Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Gospel Is Not Complicated; I Am

I've been thinking a lot lately about this image of undoing knots. I've often told my son about how one of Mary's titles is Our Lady Undoer of Knots as I am trying to tease apart his shoelaces that seem to have fused together. Or to my daughter, when she brings me her wad of tangled necklaces. There is something about knots that makes us want to give up in frustration and bring it to someone else and wait for it to be solved. Knots are baffling and seem impossible.

About 20 years ago or so, when I prayed I often had this sense that my life was tied up in knots -- that I had all sorts of internal complications. I say I had a sense of it because I could feel the mess, but I couldn't see how I was perpetuating it.

But recently, especially as I've been reading the book I referred to about the Little Way of St. Therese, Everything is Grace, I've been understanding both how I had gotten all knotted up, and what it looks like for me to be unknotted.

The process could start with, say, a comment made to me about someone else. Maybe this comment reveals or reminds me of a weakness in that person. The knot might start to form as my soul gloms on to that information, and I turn it over in my mind, I delight in that weakness, I relive everything that person has ever done that upset me, and then everything that has upset me in the concentric circles rippling out from that person (to the larger group, or everyone of "that type of person"). I go off on getting very upset at all these memories for several days or a few weeks. Then I feel remorse, or exhaustion, or depression, and I fling myself at God (whom I now blame for putting me in the whole situation in the first place), and I agonize over why He doesn't seem to love me enough to give me the type of people I really need to be happy. This lasts a good long time. In the meantime, I cry and moan to friends at church, ask them to pray for me, and sob over why I am so unloved. Then, to fix myself, I decide to strenuously study the Bible on a certain topic of God's love, and I fill pages and pages with notes. I am sure that if I study enough, I will get a breakthrough in my understanding and I will be able to believe God loves me. I sing, I pray, and I try very hard to analyze every thought I have about all of my issues. I might even force myself to do something spiritual for the person or group of people I had gotten upset about. I might decide I am called to join their ministry or volunteer for their group, or whatever. Because I am determined to press through and not have a problem with them anymore.

In the meantime, I can't figure out why I'm anxious, tired, frustrated, unfulfilled and terribly unsure about what God really wants for me. And I'm completely and totally in a knot. I couldn't discern God's will if it came and bit me on the nose because I am dreadfully busy making froth.

Now, for the unknotted life. I start with the same circumstance. I learn a piece of info that reminds me of a weakness of a person I've had a problem with, and I find some delight in it.

I take that to God and I say, "Lord, I am so weak. I'm finding delight in this meaningless little piece of info. Bless her. Help me."

What I have there are two strings that are a little bent, but they are not a knot. And instead of wearing myself out with 1,000 self-improvement programs that bear no fruit and only wear me out because they are all of the flesh, I accept that I'm bent and I have proclivities that aren't good. I know it, and I know God knows it, and He's ready to help me with His mercy.

My pastor is fond of reminding me that the gospel is simple. That's true. But it is immensely difficult for a proud person to accept and live by simple things. My pride wants to be fed with attachments, praise, and always wonderful results. Jesus' gospel tells me to seek the kingdom of God, not the goods of earth, the attention of people or feelings of power. The directive "forsake those things; choose God" is simple, but doing it crushes the proud soul. And thereby relieves from it its burden of sin.

The gospel really is simple. I, on the other hand, am not.

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