“Paradoxically, personal fulfillment means abandoning ourselves and putting others first. It means moving beyond wanting to be loved and moving into becoming lovers. It means growing past our need for things and discovering happiness in giving things away—even giving ourselves away, as Jesus did.”
– Rowan Williams
About ten years ago as my life, faith, and beliefs shifted and entered a new era, I did a lot of reevaluating. For instance, I found myself thinking quite a bit about life, purpose, God, Jesus, heaven, hell, and so on. While I was (and am) convinced there is a Deity (of whom Jesus is the face) and that our lives continue after we die, I can’t prove either of these is true. The thing is, for most of my life I’d been Christian, so I could go to heaven after I died. Actually, if I’m being truly honesty, for a good period of time it was MORE so I would NOT go to HELL.
Within that context, unable to prove a Creator exists or that we’ll continue existing and experience bliss after death, I wondered: Should I be a Christian? Why did/do/will I follow Christ? My answer then was the same as it is today: It’s the most beautiful way I know to live … now. Following Christ is the best path to being fully and vibrantly alive I’ve yet to encounter.
This leads me to a question I think is helpful for all of us (Christian or not): Think of your life. Bring to mind what you believe to be true when it comes to the big questions. More specifically, reflect on how these beliefs FORM you and lead you to ACT in the world. Now I ask: How’s that working for you? Are joy, bliss, peace, wholeness, blessed, gratitude, and love the types of images that come to mind?
A different way to put that is: Does our way of approaching and living life result in Light and Love for us AND others … or not? This last week I heard a message from several fronts on this topic, which I interpret as the Spirit speaking to me. Essentially, multiple light bulbs exploded in my head (no, it didn’t hurt 🙂 so I KNEW I needed to share this with you:
The Key to an AMAZING life is loving everything (aka God) with ALL your muchness, ESPECIALLY the difficulties.
One of the things I dig about myself is I take great pleasure in, and think I’m decently good at, making connections when it comes to ideas, ways of thinking, etc. So hang with me, because I’m going to try and connect a few dots and hopefully get some angels singing in your head. 🙂 [Note, while I’m going to reference the Bible and God a decent amount, I’m 100% convinced that if those aren’t your “things” this will still be super helpful.]
In Deuteronomy 6.5 we find arguably the most important commandment in the Old Testament: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. What exactly does “strength” (sometimes translated “might”) mean here? Are we supposed to love the Divine with our big biceps? As it turns out, instead of “strength” some interpreters think the best translation of this Hebrew word is “muchness”, which is actually one of my favorite words!
Now when it comes to living into this commandment, you do NOT need to believe in God (I’d note it IS pretty sweet to though). You see, “God” is simply code for EVERYTHING (note: I’m not talking about pantheism, where God is simply the universe, but panentheism, where God is both within everything and also separate). After all, the Bible frequently speaks of Christ being in all and through all, of God creating all things, of the Divine being everywhere, and so on. This leads me to Jesus.
You’ve probably heard the phrase Good Samaritan, which is based on a story the Christ told. The preface to this tale, though, is mind blowing. In Luke 10.25-28 a religious leader asks Jesus: “What must I do to get eternal life?” Note, here and most everywhere else you read “eternal life” in the Bible, it’s about a QUALITY of life, NOT quantity. It meant a life connected to the Source, a joyful, flourishing, whole, blissful, and peaceful life. Eternal life is first and foremost a reference to living an AMAZING life here and now.
Jesus responds with a question back: “How do you interpret the Law?” To which the scholar replies, “love God with all your heart, soul, and mind—and love your neighbor as yourself.”
The Christ tells him he’s exactly right, “do this and you’ll live.” Right after this, in the Story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus then reveals our “neighbors” are in fact EVERYONE … including our ENEMIES!
I’d boil down what’s going on in Deuteronomy and Luke like this: The key to an AMAZING life is to love everything (as in whatever and whoever you encounter) with all your muchness.
At this point you may find yourself wondering: What exactly does “muchness” mean? Muchness basically means ALL of you. It means to throw every fiber of your being into an endeavor. Now let’s connect this back to a bit of philosophy about Love/God.
Love/God aren’t meaningful so much as they render the world meaningful. Love/God aren’t sublime so much as they render the world sublime. Love/God don’t exist so much as they call everything into being. (Kudos to the philosopher Pete Rollins for gifting me this.)
Think about it. Bring to mind a time when you were in love (hopefully it’s now). When you’re in love, when you love, your WHOLE life becomes rich with meaning and purpose. Love makes ordinary songs magical. Love turns mundane activities into poetry. Love transforms normal scenery into a work of art. Love makes the colors of life pop, the notes of being dance and sing, and the stones of experience rise into the heavens.
