Sports, television, reading, gardening, politics, exercise, shopping; which of these manmade gods do we bow down to? Moses warned that our hearts are turned from God because our heart is not centered on God, it is led astray by the distractions of life, the things that we choose to serve instead of God. When coupled with Luke’s statement that only those who are willing to give up all their possessions can be a disciple of Christ Jesus, it sounds like this whole faith thing is just impossible. I mean how can God expect us to give up everything to be their follower.
Well, the truth is that God is not asking for that. God is asking us to set aside pride and desire, which lead to selfishness and anger. It’s not that God is asking us to live as hermits, though there was a time when some thought that was the expectation; God is simply asking that we not let our desires take over our lives. Don’t let the belief that life is a competition distract you from what is important, we can’t let our desire to be successful persuade us that our life is more important than anyone else’s. The problem is that it’s easy to fall into the cycle of selfishness, forgetting that the abilities we have that allow us to be successful are a gift from God and when we do that we turn inward, assuming that our success is due only to our own abilities, and our ego takes over; which is what turns our hearts from God and towards false gods, towards things that, while sometimes fun, contribute to our lack of understanding and awareness of God’s presence.
Maintaining a spiritual rhythm in one’s life is incredibly difficult. What I mean by a spiritual rhythm is a regular awareness and acknowledgment of the presence of God in the world and our lives. A part of this rhythm is rooted in regular corporate worship, but that is only a tiny part of it. Our connection to God is much more than what we experience on Sunday morning, it is the connections we have to our loved ones, the love we feel for them and from them; it is the amazement you feel standing at the base of a mountain as you look skyward to focus on the peak; it is the awe you feel when you have reached the peak; it is the smile you have when you think of your best friend; it is the empathy you experience when you encounter someone who is hurting. We have all had many of these experiences, but how often do we associate them with God? My guess is rarely to never, but that’s okay and frankly its expected. The question is how can we establish a new rhythm? One that allows us to recenter ourselves, acknowledge God’s presence and give thanks.
If we can recenter ourselves then we will be prepared to give up all that we possess and become true disciples of Christ Jesus but giving up all that we possess does not meant that we are giving up our livelihood, our homes, our stuff. What it means is that we are giving up our pride, our anger, our jealousy, our selfishness, and every other thing that interferes with our ability to give and receive empathy, compassion, and love. The way of God is the way of Love, everything Jesus said, everything that he did was about love, both sharing and receiving it. Does that mean he had no possessions, that he never had fun with his friends, or have days where he struggled? I sincerely doubt that to be the case because every person struggles at one time or another, and fun with friends and a few cherished possessions are not what separates any of us from God; it is our envious love of things and our selfish desire for success that separates us from God. I do not believe that God cares that we own a cell phone or that we want to live comfortably; denying ourselves the comforts we have been able to develop as a species is not what it means to give up all our possessions, doing so does nothing more than deny the freewill God gave us when we were created. The only thing we need to give up are those parts of ourselves that keep us from loving God and each another. Once we do that, once we have let go of the need for success, of the unnecessary pride and desire, then we will be prepared to lead a God centered life, a life that is rooted in empathy, compassion, and love.
As I progress on my own faith journey I am beginning to understand what that may look like. In recent years I have gained a new skill, it is the ability to listen with an empathetic ear, which is different than just listening to someone. Let me explain. I am one of the go to people at work, many people come to talk to me when they are upset. I think they come for a few reasons, one being because they know that I will listen, another being they think I may be able to help. Sometimes though, they are just upset at a decision that has been made, and while I attentively listen to why they are upset I will find myself both acknowledging their feelings and trying to understand why the decision was made because it is very unlikely that the decision maker had nefarious intent. You see, listening with empathy, listening as we hope God listens, without judgement is what we are called to do, the possession we need to give up is our belief that we have control. I could very easily hop on the anger train and rail against the people who have wronged my friend, but then I would not be keeping God in the forefront, I would be keeping my desire to protect my friend in the forefront. God asks me to love my friend and the person they feel has wronged them which why when we listen with empathy, we must have empathy for everyone, not just the people we like. As we enter the holy silence, I invite you to reflect on which of your possessions keep you from connecting with God.