Outer Life – Inner Life .. Where are we living?
|Each of us lives with dreams and guiding images of what our lives should be like. These come in all shapes and sizes. Some are passed down to us by our family, friends or peers. Others are dreams of proving ourselves and finding recognition. Perhaps we even have dreams of creating something unique, or we may be scared to dream big because of past hurts and mistakes. |
The reality is that our dreams need to evolve.
The dreams we had at 20 often won’t be appropriate at 40, and certainly not at 60. And yet we may be currently building our lives on past guidelines – just repeating what’s ‘worked’ for us.
A divine blueprint exists in God’s heart for us – one that will give meaning and purpose to our days on earth. Our Master Renovator has meaningful and fulfilling ideas about us. He wants us to look at why we keep doing what we do, and to gain a deeper awareness of what holds us back and gets us stuck. We need to risk having new dreams, knowing that He is gently nudging us towards his dream for us.
|None of us have endless possibilities to show that we care. We may firmly believe that we do, but it may all be in our heads as a beautiful ideal. If we are not making a real difference in the lives of others, we may be fooling ourselves. We are needing to grow in our ability to be more emotionally available to others. |
As we risk being really present (sometimes against the trends of our culture) we are transformed for we also discover new parts of ourselves. Instead of repetitive, formulaic responses that will just make us dry up inside, we are energised and alive. For it is only in spending ourselves generously that we become rich, and not when we budget our self giving and eke it out sparingly.
We all have a past and with it, a good question to ask is: ‘What is my relationship with my past? Am I free of it or am I bound by it’? Few of us would deny that we have been formed by our past, but does it still control us or does it liberate us? We may try to forget or deny our past, but it will always be with us – for it is the uniquely personal foundation on which we each stand.
We may seek to blur the effect of our past by simply going with our need for comfort and doing things as we’ve always done them. Choosing the less adventurous route to avoid the unfamiliar or unknown is to be dead in the repeated patterns we have always preferred. Since what suits us only dulls down our precious God-given gift of choice, we may easily waste it on small, safe ideas of life. So instead of giving real flavour and joy to the lives of others, fears from our past keep us inconspicuous and ineffective as the ‘light of our world’.
Much current psychology asserts that we are formed and driven by our past and cannot escape it. The best we can hope for is to accommodate ourselves to it. The therapy seeks to explore the options we have, given an immovable past.
Jesus presents us with a different scenario. When asked was it his sin or his parent’s sin that resulted in a man’s blindness, he answered, ‘No one’s sin (past) caused it. This happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.’ John 9:2. The fatalistic view of being a prisoner of our past was replaced with a momentous possibility, one where God uses it as a lens through which we see Him at work in our lives. Far from being a prison, it is a layered story giving foundation and substance to our lives. Though we cannot change our past, we can CHOOSE to let it inform and empower how we live rather than debilitate us.
Jesus is always stretching us to take risks in our areas of discomfort as in ‘love your enemy.’ We often avoid the passages where He challenges us, but He is serious when He tells us to ‘leave everything’ and live as he did. Are we prepared to change how we choose to engage with life and hold things lightly so we can move freely at His bidding?
When we look back on our lives, we will see that even though there were ups and downs, we will be glad that we chose to take risks. We became fully alive as we dared to do things differently. None of us want to simply wind down into meaningless repetition of past choices and be like ‘salt that’s lost its’ flavour’. Let us keep flavouring life all our days, bringing joy in the lives we have an impact on.
Our conscious mind keeps very specific memories that fit into our sense of self and which sustain out behaviour now. Our childhood wounds inform us, but need not continue to control who we are currently. Jesus gave us new guidelines for how to live, yet He knows that we have been hurt by life. Thus we have made assumptions around our early experiences and created behaviours that have become controlling. We may have told ourselves that we don’t have a choice, because that’s how we’ve always been, but we need to allow our choices to be challenged by the other picture that Jesus gives us. When we tell ourselves things that steal our lives, like, “I can’t”, “I’m always too busy”, “I’m too old”, we take away hope for our future and remain stuck and fearful.
Learning a new skill will have its’ discomforts, and so too will our risking to choose new behaviours. We may simply so dislike the feelings of uncertainty that we prefer to go back to how we’ve always done things. Our fear of pain and discomfort can stop us from risking. Our background ‘voices’ that have told us lies about what’s possible, drown out God’s seemingly crazy invitation to, “Get out of the boat.”
The enemy’s strong counter winds seek to intimidate and thwart God’s best for us. Thus we so need stillness to hear the often drowned-out, still, small voice. Jesus keeps encouraging us to risk and let go of whatever keeps us from an abundant life.
