In “The Inner Voice of Love,” aka “Therese’s Morning Devotional … After Her Vitamins and Coffee,” spiritual author Henri Nouwen writes:
You feel overwhelmed by distractions, fantasies, the disturbing desire to throw yourself into the world of pleasure. But you know already that you will not find there an answer to your deepest question. Nor does the answer lie in rehashing old events, or in guilt or shame. All of that makes you dissipate yourself and leave the rock on which your house is built.
You have to trust the place that is solid, the place where you can say yes to God’s love even when you do not feel it. Right now you feel nothing except emptiness and the lack of strength to choose. But keep saying, “God loves me, and God’s love is enough.” You have to choose the solid place over and over again and return to it after every failure.
I thought of Nouwen’s words this morning when my kindergartener’s teacher told the class to stretch their arms way out, to dig inside themselves and to feel the warmth of God’s love … because God loves us no matter what we do (to tell you the truth, I was a tad concerned for the rest of her day with that insurance so early in the morning).
What a powerful reminder.
It has stuck with me most of the day.
Because in its truth is found the freedom I’m looking for. The one thing that won’t and can’t change in my life is that I am a child of God and loved by God. Says Henri, “This is the identity you have to accept. Once you have claimed it and settled in it, you can live in a world that gives you much joy as well as pain. You can receive the praise as well as the blame that comes to you as an opportunity for strengthening your basic identity, because the identity that makes you free is anchored beyond all human praise and blame.”
But that’s difficult for us to fathom. Not having to do anything to be loved. In their book, “Made for Goodness,” Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his daughter, Mpho Tuto write:
Unfortunately, somewhere along the line we have been inveigled and misled by the culture of achievement. We really can’t understand unconditional acceptance. We think there must be a catch somewhere, so we tie ourselves in knots in the effort to impress God. We strive and strain to earn what is already ours. And it wears us out.
The demon hidden behind the sense of purpose is a fear of not being good enough. It is the fear of not doing enough. That demon dread of not measuring up drains the joy from the work and saps the energy from the worker.
It is not only the so-called good works that can be driven by the invisible demon. The demon can kidnap any job and rob it of joy. When the demon steals into our psyche, the dedication and discipline that were once hallmarks of our devotion become an onerous burden. The tasks that once called us to give the best of ourselves, for the sheer pleasure of being involved in the work, come to feel like excessive demands. When the demon overtakes us we find that the career path that thrilled us when we first set our feet on it starts to meander through thickets of meaningless responsibilities, inane requirements, and mindless chores. When done in joyful love, the most mundane tasks can be life-affirming. When driven by the demon, the most exhilarating work can be numbingly denying.
The demon fear of not being good enough convinces us that perfection is the price to pay for love. Our perfection is the price we imagine we must pay for the love of God. So we strive endlessly to “be good” or to “do good” instead of realizing that we ARE GOOD. WE don’t have to struggle and strive to overcome an innate tendency to do what is bad and wrong. In everything we do we can fulfill the purpose for which we were made and rejoice in our inherent goodness.
In short, we can stop “being good” and simply live from our goodness.
So remember, if just for today, you are loved by God. Not matter what.