Do you ever feel like the antonym of all you want to be? Flawed, helpless, ineffective, uninspired, failed? Maybe there is something to be discovered in the space between where we are and where we want to be.
Week 2 of my musings on “Becoming ‘Non’ for Lent” has continued to press me on some ways I’m comfortable being dualistic. One of those is in regards to my personal journey of progress.
Occasionally, I find in myself the opposite of what I intend to find.
There’s nothing particularly wrong with discontent about who I am at present. Any one who seeks to improve will find themselves in these valleys from time to time.
The Obstacle Becomes the Way
Back in my days as a pastor, I’d have a lot of time for personal reflection and study and meditation during Lent. Or let me rephrase that: I didn’t have to work hard to have the privilege of such time. But this year, like many non-pastoring Seasons of Lent, I’ve had to be deliberate about carving out time for silence and self-reflection.
Such reflection has led me to a confession.
In traditional sacramental movements of faith, repentance is proceeded by confession. My theology does not require confession in order for repentance to be reality. However, the act of confession has real potential to open us to new levels of awareness.
And so, the act of confessing I’m dissatisfied with who I am at present has become necessary for me. I must name the obstacle, I must name the space between where I am and where I want to be. Or as the Stoic philosopher and leader said it:
The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.
— Marcus Aurelius
And so I’m naming something that stands in the way as it becomes the way forward.
There is a stark contrast between who I am and who I claim to be: I call myself a follower of Jesus. And in that claim, I readily recognize how I don’t look much like Jesus.
I feel like some park bench stuck in the middle of nowhere, being overgrown by the nature that surrounds it and is far superior to it in every respect. The natural almost always seems to out-narrate the artificial.
If I am following this actual person, and if in following him my intent is to be more like him, then I’m doing a bad job of following.
And yet …
As broken as I know I am — as flawed, as helpless, as ineffective, as uninspired, as prideful, as ugly, as so much the antithesis of Jesus of Nazareth –, I have not been entirely crushed and dejected.
Oddly, I have gained more peace knowing that I am very much a poor human being in need of mercy.
Perhaps this is because I know I can’t go lower. But in fact, I can, and I have.
Perhaps this is due to my complete dependence on grace. But in fact, I know grace without response is no grace at all.
The Antonym of Me
No. It seems I have peace because I am comfortable in the reality that Jesus is the antonym of me.
Knowing who and what defines all that I am not, brings a calmness to my search for identity. Consequently, I can fully acknowledge who and what I am without fear, for I know what I am being shaped into.
My telos — that is, my purpose — is not mine alone. I am part of all the creation that is being reconciled. While at peace with what I am, I can live peacefully as I move, ever so slowly, toward that which I will be.
So, my Lenten confession: I am a wretchedly flawed human being and the antithesis of Jesus.
But this does not define me.
Rather, I am defined by that which I will be; in whose image I was created; in whose nature of love I have only begun to trust.
I wonder if a nascent caterpillar lets itself be defined as a leaf-devouring overeater who is barely mobile? Or if it does not worry about what it is, because the caterpillar’s purpose is to be a butterfly? I wonder if the caterpillar is at peace as a caterpillar because of its unshakeable faith in its purpose?
Maybe in following Jesus I need to be more like the caterpillar.