4.15.22 How do I know that we are following Jesus?
To follow Jesus is a lifelong, ever-deepening task from the moment we give our lives over to loving Him with all of ourselves. To believe in Jesus and everything that the Bible says about Him is the first step on this long journey. From there, we must follow His teachings and live the life He asks of us. We start on the surface of our thinking, our attitudes, our prejudices and judgment and gradually delve into the deeper levels of unconscious attitudes and prejudices and judgments. And that is the level where most of the change happens, for there is so much in us that is of this world that we assumed way before we had the intellectual capacity to assent to it.
There are two areas that we are to pay attention to in this journey. First, Jesus says that we cannot serve God and mammon, or as it is sometimes translated, God and money (Matthew 6:24). We cannot stay attached to the world’s ways; we must adopt God’s ways of being in this world. Before the age of six we have already adopted as ours the ways of our family and the world—these are the things that we are, as adults, so attached to: the goals we set for ourselves and striving to meet them, the way we like things to happen in our lives—that bring things that are good for us and not very challenging, the people who are like us, how we are to behave and dress and so much more. Jesus is asking us to accept His ways, to adopt His ways as our own, to embrace of all the folks we ordinarily turn our backs on—the sick, the possessed, the crippled, the stranger and more.
To follow Jesus mainly means that we give up our ways, our expectations, our people, our goals—everything of this world– in order to follow Him. This means that anything that has been difficult or painful in the past must be surrendered to Him so that He can heal us of these hard times and their effect on us. These we hand over to His healing ways as we are reminded by Him that they keep pulling us back into the past. And then there are the challenges, big and small, of our day to day lives. These we also need to surrender: the occurrences we’re not happy to see in our lives, the ones that don’t match our expectations, pandemics like Covid, or the death of a loved one, our own goals that may or may not be realized. These we need to surrender to Him as well. For if we are to follow Him, we must turn our whole lives over to Him.
This is a long process, but the more we practice this surrender of things past and present, the easier it gets to say: “Oh, this is in my life now; what am I to do with it now?” Instead of resisting and resenting the appearance of something we are not at all happy to see facing us, we find that we suffer so much less when we just accept and embrace what already is in our lives. Sometimes, it is easy. Like the time I heard these words from the Lord: “I have an agenda for my life.” At the time I was married with three little kids, the fulfillment of my life’s dream. But I was struck by the thought that there was something more I was to do. So, I started asking the question, “What do I really want to do?” instead of “What should I be doing?” which had been my mantra up until then. I really began to change when I answered that question truthfully.
Other times what the Lord asks of us may be very difficult. When my husband’s lymphoma recurred three months after he had been declared cancer free, all I wanted to do by three o’clock in the afternoon was to crawl into bed, pull the covers over my head and forget what was now in our lives. Then the Lord offered this to me, ”If you can just hold all possible outcomes equally, well, then….” Fortunately, I had been surrendering to the small things in my life, so after three or four days, I was able to surrender to this idea. I began to think that there were lots of endings, as the Lord had offered. I felt so much better, no longer just focusing on his dying. A few more days passed and I was given a gift of faith that had me standing of the rock that Jesus described (Matthew 16:18). As the days and weeks passed, I felt so supported that I was able to support Hank, our adult children and our friends through this—whatever the outcome. Just two months later, I called in hospice care and realized that the outcomes were fewer now, but still it didn’t mean that Hank would die. He did die ten days later with two of our children and one’s spouse and me with him. Then I dropped into the grief. But I never resented his dying—he was 60 years old, after 37 years of marriage. I was so supported through the whole thing.
The second aspect of following Jesus is gratitude to the Trinity for all that has happened and is still happening in our lives. If we look back at our lives and everything that has happened to us, if we can see Christ’s footsteps all along the way, guiding and supporting us all the way, then we can rest in gratitude for God’s presence in our lives, the guidance of Jesus Christ through the voice of the Holy Spirit deep within us. Keeping a gratitude journal or doing the Examen every evening or the next morning is one of the best ways to begin to see what God is doing in our lives every day. When I first did this, I realized that I had to have something to write down every night and I’d better pay attention during the day! And so, I began to see how often I could see the blessings or the presence or the suggestions made to me about what to do next. And the longer I kept the journal, the more aware I became of God’s presence.
Now I feel steeped in gratitude to Christ for everything that comes into my life and I can look back on my life and see His footprints in my life even before I was aware of His presence. I even feel grateful for one of the hardest things I had to endure in my life—the first thirteen years of my life my family were members of a hell-fire-and-damnation church. By the time I was an adult, God was a raven sitting on my shoulder ready to zap me for anything I did wrong. Now I can thank God for that church, because I wouldn’t be doing the work I am doing today, if I hadn’t had to find a way to love God or to find a God I could love. And He was there in the Bible all along! All I had to do was to follow God as He led me throughout my life into His arms and into His purpose for me: to be a spiritual director, a blogger and an author. Everything I do these days is about this: how do we live this life following Jesus?
With surrender to the way the Lord wants us to live and with gratitude to God for what is in our lives and even for what we have had to endure, following Jesus becomes an ever-deepening process. We can see the effect of all the healing that has come into our lives, transforming how we are in this world. We can live at peace, even if it takes us a few days+ before we can settle back into the peace as each new thing comes along. Our capacity to love God and others grows and deepens. We sense the growth of the other fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) in us—joy (much deeper than mere happiness), patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and humility (self-control). The more we follow Jesus in our lives, the more these fruit come to be expressed in us.
All this depends on our ability to hear the voice of the Indwelling Spirit of God who reminds us of who we are, who suggests what we are to do next. As we hear and obey, we find our lives taking us in a new direction towards fulfilling the purpose of our lives. And there, we can truly relax into the joy and depth of what we are called to do. Amen.