I believe in a God of love who desires the best for us. That is true freedom, life in all its fullness, happiness, etc…
However, so often we try to chase these outcomes ourselves. We chase the next adrenalin high in the hope that the endorphins will last a little longer this time. We chase status in the work place and success in our careers, hoping that life in all its fullness can be found in the recognition of others. So I could go on – money, sex, relationships are all places we often seek fulfilment and happiness.
This is not the teaching of Jesus. He promises us ‘life in all its fullness’, but as you read the story of his life, as told in the gospels, you discover that this elusive ‘fullness of life’ is not found in addition but in subtraction. Let me explain…
So often we seek fulfilment by adding things to our lives – more possessions, a promotion, a new sport or hobby. These things in themselves are not bad, but they quickly become layers of identity we clothe ourselves in. False selves we put on, like masks, to present to others to seek their recognition or approval. I am a triathlete. I am successful. I am a good Christian. I am a great parent. I am … (you fill in the blank), be impressed, love me.
In truth these ‘false selves’, these layers, are being driven by the society we live in, materialistic, consumerist, driven by status anxiety. To borrow language from psychology or from other spiritual traditions, these pamper to the ego and ultimately go nowhere.
Rather, I believe the ‘life in all its fullness’ Jesus was talking about is found in subtraction; the gradual stripping away of these layers, these ‘false selves’, until we find the core. We might choose to call this our soul, our being made in the image of God, your true self – different spiritual traditions use different expressions. It is here, in solitude before God, that our true identity is found. This is the spiritual journey – emotionally healthy spirituality – it is the journey of subtraction. It is a journey of liberation, shedding layers of skin, finding the true basis for our value or self-worth in God.
So often our prayers are full of requests. God, please give me that new job. Lord, make me successful. Lord, spare me the pain of life. Sometimes God says no, because to provide us with these additions would be to play our egos, to add to the layers, not bring us liberation.
Last Sunday at BGBC we were thinking about ‘the wall’, tough times we hit in life – depression, loss of a job, grief. Many of us question how these experiences can be a part of God’s ‘plan’ for our lives when he is committed to our good. My answer is this – because, if we allow them, they can be part of the process of stripping away the layers, freeing us from the materialism, status anxiety, etc… around us, bringing us to a place of liberation, freedom and yes, happiness, that is grounded in God alone rather than our egos.
Perhaps prayer is better practised in silence. Forget the requests for a while and simply spend time in stillness, focussing on who God is and allowing Him to peel back the layers like an onion (tears and all) until He uncovers the heart of who we are – loved, liberated and free.
Why not try it?