Illusions are exhausting.
My illusions about myself are difficult to maintain.
My illusions about God leave me in a state of confusion and despair.
The most exhausting and confusing time in my life has been when I can’t distinguish an illusion from reality. This mixing of reality and illusion becomes particularly powerful when I fail to stop for a time of silence and rest before God.
When folks tell me that they struggle to pray or that their minds are too active when they try to sit in silence, I wonder if this comes from facing their illusions about themselves and about God when they first enter into silence. They may wonder:
What if God is holding back from me?
What if I’m not really a beloved child of God?
What if God only has judgment for me?
Why would God remain distant from me if God loves me?
Why has God failed me in the past?
What if I’m praying wrong and God is distant as a punishment?
What if my failures at self-control and holiness are keeping me from God?
I’ve thought all of these things and plenty more. My illusions about myself and God have been deeply ingrained. I’m sure they’ll come up again in the near future.
Whenever I become captive to my illusions about myself or about God, I find that I need a starting point. I don’t need to know the whole path forward. You could say that I need a small seed to plant rather than transplanting an entire bush.
Here is the basic seed that serves as my starting point: I could not desire to pray if God did not desire me to pray.
The seed of prayer and of overcoming my illusions is grace.
This grace isn’t a fast remedy because it’s a seed after all. It takes more time than I would like to plant it and to watch it grow. That’s why my illusions about myself and about God can come storming back when it appears that I’m not making any progress.
Speaking of my own experience, I’ve tried the effort-intensive, duty-bound impulse control approach to Christianity. That approach allows my illusions about myself and about God to remain unchanged, if not cementing them into place.
On the other hand, entering into silence before God, sometimes after a time of reflection (Examen) or simple songs, nurtures the seed of God’s grace in my life. Again, this is a slow process.
Much like the plants in our garden, one day, the grace has grown into something substantial. The grace of God becomes the reality, not my illusions. It casts shade on these illusions, and over time they lose their power—although these illusions can return if I lose my time of grounding before God.
As I have made space for silent prayer before God, I am more convinced that the mercy, compassion, and sacrifice of Jesus throughout the Gospels reveals the heart of God for us. The mystics spent much of their time meditating on the cross because they believed it connects us with the love of God for us, not a kind of eternal transaction demanding intellectual assent.
My prayer for you and for myself in this coming year is that your illusions about yourself and God will wilt away under his growing grace in your life. We all begin as God’s beloved children, and any growth in our lives isn’t a matter of earning it or making it better.
We can live into, discover, and immerse ourselves into our identities as God’s beloved children. We can move beyond the obscurity and illusions that keep us from seeing the intense, unruly, and unexpected love of God that pulses throughout creation.
This is the deepest reality for us: “You are God’s beloved, and his desire is for you.”