True Self is Selfless

Sunday’s focus scripture is sure to dredge up some of our old baggage. The story of the prodigal son has many layers to it and each of us will hear it in a different way. Like many folks, I have a troubled family of origin; it’s a long, complex story. What strikes me about the prodigal is the other son; the one who worked hard all his life, but didn’t get the party. It causes me to wonder why the human race manages to break relationships with those we love.

There’s a story of a man in his weekly counseling appointment who becomes distraught with resentment about his ex-wife. The therapist calms him by affirming the significant pain of a broken relationship until the man explains that he’s been divorced for seventeen years. The things we carry around.

Why do human beings create suffering for each other? Why do we lack compassion and empathy for each other? What obstructs our spiritual vision? For those who have been abused by their parents or raised in an addicted environment, a closed heart protects and keeps them safe. For those who’ve been raised to believe they are more important, needy, worthy, or deserving, having a closed heart keeps them captive to narcissism.

There are many ways and reasons to close our hearts. And … God has equipped us with minds that can either choose to heal or choose to hurt. Holding onto hurt, choosing not to heal, is a death sentence. A life carrying around baggage of any sort is a shorter and less fulfilled life. God created us to be in relationship with each other and sometimes a healthy relationship with a qualified therapist is an ideal life-saver. American individualism, ‘pull-yourself-up-with-your-own-bootstraps’ thinking, is terribly misled and damaging to a strong, healthy and vital community. Opening the heart to healing, to the Great Healer, is a spiritual practice that takes a lifetime. “It is only when we become larger than ourselves that we can become our true self. The paradox is that the true self is selfless.”

Consider the ocean. “Lakes, rivers, and streams all drain into the ocean. The ocean has no boundaries, no dikes to keep anything out. The ocean is where all the waters of the earth meet. The ocean is acceptance. The ocean reminds us that the greater our humility, the greater our capacity to receive. To be great in this way is to empty ourselves of all defensiveness, self-possession and the need to be right. To be great like the ocean is to give up our defenses and our judgements and not create any dams around our hearts. To be great like the ocean is to welcome everyone into our hearts…” (A Voluptuous God: A Christian Heretic Speaks, by Robert Thompson)

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