My father died of cancer sixteen years ago. A few weeks before his death, knowing he would die soon, my father offered me advice.
As a long term pastor, my father counseled hundreds of men and women. He said that many of them lived their lives being controlled by their parents. They spent their lives avoiding their parents’ bad behavior.
My father was not an angel; he had an anger problem. He lost his temper over little events, like when he lost his keys (which he seemed to lose all the time!). He was concerned that his kids might waste their lives trying to avoid his anger issue. He advised me instead to spend my energy imitating the good things I saw in my parents and teachers and friends.
Then he said this: “If you spend your life trying not to be somebody you will spend your life not being somebody.”
We will never become ourselves by running from; we will only become our true selves by running to. If we turn our inner life into a vacuum—always removing things—our inner life will never become a thing of substance. It will always be empty.
It’s true in morality as well as in self discovery.
As an example, let’s look at the commandment about coveting. If we pour our energies into avoiding coveting, we will fail. We can’t become something by trying not to be something.
Jesus summarizes the first commandment with, “Worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve” (Luke 4:8). If we could pour a mere fifty percent of our lives into worshipping God, coveting would gradually disappear.
But if we pour one hundred percent of our life into avoiding coveting, we still won’t be worshipping God—not even with one percent of our hearts.
Just look at the Pharisees. They spent their lives avoiding sin, and Jesus said they were like whitewashed tombstones, looking clean on the outside but filled with ugliness on the inside .
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not okay to be immoral. If you want to rob a bank, don’t do it! But we can’t fill our inner vacuum by emptying.
It’s true in self discovery as well as morality.
Jesus did more than save us from something; he saved us for something. But many of us spend our personal reflection on not being. We are not a business person, not a pastor, not a salesperson, not a “suit.”
These ‘nots’ are tying us up in knots; they imprison us. Shakespeare wrote, “To be or not to be, that is the question.” God wants us to be more than he wants us not to be. That is the answer.
So I have a question which I’d love for us to reflect on:
What is the “bad” that you’ve spent your life avoiding?
If your ‘avoidance’ isn’t too personal, please share it below as a comment. Through other people’s stories we might see our own avoidance, and so begin to avoid that avoidance ourselves.
(See also, Filling the Void[ance].)
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