town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth'd unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

“Imprison me, for I, except you enthrall me, never shall be free.” Allowing God to be the warden of my life frees me. And it reveals the reality of my delusion. Batter my heart so I can see!

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinithians 1:18

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Book Review: The Journey of Desire

"We are never living, but hoping to live; and whilst we are always preparing to be happy, it is certain, we never shall be so, if we aspire to no other happiness than what can be enjoyed in this life." Blaise Pascal

Even before I started reading The Journey of Desire, I had earnestly begun my own journey of desire. For the first time, perhaps, I was admitting my desires to God and asking what to do with them. I even wrote a poem about it back in February and a blog about it in March. I included the first half of the poem in that blog post, but here is the poem in its entirety:


In the Garden
To women came a curse
But pain is not the worst
Desire is your curse
For it is now directed
Toward the image
Of the man
That God has made
And not the God
Who beckons
From a home
We’ve never known

You are the flame
That can start a fire
Spreading quickly
Leaving scars
And open wounds
But when you die
You leave us cold
And looking for a new
You’re misdirected and confused
What do I do with you?

In the book The Journey of Desire, John Eldredge speaks to those who, like me, don’t know what to do with their desire. They have, perhaps, found themselves looking to idols to satisfy or have lost touch with desire altogether. He points out that our disillusionment after repeated heartbreak often results in denying our desires and setting up walls around them because we don’t want to be disappointed and hurt again. Sometimes we’re not even sure if it is OK to have desire—we think maybe we should kill it completely in order to live a holy life. We weigh whether we ought to be feeling this or that—whether it is OK to feel the way we do. So we bury our feelings because we don’t know what to do with them. But they’re still there, often feeding on idolatry. And frequently the message we hear in the Church is that we should fight against desire because it leads to sin. But living the Christian life isn’t about denying or burying the longings of our heart. The Christian life should be defined by passionate obsession.

“When we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak.” C.S. Lewis

Eldredge places each of us in one of three categories. We are either:
1) longing—hungry and thirsty, alive
2) dead—having denied our desires or given up after so many disappointments
3) addicted—seeking temporary pleasures to fulfill our desires

My journey had taken me through categories 2 and 3. In the book, he describes the danger and subtlety in each of these—killing desire or giving ourselves over to false desire. He beautifully scatters quotes, Scripture, and poetry throughout the book to show this timeless and universal dilemma of desire, and how it is a result of the fact that this world is not our home—things aren’t as they were meant to be. We cannot find fulfillment in the things the world offers because we were made for something more. “What we have sought, what we have tasted in part with our earthly lovers, we will come face to face with in our True Love. For the incompleteness that we seek to relieve in the deep embrace of our earthly love is never fully healed.” But we all desire. Pretending we don’t desire results in “loss of soul, of communion with God, a loss of direction, and a loss of hope.”

Category 1 is where we need to be. Eldredge says we should embrace our desire—ask what is it that I want? “Don’t minimize it; don’t try to make sure it sounds spiritual; don’t worry about whether or not you can obtain it. Just stay with the question until you begin to get an answer. This is the way we keep current with our hearts.” I must admit, I did not know my heart—I’d been living out a script, acting on other’s expectations, disconnected with my own desires. The vulnerability of acknowledging my desires openly was a new reality for me. Trusting God with them, even more novel. “To live with desire is to choose vulnerability over self-protection; to admit our desire and seek help beyond ourselves is even more vulnerable. It is an act of trust.”

Based on different ideas from the book, I’ve begun a daily (and sometimes hourly) practice:
1) I acknowledge my desires to God as they arise,
2) I recognize they cannot ultimately be fulfilled in this life,
3) I remember that only God can provide true satisfaction and contentment,
4) I surrender the desire to God and ask Him to redirect it,
5) I stop striving and arranging,
6) I grieve,
7) I wait—for Home. And my hope grows in the waiting

The results for me have been a new intimacy with God as I open up the hidden places of my heart to him and trust Him to satisfy me. The grieving restores my soul and brings healing. Also, I have experienced a shift in my desires and an increased hope for the coming wedding banquet with Christ that will bring ultimate fulfillment of the desire He has placed within me. I have less need to control and strive, knowing that the only One who can meet my needs is taking care of it. Lastly, I have a better sense of my own heart, without the baggage of oughts and expectations—I am free to feel for the first time in my life.

I’m reminded of the song “Lovesick” by Misty Edwards that I’ve been listening to over and over while reading this book, “And happy am I, to live a hungry life / And blessed am I, to thirst / Disillusionment, it is my gift within / I am blessed, I am blessed among men! … Try as I may to chase another Lover, / I find there is, there is no other / All the other Lovers fade away / Only YOU can satisfy.” Disillusionment with idols and all the things that don’t satisfy brings us to this place where we finally see “Only YOU can satisfy” and we long for what is real—what really satisfies. Disillusionment is my gift!