8/30: Exodus 3:1-15 and Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45b • Jeremiah 15:15-21 and Psalm 26:1-8 • Romans 12:9-21 • Matthew 16:21-28
The readings this week are challenging. In Exodus, the young man Moses is tending sheep when he sees a burning bush. Rather than running away in fear, he declares that he must stop what he's doing and see this thing more closely. In Romans, Paul advises the community to bless rather than curse those who would persecute them. In Matthew, Jesus tells the disciples that those who lose their lives for his sake will find them. None of these approaches come easy to us human beings: naturally fearful, easily angered, and ferociously clinging to whatever lives we have.
How hard it is to let go of the lives we have! Jesus, it seems, has begun to realize what he was going to have to give up in order to be true to himself. He was beginning to articulate what it would mean for him to stay faithful to his deepest principles and deny all the rest. Peter, finding it a little harder to make this leap, urges Jesus to stop all this talk of suffering and death. Jesus digs in, saying that Peter is getting in the way of what he, Jesus, has to do. Then he begins to talk to his disciples about denying themselves.
Self-denial involves denying or overcoming one's false self: all that limits a person, chooses the automatic, declines growth. Take learning to swim. Swimming lessons are tolerable, until it's time to learn to float on your back and it feels like you are going to drown. But the person who really wants to be able to swim will find a way to calm their own fears long enough to give the back float a try.
It's the false self – the self that is anxious, worried, afraid – that gets in the way of living and meeting one's deepest goals. The swimming example is more than metaphor: to deny all that is interfering with finding one's true life, to live fully into the person one could become, a person must attend to her emotions. Sometimes, a person must reassure herself that something uncomfortable is necessary, whether it's floating on her back or developing an adult connection with a person who still evokes childhood fears. A self that is in charge of the emotional system, that listens to it, considers it, and acts thoughtfully on behalf of the whole person, is required. What at first seems counterintuitive – or perhaps not even thought of before – now becomes an option available for the choosing.
When Moses puts aside fear, deciding to move towards, rather than away, from the burning bush, his life begins to change. Finding himself called to a surprising future, to say the least, and initially objecting that he was not up to the task, he eventually stepped up. It all started with curiosity. When he started to put his life energy into what interested him (a bush, of all things!) his life became different. When a person pursues a genuine interest, he is growing his authentic self.
Cultivating a life consistent with one's own deepest principles is a peculiar path. Along the way, one must continually leave behind whatever interferes with loyalty to one's own inner self. This is not a one-time battle! Much that is automatic, made up of pattens from early years, is in the way. But energy for picking up one's cross – whatever burden one must bear as the world reacts to authenticity – will be available. Even under duress, what is core to a person will remain. During his trial and execution, Jesus was genuine in blessing rather than cursing all who were persecuting him. Respecting the dignity of others at all times, a core principle of his true self, was alive for all to see.
The capacity to remain true to oneself is best practiced in relationship processes. Staying in life-giving contact with others helps to define oneself more clearly to them and to oneself. Engaging life's challenges - moving towards a burning bush – provides opportunity to grow the true self. Along the way, choosing what's counterintuitive may make a difference – and add some fun, too.
Morning: What part of me is getting in the way of my true self? Of my life goals? What new or counter-intuitive approaches might I try?
Evening: What surprised me today? When was I curious? When was I my most genuine, authentic self?
Psalm 105:3b Let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.