Sometimes the simplest spiritual truths are hidden, right in front of our eyes. For many reasons we fail to see them and this shortcoming is always to our detriment.
Recently, I have become aware of one such spiritual principle that is both simple and profound and when discovered and clarified, can lend much benefit of ourselves in general and others in particular. The principle I am speaking of relates first of all to a theme that is found throughout scripture, start to finish. The principle under consideration can be summed up something like this:
In the world’s wisdom, the primary question underlying any situation is basically this: How can this benefit me? In the world’s value system, self is the consistent point of reference. Everything is viewed from the angle of me.
In God’s kingdom, this worldly principle is turned on its head. Throughout his daily actions, his teachings, and ultimately, his death and resurrection, Jesus demonstrated the centrality of a kingdom principle that was opposite of the world’s wisdom: How can this benefit others?
The dichotomy between the world’s central focus and that of Jesus stands out in stark relief and when it comes to practical application, virtually all areas of life’s activities come into play. In the space of this short essay, I have no intention of going into great detail nor do I intend to give numerous examples of how these ethical principles exist in stark juxtaposition. Instead, I will speak of only one area where the Holy Spirit blessed me with a degree of insight.
I don’t know about you, but in my life there is one general situation that is a sure bet to send me spiraling into a web of suffocating self-absorption that entangles me quicker than Br’er Rabbit’s Tar Baby. I am speaking of those times when I find myself in some difficult situation, whether it be related to work, personal relations, finances, and more subtly, when I am dealing with some cognitive or emotional stronghold the either the world or the enemy constructed in my mind.
I have a tendency to overcomplicate these kinds of problems, more often than not making them far worse than they actually are or ramping up my stress level by ruminating on these difficulties sometimes for days on end. I’ll wager more than a few of you know exactly what I am talking about.
As an aside, it is interesting to note that the word “ruminate” comes from the same root word as the word used to describe a cow’s cud, that thing the cow chews on over and over and over – and just like the cow and its cud, I have a marked tendency to chew on my problems over and over and over. Again, I doubt I am alone in this mental habit.
From the above, it is easy to see how I become totally self-absorbed. Thoroughly trained in the world’s value system of “me,” first, I lose connection with God’s perspective. Yet the irony of the situation is that I have found that by taking the time and the initiative to try to refocus on God’s principles, I come out of my self somewhat and muster enough strength and wisdom to free myself from the pesky tar baby. This often occurs in two ways, one you are most likely familiar with, and another that may be new to you.
I have consistently found that the most effective means I have at getting myself unstuck when ruminating over personal difficulties is to get up, go out, and do something for someone else. This does not always solve my problem, but it does buy me valuable time, it broadens my perspective, and it gives me a clearer picture of just what it is that is important in life. I need to get my focus off of myself and put it on others and on God.
The second way that I have found a bit of freedom from self-absorption with life problems comes from trying to see things from God’s perspective. I know from working many years in counseling and particularly in substance abuse, alcoholism, and other addictive disorders, that the best resource a person has is to connect with another individual who has gone through the same difficulty. That is why Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Al-Anon, etc. works so well. People are getting help from those who have walked in their shoes.
And then it dawned on me. Whatever major difficulty, or minor one for that matter, that I was experiencing had a meaning and a purpose. Perhaps one day a few years down the road someone just might need the wisdom I had gained through the difficulty I experienced. Remember, in God’s value system the focus is always on the other, not the self. My current problem could very well be God’s way of preparing me to be of help to another person at some point in the future. When I actually sat down and took the time to prayerfully reflect on this revelation, it opened my eyes to a bigger picture that transcended the narrow focus of my chronic self-centeredness.
This broader perspective allowed me to see an angle of life’s difficulties that was larger than my own self-interest – it allowed me a glimpse of things from a more divine perspective.
Again, this insight did not solve the problem, but it gave me a more sublime awareness on why I might be going through what I was going through and how it might indeed serve a larger purpose.
Think about it.
© L.D. Turner 2015/All Rights Reserved