"As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; / [ . . . ] Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: / Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; / Selves -- goes itself; 'myself' it speaks and spells, / Crying 'What I do is me; for that I came'." --Gerard Manley Hopkins

16 July 2006

On Being Myself

Back in the dark ages of my youth, we called it "finding oneself." I don't know if today's youth has a term for it, but certainly the primary goal of as many today as in my day is to figure out "who I am" so I can go "be" that. Many of my students talk about needing to find out their gifts and calling and interests and so forth before they can decide how they can best serve God. I understand this, but I question it more and more. Serving God is something the believer simply does, everywhere and all the time (except, of course, when we sinfully choose to serve ourselves).

Indeed, as in my youth "finding ourselves" was an excuse to avoid social and political commitment, it seems to me that for many Christian youth today, the same concept applies for avoiding genuine all-out commitment to God.

I've been reading more in Thomas Merton's No Man is an Island, and today I discovered his eloquent articulation of something I've thought about (and tried to explain much less clearly) concerning what it means to "be oneself." He is writing about knowing God's will -- what it is and how to follow it. Because he says it so well, here's an extended quotation:

His will for me points to one thing: the realization, the discovery, and the fulfillment of my self, my true self, in Christ. [. . .] In order to save my life, I must lose it. For my life in God is and can only be a life of unselfish charity.

[. . .] God's will for us is not only that we should be the persons He means us to be, but that we should share in His work of creation and help Him to make us into the persons He means us to be. Always, and in all things, God's will for me is that I should shape my own destiny, work out my own salvation, forge my own eternal happiness, in the way He has planned it for me. [. . .] I cannot work out God's will in my own life unless I also consciously help other men to work out His will in theirs. His will, then, is our sanctification, our transformation in Christ, our deeper and fuller integration with other men. And this integration results not in the absorption and disappearance of our own personality, but in its affirmation and its perfection.

"Forging our eternal happiness in the way He has planned it" . . . Aye, there's the rub. We want to "be ourselves," to be sure we aren't "lost in someone else's identity," and God says -- nope, you need to do the opposite: focus on serving others. And you do this, by the way, by losing yourself entirely in My Son's identity!

And we refuse to see that this is His plan to give us, in the end, all that we long for -- because built deeply into us as creations in His image is the need and the desire (however buried) to be complete in Him and not in ourselves, where we find only anxiety and indecision and death.

Lord, help me to remember day by day that You are the Source of my life, and that all will come to me only when I let You instill in me the desires of my heart, so that all I desire is to love You and live as Your child.

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