Now, lets drill a bit further down the love rabbit hole. True love, deep love, the love we all hope to live and experience sees the beloved as a universe unto him/herself. Love sees the “other” as infinitely enjoyable, endlessly explorable, and forever knowable. Do you see the richness here? When we choose to love all the various bits of our experience with all the beautiful bits of our selves, our worlds will EXPLODE with GOODNESS. Deciding to love your friends, family, job, walks, workouts, meals, chores, sleep, conversations, parties, free time, sports events, and so on will make them EACH BELOVED. Which means most ALL your experiences will be infinitely enjoyable, endlessly explorable, and forever knowable.
Now, I think it’s important to note love is a choice. Love is a decision we make, which leads to actions and life. Love is mindfully choosing to see the best in everyone/everything, hope and bring the best for everyone/everything, and to go through and bear all the messiness of life TOGETHER. This isn’t something we fall in and out of so much as it’s a choice we make day by day.
This brings me to one last, and crucial, dot to connect. In The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values, and Spiritual Growth (isn’t that a fantastic title?) M. Scott Peck writes:
“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”
I can’t emphasize how vital this is. In fact, I invite you to read it 2, 3, or 4 more times.
The people I know who are most FULL of life, those who are blissful, joyful, and have love flowing out of their pores, are those who dive fully and wholeheartedly into EVERY aspect of life, be it the good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly, or everything in between. By accepting that life is difficult, they transcend it. By realizing love is messy, they include it.
Life isn’t about destinations; it’s about the journey. When we live into this reality, each moment becomes rich with possibility.
When you think about it, isn’t it our struggles and difficulties that make the best stories? Aren’t our faults, failures, and foibles what result in the most laughter and connection? With that in mind, what if we regularly approached and engaged our difficulties with a sense of play? [Note, I’m talking about our normal life stressors here, NOT the things we should work AGAINST like abuse, oppression, racism, sexism, division, slavery, and other forms of harm.]
Let’s put some flesh on this shall we? Think of a difficulty with a life partner, work partner, or close friend. When it comes to the people closest to us, there is frequently something they do or say that drives us crazy. You know what I mean? What if you engaged it playfully, with love and grace?
For example, I have a bit of OCD. I know this and my wife knows it. She’s pretty much the opposite (funny how that works right?), so it could EASILY frustrate, sadden, or anger her. Instead, though, Lisa has chosen to love my OCD with all her muchness. She laughs about it, appreciates its positive aspects (clean house baby!), and teases me about it appropriately. The juiciest part of this approach is her love and muchness frees me to be less OCD!
Now lets turn this to the “regular” aspects of life, shall we? When we love everything (as in whatever and whoever we encounter) with all our muchness, the world and life becomes MAGICAL and AMAZING. Consider nature, for instance, there is SO MUCH beauty all around us. Regardless of where we live there is abundant goodness in creation. There are rivers, lakes, oceans, seas, trees, clouds, stars, fields, hills, mountains, cacti, flowers, dunes, tundra, and so on all around us … and it is ALL a miracle. They are all beautiful in their own right. It’s all worthy of our wonder and awe over the glory of this all.
Consider music, how many amazing songs are there out there? There’s SO MUCH to enjoy, and even sing and dance to if you fancy it (I DO!). How about books? There are countless good books for anyone interested in reading. Or ponder movies, paintings, poems, sculptures, and architecture, there are incredible works of art to admire ALL AROUND us. I could keep going, but hopefully you get my point.
Finally, think about this. What would it look and feel like to decide to love your occupation, chores, and adulting (i.e. bills, taxes, budgeting, emails, etc.) with ALL YOUR MUCHNESS? How would that feel if you dove into those things with all your being, choosing to enjoy and take pleasure in the goodness that comes from these tasks? I bet it would be GRAND!
THIS is why I find following Christ to be the richest, most joyful, most wholesome, and most loving way to live here and now. This is why I’d continue doing so even if it was proven God didn’t exist and death is for sure the end. As I understand it, choosing the Way of Christ names everyone as beloved and valuable, sees everything as sacred, views all creation as a work of art, considers our occupation and chores holy and wonderful, works for the healing of all people and all creation, welcomes everyone, cares for the hurting and our friends and our enemies, includes and transforms the hurts and difficulties of life, and recognizes the Divine DNA in all people as part of freely and fully loving them all.
It’s working for me … and it’s always growing and evolving, so I’d love to hear how your way of being and acting in life is working for you (both positively and negatively). As Rowan Williams said at the beginning of the blog: May we all find the amazing fulfillment that comes with being lovers!
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Grace and peace,