Sermon for April 29, 2018
So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Have you ever wondered why it is that your performance, athletic or otherwise, approaches ideal as your self consciousness decreases? Sometimes people call it the flow, being in the zone, or even calling someone ‘unconscious’ as they seem to perform without effort. I’m reminded of a basketball game where Michael Jordan was having one of these moments. Scoring, and making it look so easy in the 1992 playoffs, he shrugged his shoulders after hitting his sixth three pointer of the first half as if to say, “Even I don’t know what I’m doing!” There is a profound spiritual truth in these experiences that only scratches the surface of the underlying reality that makes this possible.
Most, if not all, of us have experienced times in our lives where, although we couldn’t explain exactly why one time was different than another, we found ourselves performing almost effortlessly at whatever we were doing. It doesn’t really matter what the specific example is, it could be sports or parenting or work, I’m talking about moments where we feel at once seamlessly connected to something far greater than ourselves, while also being somehow unaware of ourselves in our normal self-conscious way. We look back at these moments in awe of ourselves, as if it really wasn’t even us who did those things. It’s both amazing, and wonderful, to us while at the same time being somewhat frustrating and bewildering in that there is no road map to repeat these experiences in a controlled and predictable manner.
What makes these moments even more incredible are the other moments, the times when we are totally self-conscious and in our own way, that create such a deep contrast that allows us to see our inconsistencies so clearly. We come to realize that, although there are little tips and tricks that help sometimes, we are really not in ultimate control of being “in the zone”. In fact, many times when we find ourselves feeling totally off, and disconnected, the more effort we put forth, the worse things get. Conversely, if we are in the zone, the moment we try to control that flow, the faster it will disappear.
These worldly moments of effortless success are merely hints of the boundlessness of God’s Grace that awaits us. It is like feeling the mist on your face, blown off of an ocean’s wave, versus plunging into the waters. God is giving us just a whisper, and then holding his arms out, as a loving father does to his child who is trying to walk all the way to a wonderful embrace.
Go back and read the verses from Matthew 6 above. “But seek first his kingdom”, it says. It does not say focus on the problem, delve into your “issues”, figure out all the “why’s”, analyze the past, control the future….I could keep going on. The ways in which we torture ourselves, worship self-consciousness and control, jump in our own way and blame the world- these ways are endless. Even when we think we know the folly of trying to control everything, we still continue to walk down a path of our own making because it seems out of our control to let go of control...wait a minute, what? Yes, we try to control letting go of control. We think, “Ok, so I was ‘in the zone’ when I let go and just did things without thinking. So, to get in the zone again, I’ll just make sure I really Iet go, and act natural, be myself, don’t worry.” And now you’re sunk again. You’ve even turned letting go into trying to control. It’s like desiring not to desire. The more you want to be free of desire, the more you’re trapped in it.
Isn’t it so frustrating when you’re nervous about something and someone, well intentioned as it may be, says, “Just be yourself!” Great, but who is that again? How do I do that?
This may sound, at first, like the whole thing is hopeless. It might seem like it’s impossible to do anything in life if you feel helpless and out of control. But, if we’re honest and we drop the image we give to the world, don’t we already have so many moments in life when we feel this way and simply keep going because we don’t feel like there is any other choice?
God is giving you a choice, however. Read Matthew above again and then add this-
1 Corinthians 10:13
But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
Seek the Kingdom of God first. The way out of the seeming trap is actually in the trap. As you seek God, you begin to realize just how silly it was that you ever thought you were actually in control of things. God’s Grace is not something you can earn like a paycheck, or command to be yours. It resists all attempts to control it. But when you really see this, not just have a dull intellectual understanding of it but realize it in your heart, you see that your lack of control is ultimate, divine, freedom. You are finally able to let go- not through your own power, control, or choice, but through a realization that your idea of control never actually existed in the first place. You haven’t given up control, you’ve seen the reality that you’re not in control and never have been. You haven’t earned Grace, you’ve seen that it has been with you all along. Stay with me as I bring it down to a more concrete comparison...
This does not mean that you give up on the practical details of everyday life and just let go of everything and stop doing things. It means you are no longer owned by your things, your responsibilities, by anything that is of the world. You are finally free to experience life without self-conscious anxiety, tension, worry, separateness from God. You could literally do all the same things you did yesterday, but with a focus on God and a realization that you are not able to control anything, and you will find that both the outcomes, and your perception of them, are totally transformed.
These are seemingly very hard ideas to imagine really being a part of our moment to moment life. Go back to the smaller example of being ‘in the zone’, however. Think about something you first started to learn. All the details had you lost in conscious thought. The steps, what you were supposed to do versus what you were doing, who might be watching, so many details, all had your mind spinning. This can be applied to just about anything- public speaking, Jiu Jitsu, school, surfing, learning to drive etc. When you start something new, everything seems to need your conscious attention and it can be exhausting and humbling. You’re trying to control too many moving parts and at any moment it could all fall apart. But yesterday, when you drove home from work, did it feel the same as when you took your driving test for your license?
As you learn, you begin to have more and more ability to forget about being aware of yourself learning. You stop focusing on the details, on control, and you spend more time in the moment, letting go of watching yourself, trying to be something, and more time just being. Take a moment and go to YouTube and watch a black belt in Jiu Jitsu practice the art. Then watch a white belt do the same thing. It’s not meant to shame the beginner, but only to show a real world example. Spiritual truths are being played out right there on the mat.
In a similar way, the spiritual path, or just life in general for that matter, can put you squarely in your own way. You can get caught up in self-consciousness, anxiety, guilt, shame, confusion just to name a few. You can enter the maze of who you think you are, how you’re going to control and figure everything out, and never find your way out. But why enter your own maze when God’s open arms are waiting?
Remember that God has given us the way. Seek him first and resist the temptation to focus on ourselves and the world. Don’t run away from the feeling that you can’t control things but trust that He will provide the way out through that very feeling of helplessness. Be still, be quiet, with your inability to control things and allow God’s Grace to fill that space. When you do these things, God will take you the rest of the way.