Instead of fumbling around in the dark, pretending to be something you are not, be who you are. Walk in the light where you will always find me. This honest, vulnerable place is where you can have real friendships with one another and with me. When you remember that my Son’s blood has cleansed you thoroughly, you will not need to hide. Come out of the shadows and be seen. When you pretend that you are better than you are or have no sin in your life, you may deceive others, but the one you have deceived the most is yourself. You cannot live long in that disintegrated state before it begins to tear you apart. Half-truths are no truth at all.1 John 1:7-8
Letters to the Beloved
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control–Galatians 5:22-23
Lately, I have been thinking about Paul’s last descriptor of the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives, self-control. I don’t really like that one. Maybe it is because it sometimes seems out of place with regard to the rest of the descriptors. More than likely, however, it is the character trait that seems most underdeveloped in my life. Perhaps those who know me well would suggest that all of them are equally underdeveloped. Part of the reason I don’t like the notion of self-control, at least as I have historically understood it is that, more than the other descriptors, I have come to believe that self-control is entirely dependent upon me. The way I have interpreted Paul’s words is that self-control is developed through sheer force of will. At face value, “self” means me and “control” means the ability to follow through on my intention. More crudely, I have interpreted this as “Jason, get your @#@!! together!” Maybe you have had the same struggle.
But I have found myself asking, what if I am starting from the wrong premise? What if self-control is not about trying to force my will into compliance? What if God is not waiting for me to stop sinning? What if instead, Paul was saying that my true identity in the Spirit already encompasses all of these things? In fact, in the context of the whole letter, I believe that is exactly what Paul was saying. Paul reminds us that we were already set free and we were called to lives of freedom. When you are gritting your teeth and trying to will yourself to behave, do you feel free? I know that I don’t.
What would change if instead of looking at Paul’s descriptors of a fruitful life as a list of dos and don’ts, we began to understand that those traits are already present and growing in us? How would we live differently if we began to think about being self-controlled as living from our true selves, from our core identity as God’s beloved children? I know that for me, when the message that I am already fully loved by God penetrates my heart, I am more able to relax into my true self. And from that place, those things like patience, love, and gentleness begin to emerge, not only toward others, but toward myself as well.
On social media, people have been sharing photos of themselves in 2009 and 2019. On Twitter, Rachel Joy Welcher shared her pictures and a capsule of significant events. I felt compelled to write mine down.
We began the process to adopt
an Ethiopian girl
with Down’s syndrome.
It turns out she didn’t have it.
My wife was diagnosed with
and treated for breast cancer
in the midst of the adoption.
She had chemo the day Tessa came home.
We began the process to adopt
two beautiful Haitian children.
Eight years and ten thousand tears later,
it officially became a failed adoption.
I betrayed my friends,
more than once
and so betrayed myself
more than once.
I nearly lost my oldest daughter,
and so nearly lost myself.
I became a pastor.
I tried to be who I am not.
I had a nervous breakdown.
I became an ex-pastor.
I began to create.
I got a tattoo, then another and
another and another and another.
Peace and freedom.
Goodness, truth, beauty, and strength.
Identity and love.
I have been experiencing
a radical shift in my understanding of God
and of myself.
And I began again,
the process of coming back to God,
and to myself.
Write 31 days, Day 18
Writing Prompt: Search
Good stories encourage us to think beneath the obvious meaning, wondering what else the author may have intended. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is just such a tale. Those familiar with the story know that Harry’s greatest passion is the game of quidditch. Harry is the seeker for Griffyndor, the player whose job it is to “seek out” and catch a small flying ball called the golden snitch.
Yet, being a seeker is not just a game to Harry. If we understand Harry’s story, he is a seeker in life. He is trying to understand who he is. Through the adventures of each of the seven books, the undercurrent is that Harry does not know himself. Friends and strangers alike routinely tell Harry who they understand him to be: James and Lily’s son, the one who stopped Voldemort, the “chosen one,” but Harry must ultimately come to understand his identity on his own, sorting out the various influences in his life.
For a life well lived, each of us must also take an honest inventory of who we are. In the opening to his Institutes, John Calvin wrote, “Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” In this life, we are all seekers.
For reflection: What have been the major landmarks on your journey? What made them significant?
I keep coming back to the questions, “What is freedom?” and “Do I live free?”
I am free.
I am free to tell people how much I value them.
I am free to speak out against injustice.
I am free to give lavishly.
I am free to err on the side of grace.
I am free from needing to demand my rights
or simply from the need to be right.
I am free to serve.
I am free from the need to identify ways in which I am better than others.
I am free from the pressure to perform.
I am free to be goofy.
I am free to like musicals more than football
or painting more than hunting.
I am free to rest.
I am free to take off my mask.
I am free to read from The Message.
I am free to sing at the top of my lungs in the shower
even Air Supply.
I am free to cross the party line.
I am free to drink a cup of coffee
I am free to not know something.
I am free to be curious and creative
I am free to be emotional
I am free to call it like I see it.
I am free to disagree.
I am free to cry at TV shows
even “Anne with an E.”
I am free to color outside the lines.
I am free to hold hands with my kids.
I am free to say no.
I am free to do what I want to do.
I am free.
Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you.-Galatians 5:1, The Message