My New Year’s Resolutions: Boundaries and “unto’s”

My Two New Year’s Resolutions

My NYR’s this year are boundaries and “unto’s”. My very patient, astute, loving, caring, and wonderful wife pointed out that I have real problems with boundaries…or lack thereof. I have been thinking about that ever since and she is absolutely right. I have a major problem with boundaries, thinking that I control much more than I do, that I should control much more than I do, that I am responsible for much more than I am, that I can do much more than I can…note the theme of “more”…thus the key to this effort is restricting my boundaries to reality…not imagination, not jealous fantasies, not envious illusions, but reality.

Practically speaking, it means watching myself ever moment of the day and pulling myself back in when my inflated ego wants to “take over,” wants to go tiptoeing through the tulips of life, snatching, grasping, clutching, envying, desiring, coveting, without regard to God or others. God has given very specific gifts to me, has a very personal plan for me, wills a very specific future for me, and I tend to go barging out of those specificities, rejecting them right and left, thinking I know better, forgetting my dependence on Him, my supposed love for Him, my obedience to Him, my allegiance to Him. Rather stupid and objectively ridiculous on my part!

And, as if that weren’t bad enough, by disregarding these lovingly set boundaries, these personally tailored limitations, I spill over, unwanted, unbidden, into the lives, the personal, private domain, the responsibilities, the delights, the revealing of the gifts of everyone around me. Now if this happens to sound like trespassing, major time, and, if I ask that I be forgiven my trespasses as I forgive those who trespass against me, then what I am dealing with here is not just a psychological quirk, a minor foible, an inconsequential idiosyncrasy, but the other translations of ὀφείλημα, opheilhmata, i.e. “debt,” or “sin.”

I keep reminding myself that I am restricted to now, not then,…to what is, not what was or will be; and that I am restricted to here, not there, this, not that: not that person’s wealth, that person’s power, that person’s gifts, that person’s entity…not in that place, that position, that role, that otherness. That email is not mine to read, that letter is not mine to open, that task is not mine to take on, that problem is not mine to solve, that responsibility is not mine to assume…that is not mine to do, say, be.

I am no gentle giant. Oh, I may think myself to be. But a friend who was truly a gentle giant was memorialized yesterday…and in comparison with him, I am a pigmy, not a gentle giant. However, that’s ok. God loves me just as I am, warts, sinfulness, and all. He sees right through all my facades and hugs me anyway, perhaps even because of them, since He realizes that I wouldn’t be me without them. He’s very patient and will help me and wait for me to shed them one by one.

This latest boundary-less-ness is the latest onionskin of habitual sin that has surfaced. A lot of drawing circles around my feet and saying to myself: stay in that, that’s where you are, that’s were God wants you, that’s where you need to stay.

This boundary-less-ness exacerbates my other resolution-ary flaw: controlitis. By imagining myself in control of my life, I place myself on a pedestal, make pretenses of power, and puff up with pride. Rather stupid and idiotic, if I examine the underlying reality…that, in reality, when it comes right down to it, I control nothing, that I am totally dependent on God for everything, that the only thing that I do control, my free will, is so overgrown with the moss and debris of cultural, social, status, fear-driven overlays that it staggers to even exist, let alone exert itself. The very thought of choosing against these worldly forces for a moral right, a truth, a belief, a divine reality, throws my psyche into cataclysmic confusion and consternation.

I think this is at least part of what Jesus was referring to when he was talking about the difficulty of the rich to get into the kingdom of God: Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and said, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For human beings this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”[1] The NABRE explains it this way: “since wealth, power, and merit generate false security, Jesus rejects them utterly as a claim to enter the kingdom. Achievement of salvation is beyond human capability and depends solely on the goodness of God who offers it as a gift.”[2] If these “things,” this power, wealth, and achievement, so cloud my mind and possessing them so dominates my will, I can do little to nothing to clear the way for “the goodness of God” to offer the gift of salvation. Only God can first clear away this detritus, this junk, this sinful clutter and then lead me to choose to be open to Him, to join Him in the work of salvation.

Control is possible only to the degree that it conforms with God’s plan, God’s will, God’s providence. After that, as the saying goes, if I want to make God laugh, so I expound on my great “plans.”

This brings me to my second resolution…although that is an inaccurate term to describe these inspirations of the Spirit…more like “incorporations” in the original meaning of that term, to bring into one’s body, to make one’s own, to personalize and customize it to fit me…the second resolution, the “unto’s.” Instead of control, the Divinely endorsed approach to life is the “unto’s.” I have dwelt on these before: Mary’s “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” [Luke 1:38] She calls herself God’s δούλη, a female slave. Pretty radical debasement.

