I have to let you in on a little secret: This whole series on Christian Spirituality is personal to me. I suppose any topic written is personal to its author in some way. But this one is especially so. When I talk of “you” and “us” and “we” in these discussions, I am speaking to myself as much as anyone else. The “you” inside me is listening to what I have to say.
And so last week when I introduced the question concerning what motivates us, I was thinking about what happened to me long ago. I was thinking about being told by some individuals I was not okay before God, and that the only way I could be okay before God was by doing everything the Bible said — which meant doing everything they said. It was that simple, really.
They were hoping to motivate me into doing what they wanted. But their efforts had a slightly different effect on me. It set off a chain reaction, beginning with fear. A fear made its way into the very center of my soul, a terribly destructive fear. For what fear could be greater than the possibility of not being okay before God?
Truth is, I had experienced this kind of fear before. Growing up, I was what one might call a highly conscientious child. Tightly wound up, one might say. A perfectionist. Which, by the way, is not someone who likes to be perfect. It is someone who thinks they must be perfect. I only wished to be a child.
But the thought of being found utterly displeasing to those that mattered most to me haunted me, and so I found a way to cope: I followed the rules perfectly. So long as I knew what the rules were in any given situation and followed them, I was okay. And if I found I had failed to follow a rule in any way, the mortal fear that ensued would quickly drive me to mend the breach, and I was at peace again.
So was the state of my soul at the decisive point in my life that I ran into these individuals. I was at peace, but it was a tenuous sort of peace, predicated on my compliance. So, when I was told that I was not okay before God, my characteristic mortal fear overcame me like never before. But this time, as I sought to mend the breach, I soon discovered the rules I had to follow were beyond my ability to meet. As a result, my deepest fears were realized, and I began to implode. It was that simple, really.
Not long afterward, despite a promising academic career, I dropped out of college. A little while later, I nearly suffered a nervous breakdown. And then I pretty much dropped out of life. Let’s just say that those individuals highly motivated me; it was just in a direction different (and more destructive) than they had hoped.
So motivation is important to me. It is personal. What motivates us matters. I am convinced it makes the difference between a soul that goes on to bear much fruit and one that implodes. It determines whether we goes deeper in our experience of God, or simply remain on the surface limping along, wondering where Jesus went.
Last week, we said that our love for God in the Christian life is our true motivation. And if this is so, I would now like to propose that perfect acceptance is where this journey begins, an acceptance so perfect and complete that it demands nothing in return. Absolutely nothing. In fact, it is an acceptance so free of stipulations and conditions that the only thing that could possibly motivate us to stick around is, in fact, our love for Him.
Now this is a radical kind of acceptance. So much can potentially go wrong with it. It has the potential to create in us the worst of sinners, because it requires so little of us. But such a radical acceptance is necessary. For without it, love cannot exist. The soul will not be able to love, for it will always be fearful of being found unacceptable. It will be bound to obey out of fear, not out of love.
And it is only such radical acceptance that can enable us to lay down our lives, not because we have to, but because we want to. It is radical acceptance that allows the leper, upon being healed, to return and worship at God’s feet. It is radical acceptance that causes the prostitute, having been forgiven, to walk into a men-only meeting in a private house, anoint Jesus with perfume and wash His feet with her tears. It is radical acceptance that also makes a rag-tag handful of men and women in the first century willingly go to their deaths and in the process turn the world upside-down. Radical acceptance that demands nothing in return has the potential to create the worst of sinners, but also the greatest of saints.
Besides, God makes the rules. He has chosen by His own death to purchase for us such radical acceptance. Had the individuals who approached me long ago known this acceptance, their message to me might have been very different. They might have told me that by receiving the free gift of acceptance through Jesus, I was okay, and that because of Jesus, I could not be otherwise. They might have found themselves not partnering with the fear but partnering with Jesus to break the fear that had haunted me my whole childhood.
For this is the reason Jesus came. It is that simple, really.