I’ve been chewing on this thing St. Augustine wrote in the 5th century:
Love God and do as you please.
This weekend we had a gathering of friends over to talk about what community is and what it means to be a Christian. Something that came up several times was that there is just no room for condemnation. The idea is that God does not intend for us to live a life of shoulds, where anyone imposes their idea of living a life for God on others. The idea is that living life in a way we don’t want to live it is bad. And I think that is beautiful.
I had actually thought a lot about this back in the fall, and had even written a letter to one of my friends in favor of it. But when some people say “I have to do what I want to do,” I get a little nervous. And I hope others get a little nervous when I say it, too. Because honestly, living how you want to requires maturity. Living how you want only produces good when you really know what you want. A lot of the busyness, a lot of the restlessness, and a lot of the casualties are a result of someone being hungry for who knows what, and sampling everything in the spiritual cupboard. I’ve seen it so many times.
But loving God and doing as you please is truly a better way to live. God is a God of desire. And His offspring are sons and daughters of desire. God never wants anyone to feel constrained, like they are serving him out of duty. God only wants willing followers. One of the writers in the bible said to a group of mature people that they should take care of God’s children “not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be.” Jesus’ famous question was simply, “What do you want?”
And there is a very good reason, I think, why God fathers us this way and not by duty. It has to do with living an honest life.
If I act on the counsel of the voice in my heart, in other words if I do what I want to do, then I am going on a path of communion with God. If I misstep I can repent. God’s Spirit can convict me that I was too rigid with someone, or that I acted selfishly, or that I wasn’t patient, or whatever. Then I can repent and feel God’s pleasure, and know that God is with me. And God and I can have a conversation: “Really? I do that a lot, don’t I? I’m so sorry. I know that doesn’t make You happy when I do that. That’s not like You. I want to be like You.” And if everyone else sees me blunder, that’s great, too—I can’t imagine that I will get to walk humbly with God and keep my pride.
But if I act on the counsel of any other voice, whether it’s an echo of someone I respect (or worship) or my mom or my dad or the devil or some well-intentioned friend or my 4th grade English teacher, I’m not on the path of communion with God. Even if that advice seems good, even if it seems biblical, even if it seems right, it is wrong for me because I am not living sincerely and simply like God wants me to. And here’s the real kick in the pants. If I am busy following someone else’s script, I can’t even repent if I misstep, because I didn’t really sin against anyone—I only sinned against the script I was following. And then I have this bizarre mix of guilt, frustration, and confusion, and I can’t even figure out what I really did wrong.
I really think I overlooked the idea of sincerity and simplicity, and it got me in trouble. I found the word sincere 13 times in the Bible—11 in the New Testament, 1 time in Job, the other in Daniel. The King James version uses the word unfeigned or the phrase without dissimulation. I honestly had no idea of the definition of that word until I looked it up.
dissimulation – v. to hide under a false appearance
v. tr. To disguise (one's intentions, for example) under a feigned appearance. See Synonyms at disguise.
v. intr. To conceal one's true feelings or intentions.
But denying and concealing my true feelings was exactly what I was taught to do.
Worse, I was taught in church how to evangelize and overcome objections with something like this, “Just because you’re sincere doesn’t get you into heaven. You can be sincerely wrong.” So the whole idea of sincerity kind of got flushed for me. I really did kind of trash sincerity with something that goes like, “Sincerity doesn’t count for anything—what counts is being in right standing with God!” But God wants me to be sincere and simple, even if I am sincerely and simply wrong, because he can work with that. He can’t work from me living out of a false self. If I ask God to counsel me and I am wearing a mask, He says, “First thing, get rid of the mask.” Same for love. He really doesn’t like loving me through a mask. I should have figured this out by now, because the times I felt most loved by him were the times that I for whatever reason felt most naked, most like a cracked nut.
I think living out of this script or this flowchart or off of the expectations of others (perceived or real) is really living out of my flesh, my sinful nature, because it’s not the real me. It probably comes from the fear of man, the fear of being judged by people and found lacking, and as punishment: being exiled or at least suffering sanctions. But it’s so hard to simply trust my heart and God (who is greater than my heart) to get me through all this barrage of choices that keep flying my way. I want to respond the right way so much that I have ignored my heart if I thought it wasn’t wanting to do the right thing.
Last year a deep thinking friend reminded me of something C.S. Lewis said—that it is impossible to desire amiss after you’ve died. Wow. But I know that some of my desires are amiss and some are not. So really the only question is where I haven’t yet died, what part of me is still striving, which is another way of saying, what part of me is still killing myself. This is that part of me where God would rather me just go ahead and die and take the new life He’s offering.
But I won’t ever figure out what’s dying and what’s living if I continue to live insincerely and complexly. In the bible, Paul says the good way for me to go is to “do what I want to do.” He says the wretched thing is when “I do not do what I want to do” (Rom 7:20). If I don’t do what I want to do—in other words, if I don’t live out of my heart—but instead live out of my false self, then I will create pain and confusion for myself and everyone else. And as my email acquaintance said, “The shitty shoulds will kill ya. Pardon my French.”
But yet I have this tendency to want to do the right thing, to do what I should do, to do what is justifiable and reasonable, and to obsess over what could’ve or should’ve happened, and whether it was my fault that it didn’t.
But I’m getting better.
I’m getting better because I am beginning to realize that I only have one life, and it is the life that is happening in my heart. Everything other than that one life complete with its desires and its fears, is a cover up. And God wants under the covers. In fact, He refuses to have relations with me until I let Him under the covers. He continues to stand at the door and knock, wanting me to invite him in.
I went through a lot of hard stuff personally over the last year. Many of the things I could have just avoided, just pulled the covers over my head, and put on a show for everyone. I didn’t. At least, I didn’t in the end. I was sincere. And some stuff fell apart because of it.
It exposes you and those around you.
Refusing to live with insincerity in yourself and others brings all that ugliness out from under the covers.
But don’t get me wrong. I didn’t ask for the junk I went through—it was God’s idea. His invitation was to live from my heart, hold on for dear life, and “pay attention”. As he pried my fingers from self-justification and all that junk that comes with living a complicated life, I felt like I was being robbed. Now I feel like He pried my fingers off the gun I held to my head.
But even now, I could go back to all those events, revise the stories, and convince myself and everyone else that they never happened, or that they didn’t hurt, or that they meant something else. Or I could be honest. And get the benefit of grieving what died and enjoy the hope of rebirth.
So the thing is, whether I am talking about the things that happened in my life last year or the things I intend to do this year, I can either live the way I want and accept what comes of it, or I can go with a cover up. I can go with a cover-up for what I really want by living off a script or by reinterpreting everything that really happened. Or I can just be sincere. Simple. Willing. As God wants me to be.
There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.