Sunday, November 16, 2008

Where Freedom Takes You, part 2

From the book, Heroic Leadership, I learned of a story that the Jesuits use in training their novices. The story is about three different men who each come into a huge windfall of money, and their subsequent reactions to the influx of such prodigious wealth. All three feel uncomfortable with their new status at first, but soon the money begins to intoxicate their desires and before long it begins to feel impossible for the men to imagine their life without the money. The first two men do little or nothing to try to rid themselves of the money that now has them in its grip. And, as this story is a lesson in piety, we expect the third man to deny the seduction of the money by giving it all away to the poor and rejoicing over his deliverance from the trap.

But he doesn't give the money to the poor. In fact, he doesn't get rid of the money at all. Instead, he gets rid of his attachment to it. He dies to self (ego) "in such a way that there remains no inclination either to keep the acquired money or to dispose of it."

The point of the parable? The money is not the issue. The attachment to it is.

The Jesuits call it cultivating an attitude of "indifference." I might also call it being "unattached" or "holding things loosely." As I revisit the question, "What if you were free? What then?" hour by hour, I am seeing some things that I am attached to that are keeping me from being truly free.

I actually love the imagery conjured by the words: Free vs. Attached. I saw a movie recently, called Jumper, in which the main character could instantly transport anywhere in the world just by picturing the location in his mind. The only way to trap him was to physcially "attach" him to a huge structure, like a building--something that was too weighty for him to transport with him. He was literally held captive by the things he was attached to.

So I have a few big things of my own that I've been attached to. And they are holding me back from living free:

* I'm attached to the trappings of external success--financial success, as well as the recognition and respect from my colleagues in the fields of church leadership and creative writing.
* I'm attached to the idea of impacting & influencing large groups of people--through my writing, coaching and speaking--as "evidence" that I'm okay, or "have arrived" somehow.

The problem isn't about these particular indicators of success. The problem is my attachment to them. It's a classic example of "Jesus and..." As in, "All I need is Jesus...and this lamp" (It's a "The Jerk" movie reference...look it up, youngin' :). To be content, to be truly satisfied and feel okay about myself or my life, I need Jesus and...something else--fame, wealth, good looks, nice stuff, a beautiful woman on my arm, success, respect & reputation--whatever it is you don't think you can live without. There's nothing inherently wrong with having any of those things. But if you want to be free, there is something very wrong with needing to posses any of them in order to feel okay about yourself.

"For I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:11-13).

I think Paul is describing what it looks like to live free...unattached to either riches or poverty, to either fame or obscurity. But in whatever circumstance, fully abandoned to God, who alone is the Source of true freedom.

"For if the Son will set you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:16).


Jesuit John said...

It's this kind of thinking that opened me up to becoming a Jesuit myself.

Diane said...

Here we go.
Passion vs unattachment
Deep desire surfaces, bubbles up, and we wrestle with the storm that floods our soul with such desire. We open up by letting go (such schizoid shenanigans in our soul). We cry out with pain of longing and then long to be released from the pain (such rigorous soul searching). Attaching on some level is so healthy. I buy into the story my heart is revealing. And on the heels of that attachment comes such torment I am tempted to deny the attachment so I can be free of the pain. But the pain is such a large part of the story. Can I sit with the pain (suffering) long enough to yield the attachment and still value the attachment. Can I value the suffering (pain) enough to redeem the attachment (and redeem the suffering) and watch it transform from attachment into character? If I value all that is going on (the attachment, the pain, the desire, and the suffering it brings) I can be transformed into a higher calling, a deeper resonance, and somehow my soul becomes something new. No longer mere "attachment", that deep desire worked over by the Holy Spirit now becomes part of who I am. No longer chasing, grasping and groping, the attachment gets redeemed and transformed into another facet of my character. No longer sitting on the outside (of success, of love, of achievementof holiness), as we succumb to the process going on with the attaching/releasing groping/letting go grasping/yielding… I have the opportunity for the Holy Spirit to transform my soul into “successful” , “loving”, “powerful”, “holy”.
Now I do not seek and search for love… because the Holy Spirit has transformed me into loving. Now I wait for God to bring those with whom I may shower my love.
Now I do not seek and search for success… because the Holy Spirit transforms me into a “successful” person. Now I wait for God to bring those opportunities that I may connect with “successfully”.
Now I do not seek power… because I have received God's Word and Work to create “powerful” in me. Now I wait for God to bring those opportunities for me to influence “powerfully”.

I needed this exercise, Michael. You always seem to have the words that speak to my struggle. I am in deep pain and suffering right now. I am seeking and attaching to “success” and “love”. I am going to suffer the wait time until that time comes when I am transformed into “successful” and “loving”, and then I can with a bit more grace and a bit less pain wait for the opportunities to connect “successfully” and “lovingly”.
Blessings, Michael
Your eternal fan,

Rosalyn said...

Or, to phrase slightly differently, what's your/my Isaac? What do we need to trek up the mountain with, carrying firewood, ready to sacrifice?

I think sometimes rich comfortable Christians kid themselves that they can keep all their money if they change their attitude. Sometimes God says sell your house, or start giving in a way that is sacrificial. And we need to have trekked with the firewood and be standing with the knife in our hands in order to be able to hear a still small voice that says that we don't need to kill it.

One of my Isaacs is that of being right! My freedom has recently been towards mass radical forgiveness that does not depend on reasonableness or the other people being right. No longer being attached to my opinions...

It's a glorious journey we're on.