Aching for Greatness

I’m not yet fully convinced of this truth, but I’m convinced it’s what my work is:  that my greatest accomplishment will be to claim my belovedness and live it out.  It’s the work of hearing, receiving, and claiming the words spoken over Jesus as the Beloved One, as my own.  

Ministry has its trappings:  Am I good enough to care for others, is my care good enough, is my presence and care making a difference, is so-and-so better at it than me.  These voices of shame, pride, and fear choke out the voice of belovedness, causing disruption and ache.  

Fear, shame, and pride can take their toll, breaking the spirit and heart of a person.  It makes us focus on our own willpower, shortcomings, or lack.  These voices cripple a person to the point of depression, hopelessness, or resentment.  This year, I’ve had to confess these voices to God in hopes of touching the hem so that I may be rescued.  Sometimes all I can do is simply confess and cry out for mercy.  

The ache for significance, greatness, and accomplishments is real.  Because we are made in the image of God, we long for greatness.  But we don’t get to greatness without death/burial/resurrection.  We don’t get to greatness without first hearing and living out the words of belovedness, that God is already pleased with us, loving each part of us.  

Can I claim this truth to the point where it alters my life?  When I’m searching for guidance, discerning next steps in my life, the one work I can count on is claiming this deep truth:  I am beloved by and I belong to God.  I want and need to hear that in the core of being so that it shapes what I say and do, how I am and how others experience caring presence.  

Dear friends, I want you to hear this: what is said of Jesus is said of you. I know this can be hard to affirm. You are the beloved daughter or son of God. Can you believe it? Can you hear it not only in your head through your physical ears but in your gut, hear it so that your whole life can be turned around? Go to the scriptures and read: “I have loved you with an everlasting love. I have written your name in the palm of my hand from all eternity. I have molded you in the depths of the earth and knitted you in your mother’s womb. I love you. I embrace you. You are mine and I am yours and you belong to me.” You have to hear this, because if you can hear this divine voice speak to you from all eternity, then your life will become more and more the life of the beloved, because that is who you are.

Nouwen, Henri J. M.. Discernment

When I hear this voice of love, it is not only for me to revel in.  This voice of love and belonging compel me to share and bear witness.  It’s a cup that gets poured out in joy.  The movement will lead outward towards the blessed presence of others, proclaiming with them our belovedness.  This work will cause us to reflect the divine life of Jesus, the One who renews, restores, and redeems us all.  

Optics of Fear

When I was in high school, I joined the track team and ran the mile and half mile.  I also ran cross country.  In 9th grade, I was the league champ for the frosh/soph category.  I ran a 17:39 5k.  Same year, I was training to run a 4:30 mile.  The closest I got was 5min flat.  The person behind me came in 10 seconds later.

Ask me what happened my sophomore year…

nothing.

I quit.

why?

I was afraid of losing.  I couldn’t bear the thought of coming in second or last.  I was also overwhelmed by the training.  I’ll never forget the feeling of quitting.  It hurt….it hurt bad.

I hate fear.  And the kind of fear I’m talking about is the paralyzing stuff where it causes you to stop dead in your tracks.

John Ortberg describes fear like this:

“…an internal warning cry that danger is nearby and we had better do something about it. It is designed to be what researchers call a “self-correcting mechanism”—to be unpleasant enough to motivate us to take action and remove ourselves from whatever is threatening us. It readies our body to flee, hide, or fight.”

book on amazon

We perceive something as dangerous, unpleasant, or threatening.  Our bodies go into flight, fight, or fright mode.  The word literally means “danger”!

But why is that my classmates Seth, Tim, and Ian weren’t afraid enough to quit?  Why did I quit?  Why did I give in to fear and why did I see it more as a threat than they did?

Somehow my perception of racing felt like danger and a threat to my sense of value and worth.  I equated winning and losing to my self-worth and I was more worried about that than actually racing and having fun.

