by Gwen Shipley, CFDM Faculty
I’m no John Lennon but imagine with me a world free from the dehumanizing notion that one’s value depends on one’s productivity. (And you may indeed be saying that I’m a dreamer…!)
It is difficult to discern whether this over achieving ethic is…
a) embedded in the adamic DNA
b) the result of cultural conditioning or
c) a pathological coping mechanism survivable only by the fittest.
Perhaps by the 21st century A.D. we might be expected to know better.
Whatever the source, and admittedly a challenge of degrees, it seems nearly everyone is touched by the toxic contaminant of proving our worth by doing. Given the message of the Gospel, grace through faith, it is reasonable to assume that the point of reference would be different among those identifying as Christian. But, alas! As with the divorce rate among the self-proclaimed faithful, so it is with the sacred romance of The Beloved gone awry.
Therefore it is with good reason that CFDM’s Formation 1 begins by establishing that we are The Beloved of God. Period. That before we do a blessed thing, God is at work willing and doing of God’s good pleasure—which is all love—before we utter so much as a feeble squeak or flex a wimpy bicep.
“Come to me,” Jesus said, “you who are weary and heavy-laden; I will give you rest. (Matt. 11:28) For some this is a first encounter with freedom. For many others it becomes little more than a repurposed to-do list. Instead of learning the unforced rhythms of grace, we begin to assume undue responsibility for our own righteousness. In that case, it can be disorienting to wake to the realization that consent is what God asks us to bring; that the heavy lifting is initiated and performed by the Spirit. In Christian formation we are challenged to take seriously this theological butterfly effect, a shift which has major implications for our relationships with God, ourselves and others. Seeing the futility of well-intentioned self-effort can produce disillusionment, disappointment, confusion, anger—especially if we’ve been at it for some time. It is a painful transition, but one that takes us deeper if we will allow it.
For me, one such season of transition included releasing a specific and valued identity. I was stripped of the ability to contribute to the household income, and routinely isolated from friends, family and fun. For someone whose core identity is wrapped in a package of doing, this was death-dealing before it was life-giving. The things I reached for to prove my worth were removed in order for me to see myself valued with or without them, a process that continues. Thomas Keating calls these “over-identifications” and “emotional programs for happiness.” You may have found yourself on a similar path.
In fact, what is being birthed in such times is the freedom to be known and loved as the person one truly is, not as one believes they should be or could be, or is even in the habit of being. It is rather entrance into “a new world that is manifested in daily life, not only by greater peace, calm, and sometimes, greater joy, but also by a greater concern for others in practical ways.” (1)
If you find yourself in a time where access to familiar possibilities is suspended, you might ask things like, “Am I in transition? What is being birthed? Can I let myself simply be, and be loved by God in this time? How might you be deepening my experience of you, God? What would you like me to see, how else would you like me to know you?” Keep this in mind: Any labor and delivery nurse—my daughter is one—knows well the intense period between the early and later stages of giving birth termed transition. Support is vital as all attention and energy turns inward in preparation for the final moments that produce the long-awaited, messy promise. It is a delicate, dangerous passage and no new life emerges without it.
“In a dark time, the eye begins to see.” Theodore Roethke
1. Keating, Thomas, Manifesting God. (New York, NY: Lantern Books, 2005) p.96