Estimated reading time: 7 minute(s)
Imagine with me, please, that we are all free. There’s nothing to prove—ever.
I don’t have to defend my spoken thoughts to you, nor those I neglected to speak, though you wished I had.
You don’t have to explain yourself to me, either. And both of us are able to freely express what we think and feel and believe, without any threat of being shunned or belittled, or even just misunderstood.
What if we could all just relax in each other’s presence? I can be who I am, and equally enjoy who you are; no rules, no games, no pretense. Just be.
Pipe dream? Perhaps.
But maybe it’s not completely impossible.
In order for this to be the norm, rather than just a fanciful dream, the first thing that has to happen is we have to get over ourselves.
My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. —Galatians 2:20
…when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death[.] For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. —Romans 8:3-4
…he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith? —Matthew 6:30
You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price.—1 Corinthians 6:19-20
If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it. —Matthew 10:39
There are so many more examples in Scripture, but I’ll leave you to find those on your own1.
The gist here is: we’re dead. I no longer live, Christ lives in me.
We are no longer in the picture. When we unite ourselves with Jesus, we are no longer the central character in the story. (Not sure we ever were?)
So it’s not Greg who needs to get that thing right anymore, it’s Jesus. It’s not Greg who is hurt if he is perceived incorrectly, because I’m “safe” in Jesus. It’s not Greg who must live up to people’s expectations, because Jesus already fully accepts me, as I am.
The flip side of this is that if I am free indeed by God’s grace (John 8:36) but you are not… then what? What if you are really annoying? Or just plain wrong! Don’t I have to stand up for what is right? Don’t I need to correct you, or put you in your place, or nudge—or shove—you into right action?
No. I don’t. We don’t.
While it is definitely true that so much of our unhealthy, uncomfortable relating can be traced back to our desire to protect our own image, or reputation, or attempting to avoid hurt or embarrassment. We are so often far too much in the way of our own living.
BUT… the other large piece is our need to control.
This is actually quite connected to our own self preserving. Not controlling is much scarier, much less certain, much more vulnerable. And so we often implement our agendas for the people we are with, becoming coy masters of manipulation!
It’s usually not overt. But it can be. That’s easy to spot. The non-overt agendas are the most damaging, and are a big cause of uncomfortable feelings5.
It is often uncomfortable to allow someone to be different from me.
This almost certainly comes back to me thinking of myself still—rather than being dead, as I really am—and feeling too uncertain and vulnerable with someone who may not accept me, since it’s now obvious that I’m different.
But who says that’s how the Other is thinking?
I remember being at a retreat one time, where—when invited—people began confessing their struggles to each other. Nearly everyone was timid, even scared at first. I can’t really be open! What would people think of me if they knew [fill in the disgusting blank]??? But as the first brave soul fully opened up, kicking Fear in the face, there was only warm reception, lots of sympathetic nods of understanding, and…
Plenty more kicking Fear in the face.
By the end of this time that began as an orchestrated, planned event, the entire room had bonded deeply and the rest of that weekend was so free and happy, and deeply enjoyable.
Why? Because one person was willing to be fully vulnerable. Unafraid. Completely open and honest about what felt like forbidden, innermost secrets. Then, because there is amazing power in vulnerability, everyone in the room breathed deeply of grace and mercy and enjoyed beautiful relationship with fellow broken people.
We are all broken—hurt, slave to some past or fear or habit or addiction, or just a big fat jerk.
It’s time to stop pretending.
It’s so easy to forget that everyone else is like me. And then miss the fullness of life when I “cling to my life”. (My “life” being my reputation, or public image, or whatever it might be that I imagine defines me.)
It’s Really Simple
It’s always amazing to me how simple this is. Somehow it comes down to this every time.
- God Loves ME. It’s not a song, not a holy platitude… it’s real. And it matters the most. Remember this? “[P]erfect love expels all fear”6
- I Need Him. I was made to be with him, in him. I am not OK without him. And he likes me. Invites me to join him on this crazy ride of life.
- TRUST HIM. This one should flow easily from the first two… but it is never easy. Simple, yes. Easy, definitely no. It involves consciously, daily “taking up our cross” and denying ourselves—becoming less—so that we can live more.
It’s so crazy that it always comes back to trusting Him more and me less. Every single area of life.
So the less I hang onto me, and the need to keep up my image or my reputation—the less I “cling to my life”—the more enjoyable it will be for others to be around me. AND, the more that is true—even if no one else around me “gets” that, or lives that—well, it might turn out that other people are more free and relaxed and enjoyable because in my own self-absence, I have no agenda for you either!
What a concept!
Now, listen. A lot of this is speaking in some pretty large generalities. We are very complex. I don’t even pretend to imagine that I have “the answer” for living a life with “nothing to prove”.
But I do know I am loved.
And I do know that you are, too.
And I so want to live that way. Every day.
I just need to remember I have nothing to prove.
And neither do you.
- One time, when I was teaching an adult Sunday School class, fresh out of Bible college, I was referencing Scriptures to help make the points of the lesson for the day, and a very good-natured but oft contentious older man—older than me, in my very early twenties then—was finally so exasperated with my repeatedly answering his questions with Scripture verses, he blurted out, “Please! No more Scripture!” I was stunned to silence for several seconds, but as he decided to back down a bit, I finally regained my composure and continued with my lesson on what the Bible said about a great many things… (Which is hard to do without Scripture!) ↩
- Romans 6 (Yes, read the whole chapter! Hey, why not the whole book!) ↩
- Galatians 3:27: And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. ↩
- Colossians 2:12: For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead. ↩
- Example: I begin to feel uncomfortable because you are different than me. You are a Patriots fan. Like, a real Patriots fan. You not only adore Tom Brady, you even like Bill Belichick! I am a Bills fan, and Bills fans can not tolerate anyone who would even acknowledge the rightful existence of the New England franchise. So I begin to harass you, and attempt to embarrass you. Subtly, of course, so as to protect my own image. I mean, I’m not a bad guy… but you… like… Well! That’s just wrong! ↩
- 1 John 4:17-19 for context. ↩