Much of what we normally choose is due to our past. Though this strong reference point is very different in every person, it feels normal to each of us. We may not realise the extent to which it remains the lens through which we interpret everything.
Jesus wants to heal us and to help us grow to become more fully who He made us to be. He has witnessed all that we’ve experienced so He understands all that has controlled, limited and stressed us and distorted our insights about ourselves and others. He loves and accepts us as we are and understands why we react as we do. But He is not wanting us to still be living an extension of the life we had 20 or 30 years ago. Instead, He wants us to respond and choose in a fresh and free way – informed by past experiences, but able to be present to the new moments He blesses us with.
We do not need to keep on with the unhelpful patterns we have learnt. Our past can inform our present as to why we do what we do, but we are not bound to endlessly repeat past patterns in our present reality.
Much of our choice comes from feelings we have around something. We tend to choose according to what is familiar, and to what makes us feel comfortable. When we feel at home with our feelings then that is usually what we choose to do. So we carry out our past feelings around something into our now. This means that our tomorrow is already decided. We aren’t moving into an empty space for our feelings have gone ahead to determine how we will be. If we do not slow down and update our past emotions, we are allowing them to shape our reality now.
We can be thankful for the good that has shaped us in our past, for through it we have gained a wealth of experience. But tomorrow is a new day, not meant to be a repeat of the hundreds of days we have already lived.
We have each developed a emotional-relational landscape. We want things to be “like that.” But the trouble is, that when we categorize and stereotype, we simply rehash what we’ve chosen before and so kill our precious new moments. We are each being invited to remain like a young child in this – for they do not allow expectations for how the moment must be to fill their present reality. They simply look, receive, react, and bless us because they are so curious and free to choose how to be in every moment.
Let us, like a child, take steps towards entering each moment with expectancy rather than pre-decided expectations, and walk open to the surprises God has in store for us.
Every day we each are faced with choices. If we take time to reflect on how we make these, we soon see that what’s deep in our hearts is affecting them. We need not be captives of our past. Our early life has indeed shaped us, but we still can change how we are choosing to follow Jesus’ way. It might seem that we have made fresh choices because we have a new job, are in a new relationship, have moved to a new country, but we might just have left one situation for another and in time see that actually the same issues are emerging.
We might still be choosing according to other peoples’ dream for us, or seeking to be acknowledged, be successful or popular. As God asked the Israelites, in each choice we are being asked to choose between life and death. We choose death if our choice is not truly in tune with who God made us to be, if it’s not enlivening to our deepest selves or in line with God’s Kingdom.
The important thing in our lives is to keep asking ourselves, “What do I really, really want to do with my ‘one wild and precious life’?” (Mary Oliver). This question helps us find our priorities for how we use our time and where we put our energies. It gets us in touch with our deepest desires, so we can start to choose more wisely from the countless options before us.
We all have developed ways of creating our present reality, ways of seeing ourselves and others. We are used to these patterns, but we have yet to discover our best, fullest selves. These ways of living will limit and imprison us if we simply go down the same predictable track each day.
God wants us to have a meaningful and abundant life. He sees our preferred reference points – for example, like our always being conscious of what others think, our need for worldly success, and to prove ourselves, etc. – and knows that following these will never lead us to our fuller selves. God has a different reference point for each of us. He knows that we will find it in our relationship with Him being first and foremost. He wants us to be life-givers, light-bearers in this dark world. It will take courage to leave the security of our chosen reference points and to step by step develop a profound relationship with the One who knows us best.
God knows that the only thing that gives us meaning is to be meaningful in others’ lives. So He says that in the way we love the least important, is the way that we love Him. It is this profound, costly way of giving our lives away that pleases God. All the reasons that we use to justify not doing this will sadly stop us from becoming our fullest selves.
As we saw last week, following blindly can lead us astray. But there is also another way of following that is authentic, personal, and usually along a road that is less travelled.
At some points in our lives we all hear the call to take this road.. We may hear it loud and clear, or as soft as a whisper in rush hour traffic. For some it may even spark childlike curiosity and wonder, but if we follow this call, sooner or later all of us find that staying on the road is not a simple task.
Everyone online wants you to follow them, but when Jesus says “Follow me”, a different drama unfolds. We go from small distractions which can fill our day and steal our life to a grounding call, to taking ourselves and our choices as seriously as he does. If our belief is that Jesus calls us to become our true self, so that we can follow him in healing our world, then our choices will be clear.
The road is our gift, it brings us reality and offers us choices.