Reflections by Jerry Webber

Monday, July 2, 2012

The High Cost of Spiritual Health

I grew up in the day of $.29/gallon gasoline. "Gas wars" in my small, Oklahoma town would drive the price down to 19 cents, or even 18 cents. It was not uncommon to sit in the backseat of my mom's huge 4-door Chevy as she pulled into the local Kerr-McGee filling station and hear the attendant ask, "Fill-er' up, ma'am?"

She would either say, "Yes, please," or, "No, just $2 worth today."

So later, in the 1970's, when I attended conferences with my Baptist student group, the sermon that I still remember, the one that made a deep, deep dent on my heart, was the white Southern Baptist preacher who began a sermon by saying, "I'll take $5 worth of God, please. Not enough to love my black neighbor, and not enough to change my heart. I'd like to buy $5 worth of God. Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I don't want enough of God to make me love the outcasts or pick beets with a migrant. I want ecstasy not transformation. I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the eternal in a paper sack. I would like to buy $5 worth of God, please."

I've reflected lately on the high cost of life with God . . . the enormous cost of growing up . . . the astronomical cost of the spiritual life.

You can track it in the Gospels . . . disciples are asked to sacrifice jobs to follow him . . . the loyalty of Jesus-followers shifts from family and social circles to the emerging inner framework of the kingdom of God . . . Jesus invited men and women to lay down what they have and what they think they know, in order to take on a different way of seeing the world and being in the world.

The price tag is high, and not everyone is willing to go there. In the Gospels, some turn away sad, because they have lots of stuff, and they are not willing to let it go.

This is dicey stuff. On an intentional spiritual path, we change. The way we see and think and feel changes. Much that has been unconscious, underneath the surface of our lives, comes to consciousness. We begin to see our own interior landscape, the motivations and drives that have governed us. We see how we have manipulated people for our own ends, and we notice how self-interested our actions in the world have been.

We notice that for much of life we have been sleep-walking, just going through the motions, blindly accepting what society and popular culture has said was important.

We see the hidden emotional weapons we've kept stored away inside, the weapons we have used on others. Loyalties and allegiances we've never before questioned are seen in a new light over time. That which has been invisible -- and thus, unnoticed -- slowly becomes visible to us.

These growing awarenesses obviously have a huge impact on us. They also have a huge impact on the people around us. In their eyes, we are changing, becoming different people. They can no longer count on us to be in the same place we were when they last saw us. Since we are slowly discovering new landscapes within ourselves, these people don't always know where to find us. We are not where we were when they last put us down. We don't seem stable -- and maybe we're not at this point -- and it feels like we've left or departed. "I don't feel like I know you any more," is one way some express it.

It's a huge shift of equilibrium. The old rules and roles that we had been locked into don't hold us any more. And if persons around us are not exploring for themselves -- if they need us to be like we've always been -- the tension can be almost unbearable.

I don't think I'm overstating this. Do you see how high the cost can be? It threatens division and separation, the division Jesus spoke of that is sword-separating family members and friends (Matt. 10:34 - 39). It is not that anyone goes out looking for separation, but that growth -- any kind of growth -- puts you at odds with others.

I've been on both ends of this . . . resisting the changes within persons around me . . . and having others resist my own change. These are powerful resistances, and they signal the astronomical cost of growing up.

I have no easy suggestions for getting around the cost or the difficulties. In fact, I don't think we're to get around this cost by gathering coupons or looking for sale items. We must each live into these realities in different ways, in ways that are true to God and our most authentic self.

For instance, I know how deeply I hurt and offended persons close to me during some of my own spiritual evolution. My stance toward others during some seasons of my life was not salted well with charity and generosity, but rather hardness and stubbornness. I hurt a lot of people. I didn't necessarily navigate those days well . . . but perhaps I did the best I could with the tools I had available to me then. I have different tools now, so maybe I would do it differently . . . but I can't relive those days based on the place I stand now in life.

Jesus knew the cost was high. He knew it philosophically, and he knew it experientially. That's why he said, "Consider the cost . . ."

And for those of you who have dared to ask for more than $5.00 worth of God . . . you, too, know that the cost is high.


Deanne said...

Jerry - thank you so much for your recent posts. You are speaking to my heart. It is true what you say - you traveling out to to the unexplored places and bringing your story back makes the traveling I do feel much safer. Somehow this post on change makes accepting that cost easier also. Peace. Deanne

Debra said...

As always, thank you for sharing. This is a powerful post. How much of God do I want? How much of God am I willing to be filled with?

This sentence spoke to me: "We must each live into these realities in different ways, in ways that are true to God and our most authentic self."

I haven't always lived it out well either, yet as you mentioned, we live it out at the time with the tools we have... for better or worse. It's a process.

Being true to God and our authentic self along the way is a difficult, yet rewarding challenge.

Thanks for continuing to teach and guide me along my journey.