The spiritual life is a journey of having our illusions about God and our expectations about how life “should” work shattered and transformed. An illusion is a distortion of reality. Distortions do not help us live well or be well. Why is this? It's because distortions and illusions are not the truth. Opening up our distortions an illusions is a necessary part of the spiritual life. It simply cannot be avoided.
Our expectations and illusions of how God should behave began early in our spiritual formation with our parents, teachers and early experiences shaping our tender hearts to believe that God is “this” way and behaves "that" way. Through fairy tells and Sunday school, and adults who shaped our thinking, our malleable hearts were formed to hold onto illusions that many of us find ourselves still clinging to today. Some were helpful and good and obviously, some were not. It is the pieces of our internal belief systems that are not good or healthy for us that God seems to want to work on throughout our lives.
Illusions go something like this:
If I do “it” right, then God will bless me.-If I follow the rules, then I will not get cancer or dementia.
If I pray every day, then I won’t get into a car wreck andbe hurt.
If I read my Bible daily, then no harm will befall me.
The “if’s” seem to be endless.
In the Scriptures, we discover that most of the personalities, who we know anything about at all, experience some form of shattering experience where their own, deeply held illusions and convictions were shattered into a thousand little pieces. Jesus seemed to have a soft spot in his heart for men and women who had distorted views of life and spiritual things. Perhaps this is why he told us, "The truth will set us free."
Some of the disciples expected and held to an illusion that Jesus was to be a political revolutionist. Some wanted Jesus to be an earthly king. Mary and Martha deeply believed that they knew how Jesus should show up and heal their ailing brother Lazarus before he got worse. Jesus did not show up.
Their spiritual journey, just like our own, unfolds into many experiences in our lives, where we have to lay down how we thought God’s operating system worked. Our distortions and illusions meet the God who really is. When that happens. Something shatters--our illusions begin to crumble and shattering is not a bad thing as we learn in the school of life.
Their journey, just like our own is one where our culturally conditioned mindsets are fair game for the shattering to begin. Their pre-packaged values that they thought would work are challenged just as ours will be. Their pre-conceived ideas of how Jesus should show up and always come to our rescue is fair game for God to reform their thinking and our own thinking. Any distorted kink in our hearts is fair game in the spiritual life for God to come transform. Why is this so? Because God wants us free. It was freedom that Jesus came!
I, for one, find it hard to lay down my own programs that I have held to for years and lay them aside and stand in my theological nakedness and confess, “I don’t know how this is going to turn out.” Somewhere along the way, we have to look at our programs of happiness--of how we thought life and God would work and begin to re-build our lives. It often flows in a pattern that goes like this: We CONSTRUCT our views about life and God. We have to DECONSTRUCT our views about life and God because our earlier, held to beliefs do not work anymore. Then, we RECONSTRUCT our views and beliefs to accept a more true image of God, life and ourselves. There is freedom in this. There is life in this because we accept the truth and the truth sets us free.
A Story That Helps - The story of Jesus walking with the disciples on the long,winding, dusty road towards Emmaus offers us significant clues to how we dis-illusion our illusions. We see the disciples blinded from seeing Jesus. They clearly did not know that he was with them---being a companion with them. They were spiraling in their own dashed hopes and dreams in losing their beloved friend Jesus—to his death on the cross. They were shattered. Their expectations were filleted wide open—exposed to a deep work of being transformed. In this beautiful dialogue we see the disciples asking Jesus “Stay with us. The day is almost over (Luke 24:29). To ask Jesus to “stay” is the prayer of invitation that says, “It is good to have you with me, Jesus. Please don’t go anywhere. Your presence is a very good Presence.Stay and let me morph into a deeper understanding.”
Stay… is a prayer where we invite Jesus to transform what doesn’t work anymore.
Stay…is a prayer exposing that having Jesus stay with us is sure better than being alone.
Stay… is a prayer where our pre-packaged values; signed off doctrinal statements; expectations that have worked for us so far, now are exposed. We are naked and exposed to the eyes and heart of a loving Savior who really does want to dismantle all of us for all of Him. God wants us to know the Truth because God knows, the truth will set us free.
In the staying---we have time… we need more time to dismantle our illusions.
In the staying… I can ask the hard questions of God. I can ask the hard questions of my self and a few others.
In the staying…. I can let myself sit in my own disappointment as I often do when I hear the news of another friend struck down with cancer or a horrible accident—who loved God as much, if not more than I do.
In the staying… I can become vulnerable and a growing willingness rises up within me say says something like the prayer we have all prayed since children: “Thy will be done. Not mine.”
Friends, it is in these moments that our illusions need to e shattered for no illusion is the truth. Only the truth sets us free. Illusions set us up for major disappointment, depression and disillusionment. Truth opens our eyes. Truth removes long-fixed scaled from our eyes. Truth helps us see.
We cannot protect ourselves from these times of shattering.We should, in fact face them open handed and open-hearted asking “I wonder what God is up to?
In conclusion, take a look at the heart felt prayer that Jonah prayed to God through his own disillusionment and stripping away of tightly held illusions that simply said, “No true lover of God should ever be swallowed up by a whale.” Read what he said as a prototype as to how we might pray:
“In trouble, deep trouble, I prayed to God.
He answered me.
From the belly of the grave I cried, ‘Help!’
You heard my cry.
You threw me into ocean’s depths,
into a watery grave,
With ocean waves, ocean breakers
crashing over me.
I said, ‘I’ve been thrown away,
thrown out, out of your sight.
I’ll never again lay eyes
on your Holy Temple.’
Ocean gripped me by the throat.
The ancient Abyss grabbed me and held tight.
My head was all tangled in seaweed
at the bottom of the sea where the mountains take root.
I was as far down as a body can go,
and the gates were slamming shut behind me forever—
Yet you pulled me up from that grave alive,
O God, my God!
When my life was slipping away,
I remembered God,
And my prayer got through to you,
made it all the way to your Holy Temple.
Those who worship hollow gods, god-frauds,
walkaway from their only true love.
But I’m worshiping you, God,
calling out in thanksgiving!
And I’ll do what I promised I’d do!
Salvation belongs to God!”
--Jonah 2:1-9, the Message