Day 13 – What We Do
When it comes to the deep soul work of the wilderness, we experience losses that can be incredibly disorienting. The ways our lives have been defined are no longer in place, and the things we thought we knew have been removed. The comfort of knowing what would happen next, even for the people of Israel enslaved in Egypt, was stripped away and replaced with the unknowing/uncertainty of following God in the dry, dusty desert. While it feels harsh, it is love.
In Soul Making, Alan Jones observes: “The task of love is to help us rid ourselves of the exoskeleton, to lay us bare, to set us free. But we love the prison house. The place of bondage is, at least, familiar. Love, then, comes as an unwelcome shock.” We may love the prison house because it gave us a sense of identity. When God rescues us from being enslaved to things other than Himself, He is doing it to bring us back to remembrance … remembering that we are not machines whose existence is defined by how many bricks we can make and how fast we can make them … remembering that we are designed and created to live fruitful lives that spring out of our life with God in which He alone is enough for us. For the people of Israel, they were shaped over centuries to believe that their worth was rooted in what they could do, what they could accomplish. We may find that have we been shaped in similar ways. It may have been family pressures to “make something of your life” or the societal pressures in which we are seemingly always asked, “what do you do for a living?”
As we explore how the idolatry of “what we do” may be present in our lives, we may become overwhelmed. We may react by thinking, “Ok, well, just tell me what to do.” We may desire things to be simple and easy, but the realities of the heart are complex, and we have a relationship with God, not lists of “do this” and “don’t do that.” Dismantling the idols that have become lodged in our hearts takes time, and the impulse to “do” actually reveals a heart that has been shaped in a particular way. This can be part of the attraction of a religious system of dos and don’ts. It doesn’t take faith or trust but simply the either/or of “doing.” We’re either in or we’re out. We either did it or we didn’t. This can be our thought process. While it is not gracious or lifegiving, it is manageable. However, God’s heart for us is not to live a manageable life but a life flowing with goodness and grace that is rooted in relationship. Relationship can feel like a fuzzy word, perhaps even a bit vague. However, if we put it in terms of identity, we can ask: do you see yourself, as your core identity, as a beloved son or daughter of God?
It is interesting to note that before Jesus had done any work or accomplished any ministry, He was baptized (Matthew 3). At His baptism, He heard those words we discussed last week, “this is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” Belovedness, relationship, and value do not come as a result of work but should be what lead us into the work/the “doing” of life. Then, of course, the next stop in Matthew 4 was the wilderness temptation where this was all challenged. In verses 8-9, we read: “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’” In a very basic way, the temptation for Jesus was to “do” life on His own terms … to circumnavigate the suffering of the cross and go straight to being a king. His “doing” in life, we see over and over again, was shaped by a responsiveness to His Father. In John 5:19, Jesus says, “The Son can do nothing of His own accord but only what He sees the Father doing.” Relationship, connection with the Father, was primary and foundational.
As we are pressed into a wilderness space where we are limited in what we can do and things are stripped away, our prayers can be shaped by wanting to get around the suffering or they can be shaped by resting in our identity as the beloved. The loss of a dream or the loss of ability to “do” can be a deep grace if we are willing to receive it that way. Rather than asking God to get us out of the desert, what would it be like to rest in what is? How might you receive what is as an invitation to press more deeply into your identity as one who is living in a relationship with God?
As we make that kind of choice, we begin to experience that His love is enough … that His presence is more satisfying than anything we might do or accomplish. We are able to say with confidence, “It is not about what I do, but who I am as a son (or daughter) of God.” It is a life of resting in faith and trust rather than striving to accomplish. To be sure, this is not easy. It is upside down from what we have often experienced. Henri Nouwen said it so beautifully, “Jesus’ [life] is characterized by a downward pull. That is what disturbs us. We cannot even think about ourselves in terms other than those of an upward pull, an upward mobility in which we strive for better lives, higher salaries and more prestigious positions. Thus, we are deeply disturbed by a God who embodies a downward movement.”
As opposed to the false self which is about what we do, the true self is resting in our belovedness and actually letting God love us … receiving His presence as enough. What might that look like for you? How will you release an identity based on doing and remember that God is loving you, He is with you?
Notice the way Habakkuk describes resting in faith (the heart of true worship) in the following: “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.” (3:17–19)
Question for reflection: how do you see the false self of “what we do” at work in your life?
Prayer: Lord, give me the strength to rest in relationship with You. Give me the wisdom to see You and listen to You in the ways you desire to be with me and love me. Amen.