The benefit of diving into something with all of your strength, heart, mind and soul is that you get clear. This is what has happened to me in the last year. I feel clear now about what it means to be led by the Spirit. It is a complex topic and I find that others are now able to grasp how I offer it up. A chat with Joanne yesterday made that gratifyingly clear to me.
She has an understandably skeptical view of God. “God doesn’t send you money. God doesn’t make things happen. We ourselves do that.” In the literal sense, that seems true. It is people who take action. What we don’t know is the motive behind the person doing the behaviour. Knowing your own motive is the key to resolve inner conflicts and getting clear and certain on what you need to do about issues stealing your inner peace.
We used an example of Joanne’s recent trip to Spain to visit her second daughter living abroad whom she had not seen in a year. If this action came from your mind, I suggested, then your motive was “I’m right.” You did it because at some level you believed that it is what “good mom’s do.” She admits that she does believe this. Her own mother visited her twice in Spain when she was in her twenties.
If it came from your heart, I went on, then your motive was “I’m afraid.” You did it because not doing it scared you. Somehow, you would have felt bad about yourself, guilty even. Maybe you would have felt you owed it to her, perhaps out of a belief about ‘fairness’ since you visited Genevieve (her oldest daughter) a year earlier. Not doing it might trigger a fear that Caroline would get upset with you.
If it came from your soul, I said, then your motive would have been “I’m clear.” You would have a sense from the intuitive part of yourself that this is something you feel called to do by the Holy Spirit. The apostle Paul explains this rather well in Galatians 5. Therefore, I said, the behaviour that a person does can be identical to that of another, yet one is led by the Spirit and another by the heart or mind.
“I’m right” and “I’m afraid” are two ego-based layers within us that block out the Spirit. We desperately need to believe “I’m right” in order to avoid intensely feeling “I’m afraid.” Thus, fear compels us to stubbornly cling to our own views of the outcomes we want in life. This is what Jesus called “the plank in our eye.” We become rigid and inflexible, making us incapable of being led by the Spirit. We enforce this by numbing out our fears with various busy or addictive habits.
The Jesuits, of which Pope Francis is a member, understand this very well. Using the Ignatius Spiritual Exercises, they actively seek to be led by the Spirit by becoming unattached to people, passions and possessions. In my way of teaching this, they seek to live as if they have nothing to hide, prove or lose.
St. Paul describes beautifully in 1 Corinthians 13 his famous dissertation on love. Without love, we are like a clanging gong. If we have everything but love, he says, we have nothing. Therefore if we have nothing but love, I must conclude, then we have everything.
In practical terms, this means that the three nothings are the key to overcoming “I’m right” and “I’m afraid” in order to get to “I’m clear.” When we don’t depend on what happens around us to feel safe and secure, we humbly accept that we do not know if we are right. We become neutral about outcomes. We understand that only a fool believes he is 100% right. We discover painfully and then joyfully that we can live with decisions and outcomes that once seemed unpalatably intolerable.
We also accept that “I’m afraid” is a poor and untrustworthy motive. Jesus urged, “Do not be afraid and do not let your hearts be troubled. (Matt 14:27). We can have this peace when we are able to confidently say, “I’m clear” about how we need to respond to a troubling issue. The Lord is prompting you or me in a particular direction. It may seem scary and it may seem like a path to failure. But we press forward, led by our knowing and not by our thinking or our feelings.
Now we are truly free. Our inner peace is not disturbed by what others think of us, nor the possibility of losing out financially or on a creature comfort that we once treasured.
Life in the Spirit is for the few and the brave who dare to trust that God is real and that his plans are greater than our plans. It requires action and is not an intellectual exercise. Freedom comes only in the doing. When we act, we see by the outcomes we get, that God is ever-present. We get outcomes we could never have imagined or expected. Now we are spiritually alive. His inner peace is our reward.