So for anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation: the old order is gone and a new being is there to see. – 2 Cor 5:17
Are you ready to be remade? To be transformed into the image of Christ? Are you willing to pay the price for your own freedom? Because cooperating with the free grace that Christ won for you costs more than you think.
When I first started taking my faith in Christ seriously, I was very quickly focused on the externals of what it meant to be a disciple. Prayer was a duty, study was to form me because I equated knowledge of the faith to faith, and ministry was mandatory because otherwise how could I “live my faith”? I focused on changing my habits, tried to cultivate virtues and eliminate vices, and did my best to evangelise by sharing about my faith as much as it was welcomed by others. And for a long while – years in fact – I thought I was doing pretty well for a Catholic. I considered my knowledge and understanding of the faith well above average, and I made sure I found ways to serve.
But then God changed the game plan on me. Well, he didn’t so much change it as revealed it to me when he felt I was ready. I had thought that giving of my time and resources and living my life righteously was what “the costs of discipleship” referred to. Boy was I mistaken! It started out that way for a while, but then one day I realised God was saying to me, “I’m not asking for your time, your talents, your service. I’m not even asking for you to live an upright and righteous life. What I’m asking for is YOU. All of you. I am asking to love you, and to let my love penetrate you and remake you.”
What God wanted was to enter deep within my being and my inner life. While I had understood this notion intellectually in the past, nothing prepared me for the reality of what that actually meant. You see, we’re all old wine skin that Jesus pours new wine (Himself) into. But if we let Christ pour his life into us, the new wine actually transforms the old wineskin into new wineskin which can grow and mature with the new wine. But what does this transformation cost? Everything. Maybe I’m being over dramatic, but anybody who has experienced this process knows that I am not exaggerating. It certainly feels like it costs everything because we are called to surrender parts of our innerself we never knew were there and which we are most reluctant to give up.
For me, this has meant allowing God to dig up past wounds and old memories that has had a formative effect on my mind and heart – wounds that I had never recognised as wounds in the past. Believe me, it is easier to let sleeping dogs lie, to go on with life with the coping and defence mechanisms I have picked up over the years and to maintain a high functionality of being “OK”. But that is NOT an option if you really give your life to Christ. That is because part of that abundant life he said he came to give (Jn 10:10) is wholeness. He came to heal and make whole. He came to breathe life into dry bones. You can’t say ‘yes’ to being his disciple and opt to remain dead. It’s just that until his work in you deepens, you would also have not had any idea how challenging coming alive really is!
I have had to recognise distortion of love and emotional abuse and manipulation in some of the most significant formative relationships in my life. I have needed to let go of old perceptions of these relationships and be willing to see the difficult truths God reveals about them and to ask for healing – healing that requires committed and courageous choices on my part. When these wounds come to light, my first response is often denial. “It wasn’t all that bad,” I tell myself. “It was all done with the best intentions, out of what he/she thought was love.” But I have learned that those wounds make me a slave. They give rise to inordinate attachments that keep me shackled to distorted images of self, love, relationships, and God. Till this day, there are triggers that immediately send me into a “pre-programmed” mode of reaction where I am not free to respond with love but react out of insecurity, fear, or ‘duty’.
Part of what is difficult about this process of human transformation (emotional, psychological as well as spiritual) is that the process can feel very lonely. If you share what you are going through with people who have not yet experienced this process themselves, they tend to look at you like you’re a little crazy or maybe being too intense (or overthinking). Rare and precious it is to find a safe and wise companion who holds space for you and walks with you with understanding and compassion. I have found that it is a great act of self-respect and self-love to pray for and seek such companions in my journey. Discipleship was never meant to be lived alone.
Peter Scazzero, the author of “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” , has a phrase that never fails to hit me – “Using God to run away from God.” This could mean immersing myself in ministry and church work or even in helping others (all not bad things in themselves) so that I am too busy and preoccupied to be present to what God actually wants to do with and in me. And so I have come to be thankful of “bad things” like illnesses and ruptures in relationships and painful conflicts because I have come to recognise these as red flags God puts up to remind me to stop running away from Him, and to return to being present to what He is calling forth within me. There is within me always an entombed Lazarus Christ is willing to “Come forth!”
Recently a former spiritual director of mine reminded me that there is a distinction between piety/being pious and genuine holiness. We can be very pious and remain unchanged like the pharisees in Jesus’ time, old wineskin incapable of containing the new wine that is Christ. The only way to grow in genuine holiness is to stop running away from God and to let him make straight our crooked spiritual limbs, to let him mend our broken hearts. This is the narrow way. This is the way of the cross. And this is the only way to a fullness of life and a peace and joy this world can never know or give; a peace and joy that transcends even health and happiness. The question is, how much do we desire it? It is ours to receive if we want it enough to pay the price. I want it. How about you?