25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
(Luke 10:25-28, ESV)
Depending on your perspective, passages from the Bible such as this can be daunting. Really? No pressure Jesus. Just “love God and others with all my heart, soul, strength, and mind”? No problem! Yeah, right.
When we take passages such this seriously and literally, many of us feel inadequate. If we interpret these words as instructions for life, or “rules for us to follow”, then the fear of inevitable failure make sense. We sense that we will fail miserably at mustering up what it takes to accomplish such a feat.
However, what if loving God and others isn’t so much about striving to do more, do better, and produce something we don’t have enough of? What if it is more about surrendering, trusting, experiencing, receiving, and resting in something we already have?
I have struggled with anxiety for much of my adult life. Sure, I’m in a much better place now than I was 20 years ago, but it’s still something the rears its ugly head from time to time. Recently, while in the midst of a panic attack, I was lying in the bed staring at the ceiling struggling to catch my breath. I was taking short, quick breaths while my anxiety continued to escalate. I struggled to gain control over the fear that was dominating my mind and body. My wife’s voice began to come into focus. I could hear her counting, which I realized was a cue for me to breathe more slowly, to the count that she was providing for me. Breathe in slowly, five seconds, hold, five seconds, breathe out slowly, five seconds. Repeat again and again. Reluctantly, I gave into her voice. I began to trust what she was asking me to do. I chose to receive her invitation to let go and breathe. I began to surrender my efforts to control my situation. After several minutes, I began to rest in the freedom of taking deep, life giving breathes that restored me to a state of calm. At that point, I was doing something that my body and mind wanted all along. It was something natural for me, but I had been thrown into an unnatural, unhealthy state of anxious short breaths that only caused more suffering as the anxiety roared like a snowball rolling down a hill getting bigger and bigger.
I have a growing suspicion that loving God and others is much like this. If we strive hard to love, believing it is something we must work really hard to produce, then we will suffer great hardship and fail miserably. However, if we engage the risk that we just might already have the love inside of us that we need, we might be able to relax, be loved, and love others in the way that we were created to all along. This does not mean there is no effort involved. While lying in the bed panicking, there was indeed quite a bit of effort put forth when I surrendered to my wife’s voice. However, it was not the kind of effort it takes to climb a wall. It was more like the effort it takes to jump out of a plane with a parachute. The first kind of effort is all on me. I must rely on my efforts alone. The second kind of effort requires trust. It requires me to let a parachute and gravity do what they do. Will the parachute do what it promises to do? Will it provide me with all the protection and ability to descend safely that I need? On the way down, I must continue to surrender and allow it to do what it has promised to do. If I fight and decide to do things on my own, it will only make the drop scarier and more uncomfortable (and possibly more dangerous).
Interesting note: I learned years ago that the Holy Spirit is referred to as “Paraclete” in Greek. Parachute….Paraclete. To me, that’s an interesting and cool way to think of the Spirit as we jump into things in our lives that promote fear.
Deep breathing and loving others have quite a bit in common. Both are more difficult in times of stress and hardship. Neither of them requires us to muster up something we don’t have already. Both are something we already have in us to do. Both require trust and surrender. When experienced, both provide freedom and a much happier and healthier experience of life in general.