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The Quest: Lightening the Load


What "baggage" are you carrying?

As we more fully engage in our Quests, we discover that certain mindsets and character deficiencies leave us too weak or incapacitated for the journey. It's as if while climbing a mountain, we suddenly discover that someone has placed 40 pounds of rocks in our backpack. The more quickly we discard the unnecessary weight, the easier the journey becomes.

During Jesus' time on earth, He would tell those who wished to follow Him that they would have to "take up their crosses." What fascinates me about this is that while He saw this as a first step, modern followers often see it as the entire goal of the Quest! "Once I learn certain disciplines, I will have arrived." The metaphor that Jesus gives, however, is that we really can't even begin the journey until we have learned certain disciplines. The first of these, of course, is what I'll call the Discipline of Death.

What is the Discipline of Death?

One of our strongest instincts is self-preservation. We will do most anything to save our own lives. On one hand this is a healthy instinct; it keeps us from doing things like playing Russian roulette with .45 caliber handguns, drinking poison and telling our boss what we really think of him. On the other hand, this instinct can turn from preserving our lives to defending our egos.

Your ego prefers to remain in its intellectual-psychological comfort zone rather than to face the challenges of new choices, new learning and new perspectives. "Somehow," your ego will state bluntly, "I want to be different without being different! I want to get from here to there while I still stay here. And above all else, I certainly don't want to stand out and appear strangely different from my peers."

But do corpses care what they look like?

The Discipline of Death requires us to see ourselves as dead to old ways of believing and behaving. This doesn't mean that some of what we've learned in the past won't serve us in our Quest. It does mean that such knowledge will need to be evaluated and inspected for ingredients that would impede our journey.

The Discipline of Death also serves to help me maintain an eternal perspective on my present choices. In light of the fact that I am going to die, which choice will be the most efficacious, the most advantageous for my life's journey? In light of the reality that I will be facing God in eternity, what must I do now?

The blessing of our mortality is that we constantly face the challenge of choices. Do I do this with my allotted time, or do I do that? The danger is in forgetting our mortality and living as if we have all the time in the world. It's best that we see ourselves as always standing in the shadow of the cross of our own deaths, and asking in that shadow, "What now?"

How do I drop the unbearable weight of self-importance?

Your ego's wish is to maintain its sense of importance. But imagine millions of people living their lives with the belief that they alone are the center of the universe, that everything and everyone should be evaluated by their agendas, needs and desires. "I'm number one," one person will pompously declare, while another counters, "No, I'm number one." But a third person interjects, "You're both wrong. I AM NUMBER ONE!" If there were some way to hold up a mirror so as to allow people to watch themselves as they go about asserting and defending their egos, they just might be instantly delivered. Such a charade would be quite sad if it weren't so comical! But, of course, "important" people don't laugh all that much-especially at themselves.

"Important" people worry about their images. They constantly stress, "If I don't live in an expensive house, drive a luxury sedan and vacation in Europe, what will people think?" Whether or not they can afford any of these things doesn't matter. They pay no attention that the weight of the debt is robbing them of sleep and peace of mind. Worse yet, it doesn't matter that the expense may rob their children of a good education or keep them from ever using a portion of their earnings to help others. Herein is part of the problem: Maintaining the image of importance is actually keeping them from doing really important things with their lives.

"Important" people are embarrassed and offended quite easily. Being at the center of the universe means they must always be treated in a deferential manner. Their feelings must be protected at all costs. Of course, this means that any blind spots they have in regard to character deficiencies or lacks of competency must never be mentioned.

It is downright impossible for "important" people to easily learn new things. After all, "important" people are already supposed to know everything and never make mistakes. But how in the world can we learn what we don't know if we insist on acting as if we already know it all? How can I make the necessary adjustments in my behavior as I learn a new skill if I'm worried about appearances? " Important" people must do everything right the first time or they feel like failures. But so-called mistakes or failures are nothing more than the process of learning .

Who is in control?

When I was a child, I remember a man standing in church telling us that God had no hands or feet but our feet and hands, implying that God was lost without us. Now there's a belief that will give you a real head-trip! This belief more or less concedes that should you make even one mistake, God's Kingdom will crumble. Can there be a belief more conducive to a Messianic complex, than one where the weight of the Kingdom of God rests on your shoulders? Good news: You can relax. The Kingdom is on His shoulders.

One of the things about Jesus that always has fascinated me is that when He was attacked or falsely accused, he never became offended or got His feelings hurt. He would defend His Father's reputation, but never His own. He really didn't think all that much about Himself, because that wasn't what He was all about. He was all about His love for His Father and God's people and His dedication to His mission.

Can you imagine Jesus going on and on about how some rabbi had said such mean things about Him? Can you picture Jesus getting all bent out of shape about being ignored at a party? Even when those He healed didn't show sufficient gratitude, the issue wasn't about Him, but concern for the character flaw that had been revealed in the one to whom he had ministered.

Personal history

When I was in high school, I took a personality profile test that told me I was an introvert who should shy away from any endeavor that required standing in front of others. This so-called "fact" about who I was came back to my mind like a storm through a valley when, in my first year of college, I was about to sing before the head of the music school and three other professors. Since I had freely chosen to major in voice, I didn't think they would cut me any slack if I told them I was handicapped by a severe case of shyness and introversion.

As I stood outside the room, I paced anxiously back and forth. All the affirmations I could think of were doing me no good. No matter how loudly I said to myself, "I am a confident, competent singer who will remember all four languages I am to sing," a louder voice replied, "You're about to lay an egg." Then, out of the blue, a thought occurred to me: Just maybe, I could pretend to be someone else.

When my name was called, I "became" an Academy-Award-winning actor about to step before the cameras. I could hear the symphony swelling and myself saying, "Show time!" I walked into the room, nailed the performance and earned an "A." I also learned that I didn't have to be bound by who I was yesterday.

"I've never been able to do it before, so how can I do it now?"

One of the things you will learn on your Quest is that progress often requires you to drop your personal history, insofar as it gets in the way of your becoming whom you need to be in order to move on. It doesn't matter that you have "never been this way until now." Progress requires you to do so.

Up until now, you've learned certain behaviors that, in your mind, have helped you to live your life.or at the very least to survive it! Good for you. But you will need to unlearn some behaviors and learn new ones if you're to truly live life as it was intended. To the degree that you allow yourself to hide behind your past by saying, "That just isn't me," your experience of life will be inhibited.

Be willing to start over

What if you had amnesia, as of right now? What if you had to build a personality and patterns of behavior from a blank slate? Who would you be? What behaviors would you adopt? Forget who you were. Who do you want to be today? Don't let yourself be restricted by past beliefs or behaviors. Adopt the belief that you can become anyone you want to become, and do anything you want to do.

Of course, there may be some environmental or physiological restrictions. But allow that reality to reveal itself to you. Don't simply decide what is true in your case before you even seek to make the attempt.

Few things can trip us up in our Quest more than the desire to maintain the identities we've built over the years. Forget 'em. Allow the needs of the Quest to reshape you. Allow the vision of who you wish to become, guide you. And don't listen to those voices-yours or anyone else's-that try to pull you back to the old you, the old way of behaving.

Learning from Negativity