Sunday, May 13, 2018

Birds of the Air

Like many of my counseling clients, I struggle to overcome the negative influences of my family of origin.  My history of shame and invalidation often manifests itself in anxiety.  And like many of my clients, I am quite familiar with Matthew 6:25-33, Christ’s antidote for anxiety:

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  26Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?  27And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28And why are you anxious about clothing?  Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you,even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  31Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’  or ‘What shall we drink?’  or ‘What shall we wear?’  32For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  33But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

And so I’ve done what I can to build my faith— worship, Bible study, prayer, and moving beyond my comfort zone when He leads me to do so.  And of course, I consciously and conscientiously seek the Lord’s kingdom as a matter of priority.  

And I worry. 

I do the best I can, the best I know to do, and it is never good enough.  And therein lies the problem.  It is very easy for me to make my faith an issue of spiritual performance: to do, do, do in order to please a Father, who, if He is like my earthly father, can never be pleased.  In the counseling world, it is called transference: I transfer my experience with my earthly father to my heavenly Father.  And while recognition of this issue is an important step toward denying the lie and embracing truth and moving toward healing, and growth, it is an obstacle that is difficult to overcome.  It takes time.

But I have also missed something critically important.  Jesus asks me to look at the birds of the air and to think about the Father caring for them even though they are of less value to Him than I am.  Central to Jesus’s message is the Father’s care of me and for me, because I have great value to Him.  While it is easy for me to believe that my value to God is based on how well I obey Him, how well I serve Him, that is not what Scripture teaches. God knit me together in my mother’s womb; He created me in His image to partake in His nature and participate in His glorious, eternal purposes.  He takes delight in me.  And so I need to take another look at this passage, to see not performance but relationship.  God values me!  And from that platform I can depend on His care and provision, and then obey Him and serve Him out of joy in our relationship.

In William P. Young’s The Shack, God admonishes Mackenzie to learn to “live loved.”  While Mackenzie is concerned about meeting (and not meeting) God’s expectations, God wants Mackenzie to feel His love.  In a similar manner, I believe that Jesus’s words recorded in Matthew teach us that the Lord wants us to learn to live valued.  

For people like me with a history of needing to “earn my keep,” this is difficult. And we all have inherited Adam and Eve’s spiritual DNA which encourages us to want to be like God, to do life ourselves.  Our pride is fed by our culture which values performance and success above all else. We can help one another by cultivating a body attitude of genuine love and respect, for everyone.  We may prefer to work with some rather than others; we may find some easier to love and respect than others; without doubt we will be more comfortable with some than others.  But the degree to which we can offer love and acceptance to each individual member of the body of Christ and treat everyone as having the highest value is the degree to which we will experience and manifest the love of Christ. This is a high calling, indeed.