So Alive

Irene, South Dakota

For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  (Colossians 3:3) This verse was read and possibly preached about in many churches this week. It’s been nagging me.

The nagging started one night while reading The Living Flame of Love by St. John of the Cross. The Spanish Carmelite employed the metaphor of flame for the loving Spirit of God working to unite with our human soul. But our soul, like firewood resisting combustion, first feels disturbance and affliction instead of love:

The flame of itself is extremely loving, and the [human] will of itself is excessively dry and hard. When the flame tenderly and lovingly assails the will, hardness is felt beside the tenderness, and dryness beside the love. The will does not feel the love and tenderness of the flame since, because of its contrary hardness and dryness, it is unprepared for this until the love and tenderness of God expel the dryness and hardness and reign within it. Accordingly, the flame was oppressive to the will, making it feel and suffer its own hardness and dryness. (The Living Flame of Love I.23, Kavanaugh/Rodriguez translation).

Which got me thinking, Dang, most of my discomforts are me pushing back against God’s love. I haven’t really “died” to self-centeredness and no wonder my real life in Christ is “hidden.”

I’m so, so, so alive in this tomb of flesh and self will. All of us share the dilemma, really. So much human suffering is the result of our ginormous egos trying to stay alive on our own terms rather than accept the love of God and the better life it brings. To borrow again from St. Paul, Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:3-4)

Let me offer three of life’s discomforts that might be useful for killin’ us some self so that the Holy Spirit can enliven us more in Christ. Daydreams, worries and grievances are disturbances we feel as our will pushes back against God’s love. Catching them in action can be a way to receive God’s love and walk in new life with Christ.

Daydreams. I work at a job that is repetitious and at times unpleasant. It is little surprise that my mind floats into dreamland. All kinds of goofy stuff goes on in my head as my will seeks to flee reality for a more pleasant fantasy. Ever insert yourself into a movie scene? My head does that. Imagined yourself in a different job? You get the picture. Plus I’m sure quite a few of your own.

I’ve had some fruitful spiritual progress by interrupting my own daydreams. Sometimes, I’ll simply tell myself That’s not real. Other times, I’ll pray the Jesus Prayer, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

For a Christian, the ultimate daydream rebuttal is to put the here and now on God’s terms. For daydreams in the workplace, a verse like Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men (Colossians 3:23) is good medicine. Enduring time with an annoying person? Love is patient and kind… it is not irritable or resentful (I Corinthians 13:4-5).

In rebutting daydreams, we are “killing” our own will and, as Jesus taught, asking that God’s will be done. The amazing discovery is that God wills us to know and enjoy the great love in which we stand.

Worries. I was just gabbing with a sprinkler repair guy. We both lapsed into the current small talk, Man, can you believe the price of stuff right now?

I don’t think I need to start typing examples of worries. Just invoking the word probably conjures a flock of them to flit about in your brain.

Worries often turn to daydreams – What if I win the lottery? Or into self-medication – One more drink. One more donut. Think I’ll call in sick today.

The rebuttal to worry is loaded with action verbs. I’ll quote St. Peter and add emphasis:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. (I Peter 5:6-9)

Humble here is an imperative. I have to “get out of myself.” Yes, die to self and not make my worries the center of the universe. It is an act of faith in which the low is rebutted by the high – I’m not defined by these circumstances but by a God who is working to exalt me.

The “casting” of anxieties is a verb that describes loading up a pack animal. It is the same word that describes Jesus’ followers throwing their garments on a donkey on Palm Sunday. You might find that your casting prayers are coarse: God, you carry this #^#*. It’s too much for me. Oh, you think God will blush and turn away from that prayer? Just the opposite. The hidden life he has for you comes more into view in your honesty and weakness.

Resist the devil. You have an enemy who can inflict some problems but even more deceives you by amplifying them in your head until they drive out awareness of your high place as a child of God. Shut up is a useful response when your head fills with worries. And it’s the devil you’re talking to, so be as forceful and vulgar as you need with the jerk. When you resist the devil, it is opportunity to draw near to God.

Knowing in this verse is about empathy for the struggles of others. Your sufferings are not unique nor are they the defining qualities of the universe. It’s not about saying Could be worse (although it probably could) but about thinking on, praying for and, if possible, coming alongside to help others who are struggling and suffering. It is to die to self and embrace the life of Christ, who took the form of a servant (Philippians 2:1-11).

Grievances. The saying about Once you’ve lost trust, you can’t get it back has come up in recent conversations and even a movie I was watching. It’s one of those things that people say with the highest degree of certainty and authority. And it’s one of the excuses people use to hold onto grievances.

Letting go of grievances is a severe “death” experience. We really have to kill some ego to do it. But it is one of many violations (you know, trespasses) that Jesus, in the heart of all he did and taught, calls us to forgive.

I don’t have simple rebuttals to grievances for past hurts, and I don’t have space here to get into more complex trespasses like abuse, crimes and other awful things we suffer.

But we have before us the teaching, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. There’s no getting around Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us and Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

To resist our grievances is to turn fully toward the words and witness of Jesus, to admit that we are not up to his standard, and to ask his help. He has our “hidden life,” remember, and it is life like his very own. “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do… (John 14:12)

God asks us to die a little to our ego so that we can live a lot more in Christ. The biggest rebuttal to daydreams, worries, grievances or any number of other disturbances is to recognize that we are objects of this immeasurable love, and that the distress we feel is futile, finite flesh trying to take the place of so great a gift.

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