7.10.2012

An Acceptable Sacrifice

Home Sweet Ambulance
I can’t accept that I am doing enough to serve God and my neighbors. Everything I do seems like straw when compared to everything I could be doing.

For perspective, so readers might know where I'm coming from, here’s an overview of my schedule for the next little while:

Between now and Tuesday the 31st (that’s three weeks from today), I am working two eight-hour night shifts at hospice, three eight hour day shifts at the hospital, five 12-hour day shifts at the hospital, six 12-hour night shifts on the ambulance (I can sleep if there aren’t any calls, but I stay in-station), and two 12-hour day shifts on the ambulance. If I did my math right, that averages 65 hours per week of service work in health care, some of which I am paid for (hospice and the hospital) and some of which I am not (the ambulance). I didn’t factor in any of my Quaker commitments, but there are a few committee meetings and gatherings thrown into that lot.

It never, ever, feels like enough. All of this time I have given, and it does not feel as if it is an acceptable sacrifice to God.

What is going on here?

Let me first say what I don’t think. I don’t think this is ex-Catholic guilt. I don’t think this is proof of the unhealthy nature of Christianity. I don't think this is about me perseverating on sin and redemption, and I don’t think this is about an angry, implacable God. Possibly, even likely, the reason this is such an issue for me has to do with my deep feelings of inadequacy rooted in childhood unhappiness, but I don’t think it's really about that, either.

I think I find myself inadequate exactly insofar as I am not totally submitted to the will of the Divine.

Let me put that in secular language first, then circle back to Quaker and Christian language.

I’m convinced that the only way to have a fulfilled life is to exist as authentically myself as I possibly can. I could win a dozen Nobel prizes, save humanity from nuclear disaster, and found a world religion, but if I have not lived as my authentic self I will still feel miserable and inadequate. After diverting the meteor and saving Gotham once again, I will come to this blog and post the same thing: it was all straw.

If my authentic self is as a painter, or a plumber, or a housewife, or a gardener, or a veterinary assistant, or a contemplative Trappist monk (unfortunate as I am a woman), I had better go and do that thing because I will not find fulfillment else.

If I am meant (in my inmost self, taking God right out of it) to save Gotham from a meteor, I will be a mediocre (at best) research librarian, and I will be very unhappy while doing it. Conversely, if I am meant to be a research librarian, I will not do a very good job at saving Gotham, and will be very unhappy while doing it.

What God wants for me, indeed, what God requires of me, and what I’m getting at when I talk about living a life submitted to the Divine will, is to exist only and absolutely as my perfect, authentic, self.

In order for Gotham to be saved, for theses to be researched, for houses to get painted, for veterinarians to be assisted, for gardens to be grown, and for toilets to be repaired (all the latter of which are certainly components of the first), I believe we all, whether we believe in God are not, are required to be our true and real selves.

The title of this post comes from Romans 12:1 — “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”

This can come off as sort of creepy and over-demanding, like C.S. Lewis pointing out that God doesn’t want just part of us, ze wants all of us. Yet this is not because God is an overweening monster, but because being one’s true self necessarily requires all of one. One can’t be one’s perfectly true and authentic self only partially, or part of the time, because then, by definition, one is not being one’s perfectly true and authentic self. It’s like having a four-sided triangle. It can’t be done.

I see the question of submitting perfectly to Divine will and being perfectly my authentic self as being one and the same, and so I think this is a question atheists and theists alike are called to grapple with. Because I do believe in God, though, the primary way I see this and process it is via submission to God. For me, it is much easier (although still not easy at all) to figure out what God requires of me, through silent prayer and worship and contemplation, than it is to hash out exactly who I am and what I should do via purely psychological and secular mechanisms.

So I, personally, finding myself once again feeling inadequate and frustrated, unfulfilled and useless, need to again ask myself the question that has been running through my head since April: What am I doing here?

I will find the answer not in doing more, but in sitting with God—in worship, in front of my computer, throughout the comings and goings of my quotidian life—and submitting to that Divine will. If I am meant to save Gotham at all, this is the only way I believe possible to do it.

I am giving over “my” socially imposed definitions of what it means to be successful, or what I think will make me happy, and letting them be uprooted and supplanted by the Divine definition and will. And this alone is an acceptable sacrifice.

4 comments:

  1. Forgive me if I'm being simplistic. Here's what I would do in your situation (and this could be an exercise you could do in Meeting, if desired).

    Ask yourself if there have ever been times when you really, truly did feel you were being your whole authentic self. If the answer is yes, ask: what were you doing? Is it still or could it somehow translate into something that would feel right for you to do now?

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  2. I feel like one of the things God has been telling me to do over the past few years is to take care of myself.

    One time when I was meeting with my support committee, I commented that when I take on too much, I am the only one who suffers. The immediate response from someone I respect very much as an elder was, "That's not true!" Then we talked about how neglecting self-care negatively impacts those around me and my ministry. It was an important lesson for me, and one that I keep learning in different ways.

    Recently, a friend said to me that self-care leads to good boundaries, because it means you are not relying on others to do those things for you. I hadn't put those two together before, but that has been a helpful way for me to think about it too.

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  3. Actually, what I was trying to get at was not that I'm not led to do the things I do --- I believe I am --- but that when I don't let God into all of my life, it's not much different than not letting him into any of it. If that makes sense. Or I'm good at obeying God in big commandments, like "go thou and save lives," but not very good at the everyday.

    And my failure at the everyday makes me feel as if I have failed in everything.

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  4. Hi Rosemary,
    From one who has for many years felt, in the midst of 60-70 weeks where he did his best, that it was not enough--that he wasn't all that God designed for him to be....

    I think to begin with us seeking our true self--that's the fatal blunder. Even if you did finally give your all, and indeed did "let God into all of my life," that still wouldn't be ULTIMATE!

    Think, again, on the cliche quote from our old mentor: "..that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could tell what to do, then, oh, then, I heard a voice which said, "There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition"; and when I heard it my heart did leap for joy."

    Begin first! with God's love for you. Then let the joy of that everlasting love shape you into your "one’s perfectly true and authentic self."

    Then you can fulfill Romans 12:1. For notice that the verse says by "the mercies of God."

    All that is peaceful and loving and everlasting start with God's love for all.

    In the Light,
    Daniel Wilcox

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