OPTICS

This is the famous buzz word I’ve heard recently.  It’s about how we frame, perceive, and see things.  A “jacked up” view can cause us to see things through optics of fear.  What someone see’s as an opportunity, others see it as a threat or dangerous to their livelihood.

In the Bible, the number one mandate repeated isn’t about how to love God, others, or to do good (although they’re the most important).  Nope.  The most repeated mandate is “DO NOT BE AFRAID”.

Lost dreams, unfulfilled goals, and lack of trying…are they optics of fear that have paralyzed us?

ENDURE

The Belgian spiritual writer Bieke Vandekerckhove found out she had terminal cancer at age 19.  She writes about three inner feelings she had to work through:  sadness, anger, and fear.  The first two are easier to name, express, and work through.  She says,

“fear paralyzes us, and this paralysis is the very thing which robs us of the strength we would need to combat it…fear can only be suffered.  We have to live with it until it recedes on its own…with fear, sometimes all we can do is endure.”

Ronald Rolheiser has quickly become one of my favorite spiritual writers.  He may be the next “Henri Nouwen”.  In his book, “Wrestling with God”, he says,

“Fear can render us impotent.  But naming it properly, recognizing where that symptom belongs and how powerless it leaves us, can help us to live with it, without sadness and anger.”

book on amazon

We may not be able to fix or cure fear completely out of our lives, but we can learn to name it, endure it, and choose to trust God’s invitation to not be afraid (because God is for us, with us, and towards our purpose and potential).

more to name… 🙂

Liberated from Fear

We are afraid of fear because we believe that it has the power to name who we are, and it fills us with shame. We feel ashamed that we’re going around as a fearful person, and so we pretend that we’re not afraid. We try our best to find our own way out of feeling afraid, but this is our dilemma, our stuck place, that Jesus wants us to be liberated from. But we cannot do it on our own.

– James Finley

Much like the 12 Step tradition, we must admit that we are powerless to overcome fear on our own.  We need a higher power that can restore and liberate us.

President FDR’s memorable inaugural speech contains one of the most famous lines regarding fear:

“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance…”

– President FDR

Until now, I didn’t know it was followed by him saying words like nameless, unreasoning, or unjustified.

Fear has a way of trying to name who we are so we work hard at disapproving that we are NOT who fear says we are.  The voice of fear tries to name us:

  • not good enough
  • failure
  • fraud
  • powerless
  • no one likes you

For Christians, the cross is the mystery of salvation and suffering, death and resurrection, defeat and victory.  Jesus was tormented by the fear of suffering He was going to face (Luke 22:44).  But Jesus wasn’t afraid of fear because He knew it was just fear.  And I think it’s because Jesus was constantly hearing the voice of His Father saying, “You are my son, the one I love, pride of my life”  (Mark 1:11, my version).  Jesus was properly named from the beginning.  His identity as Messiah, Christ, King, Lord, or Master were superseded by his identity origin:  Beloved.

The message of Jesus is inviting us to experience liberation from fear and hear our original names.  Shame becomes disempowered as we are properly named.

God meets us in the fears that try to name us.  The Father doesn’t abandon Jesus in the Garden of suffering or on the cross.  God’s life is somehow interwoven in the scary things that life throws at us:  middle school, teenage years, dating, marriage, school, career, money, retirement, sickness, death.  Some of these rites are scary.  Scary things happen to us during these stages of life.

When scary and painful things are happening in people’s lives, I listen and say something like, “I’m so sorry to hear about this.  I can’t imagine what it’s been like for you.”  And then we wait to see how God is present and how we might be attentive to his caring and comforting presence.

“Well-formed love banishes fear.” (1 John 4:18, the message).  It’s the voice of love from God that is truly naming you and I.

I won’t pretend this is an easy liberation.  It has been a lifelong wrestling for me.  But I’m more comforted by the words of love these days than prior.  I am much more courageous now to say, “Oh, it’s just fear trying to name me” and then move forward, knowing that the God of love is present in the scary things of life.