But I think she understood, she got it, she could grok the true relationship that we have with God: He calls the shots, we carry them out. But it is even more radical than that…He not only calls the shots, He creates the environment in which the shots are called, He provides everything necessary to implement the shots, in Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28), our literal existence, the sine qua non without which we would not even be, let alone be able to “move” and “carry out.” I are totally, utterly, and completely not only helpless, but non-existent without Him. So, thus, He creates me, He gives me everything I need to do His will, He tells me His will, He gives me the grace to carry out that will, He watches over me and keeps me in existence as I choose whether or not to carry out that will, He holds me up as I act on His will, and, in His providence, He provides the ultimately good outcome of my actions, regardless of whether in this specific action. I choose to do or not to do His will. [Rom 8:28].

What I must choose is not really to initiate a action independent of His will, but I must choose to open myself to the cascade of gifts, of caring, of love, of events that are tailored just for me, to help me to achieve my greatest happiness.

The wonderfully wondrous, serendipitous thing about such openings is that they simultaneously place God in the driver’s seat [where He is anyway but I just choose to ignore, forget, and shunt aside Him, at least in “my world”, by the idol of me “in control] and they, thus, focus attention on God, show God to be the All-Caring Father that He is, and makes Him “worthy,” owed in gratitude, in my eyes to receive glory and honor and power [Rev 4:11], “for Yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever,” as we say. They encourage and motivate me to love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself. [Lv 19:18; Dt 6:5; 10:12; Jos 22:5; Mt 19:19; 22:37–39; Lk 10:27; Rom 13:9; Gal 5:14; Jas 2:8…repetitive redundancy, da ya think? Maybe the Holy Spirit wishes to bring it my attention[3], to bring it my attention, to bring it my attention…you can lead a horse to water…]

Looking at “unto” in a different light as God’s will for me now, it is the nexus, the center and link of me to God, the point where “the rubber meets the road.” I have often looked for God’s will in the wrong places: both as something in the future and/or as a goal which I must strive to attain. Both of these are much too complicated for normal practical implementation. While there is certainly an already-but-not-yet quality to much of Jesus revelation, e.g. the Kingdom, His presence, the sacrifice of Calvary, even the redemption of the world, the will of the Father is a much more tangible, omnipresent reality, revealing itself each moment of my life. It is not way up there, but right here, right now, in this room, at this computer, with these thoughts, at this word, this letter, this…is the Father presenting Himself to me right now and loving, nurturing, urging me to open myself to His will in this moment, to let Him be done unto me in this eternal second.

I have the option to say “no” to Him, to refuse his ministrations, to refuse to cooperate with His will and, while the overall progress of His providence inexorably proceeds according to that will, my acceptance, cooperation, and participation has been temporarily [let’s hope not permanently] side-tracked onto my private, personal “idolization express” to isolation, death and destruction.

It’s not always easy to open myself to God’s “unto” at this moment. Jesus made that extremely clear when, literally sweating blood, He asked His Father: Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will.[Mk 14:36; see also Mt 26:39; Lk 22:42] “Note the complete obedient surrender of the human will of Jesus to the divine will of the Father.”[4] This is the ultimate “unto”, the complete surrender to the Father, in spite of His knowledge of exactly what was going to happen to Him.

I can only speculate what is going to happen to me, yet this is the “unto” that the Father asks also of me, of each of us. To allow Him to control my life, to give me what I need and not what I want, to have Him do unto me what He wills and not what I will, to live and die according to His plan and not my meanderings. A tough and constant tussle with my will,…a perpetual continuous ongoing decision to serve by “only” standing and waiting for Him to reveal the next moment. But I guess since Jesus, Son though he was,…learned obedience from what he suffered, [Heb 5:8] I should expect or, rather, actually want no less, an imitation of Him, denying my will, myself, taking up my cross as He did, daily, and following Him to death and glory.

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

[2] NABRE footnote on Mark 10:23-27.

[3] In fact, He follows the Deuteronomic rendition with these words: Take to heart these words which I command you today. Keep repeating them to your children. Recite them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them on your arm as a sign and let them be as a pendant on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates. [Deut 6:6-9] While the NABRE note on these signs states: “these injunctions were probably meant merely in a figurative sense,” phylacteries and mezuzah are still used by observant Jews.

[4] NABRE footnote for this verse in Mark.

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