Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Transformation versus self-obsession (Creative versus Contrived) Chapters 5-10

“I think... if it is true that there are as many minds as there are heads, then there are as many kinds of love as there are hearts.”
― Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

I have thoroughly enjoyed Cary’s book. There have been many reminders to stop focussing on myself, turn my attention to Christ, to the cross, to His love. I think the second half of the book shows how that plays out in many different areas of our life, flowing from our hearts.

What struck me most as I read this section is how well this speaks to anxieties surrounding emotion. As an emotional person, I often surrender to how I feel or spend lots of time trying to examine how I feel, trying to find a diagnosis so that I can then find a cure. I think the second half of Cary’s book speaks the same truths across different areas of our lives, helping us to remember to stop looking inwards, look towards Jesus: in other words, get busy actually LIVING rather than wasting energy diagnosing whether or not we’re living ‘good enough’ according to standards that we’ve made up along the way – from culture, or our hearts, or other people.

I think the thing that helped free my thinking along these lines was one week in bible study when we were studying Galatians, that well-known passage on the Fruit of the Spirit. My co-leader pointed out that whilst Paul lists ‘acts’ of the flesh, he describes ‘fruit’ of the Spirit. That is, the works of the Spirit are grown, cultivated, fertilized: there is no list. No checkbox. Nothing to measure yourself against to see if you’re getting it right. This means that whilst there are specific things we know not to do, what we are to do is less straightforward… but much more creative, and freeing. More importantly, it involves seeing the other person, and seeing what they need in Christ: encouragement? Gentle rebuke? Food? Shelter? A night away from the kids? And so on. It moves the focus from ourselves to meeting someone else’s need.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free… the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Sometimes the need will be straightforward and obvious, but other times we’ll need to dig deeper, looking below surface level. It also means that we can stop hiding behind the rhetoric of ‘giftedness’ as a way not to meet someone’s need… if you’re not a good cook, surely you know a good one? Or maybe being a bit out of pocket to buy a brother or sister a meal is a worthy sacrifice. If instead of waiting until you’re sure that your motives are pure, that your heart is in a loving attitude, that God is speaking to you (all things the book denounces), imagine communities full of people trying to meet each other’s needs! And if we try something and fail, that’s okay – we can do it better next time. To me, imagining my spiritual life as a tree, growing and bearing fruit in any which way means I can breathe more deeply and more fully than when I contrive to motivate myself based on a made-up list. I hope that this book has helped move you more toward transformation and creativity rather than contrived, self-obsession. 

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