Last week we discovered something amazing together—a way of living that seems to defy a universal concept. Call it cause-and-effect, reap-what-you-sow, karma, or any number of other names. It’s a law of the natural world that our actions have consequences. But I believe there are forces greater than the natural, and I’ve seen proof in my own life and the lives of others that it is possible to find your best life despite personal shortcomings. It is possible, in other words, to receive good even when you do bad.
Now, if you’re just joining us, I should make it clear that I’m not talking about a “cheaters prosper” sort of mentality. In my experience, even when willfully selfish people appear outwardly successful, they’re really miserable on the inside, or at the very least they live with the constant feeling of something important being missing from their life. No, I mean that when a person is committed, long-term, to living in love and doing the right thing as best they can, they don’t get what they earn. They get something better. In fact, even when their resolve fails and they do something selfish, they can go right on living their best life.
But this raises an obvious question. If people in this situation can act selfishly without it counting against them, why not be selfish? If you can have your fun without sacrificing long-term happiness, why not do it? To answer that, I’d like to back up a little.
My father was scared of dying as he got older, but it wasn’t the actual death that frightened him. See, he had a very conservative, legalistic view of God and spirituality. He believed that any wrongdoing immediately brought a person out of grace and that the only way to be re-saved was to repent. So in his mind, if he had even the smallest wayward thought, and then died before he could repent, that was it. He was bound for hell. Talk about a terrifying way to live!
A lot of people—my younger self included—have this view of God as a cruel authority figure ready to punish us for stepping out of line, which naturally leads us to feel kind of rebellious. Like the game is to grab as much as we can, have as much fun as we can, without putting our toe too far over the line.
Clearly, this is missing the point. In fact, I now believe that our actions aren’t even really about salvation and damnation anymore. That problem was solved a long time ago, and ancient manuscripts make it clear that faith, not works, are the crux of that particular issue. The point we tend to forget is that living in love—being unselfish—is as much for our own good as for everyone else’s. When you are really committed to this way of living, that becomes clear pretty quickly. If you can remember a period in your life, long or short, where your relationships were harmonious, and you lived your days worry-free, doing the best you could and feeling good about the attempt, you know how incomparable it is.
You also know that even though you might feel invincible in the moment, that sort of thing has a way of slipping through your fingers. Most of the time, it probably goes something like this: everything is great, you’re riding high, living your life according to the way you believe it should be lived. At some point, you make a mistake, as all humans do. Maybe you let yourself do something a little selfish, or some small thing you believe isn’t right, and… it’s not that big a deal. You shrug it off and go right back to living your best life. That’s the effect we talked about earlier, getting a good outcome even when you choose poorly.
The problem, I think, usually comes after that. We learn the wrong lesson. We think, “Well if it turned out okay once…” I’m sure you can finish the thought from there.
I think that keeping your best life in the long term means changing how you think about failure. I’m sure many of you, like me, were brought up to feel guilt at your moments of weakness or selfishness. Maybe you’ve gone to the other extreme and become jaded, and just try to do what feels good without going “over the line.” Neither of these are really sustainable if you aspire to live in love. Guilting yourself over every failure will eventually crush the life out of you, but ignoring them means you’ll never stay in balance. I believe that the best response is one of gratitude, acknowledging when you go wrong, expressing regret that you went wrong, but giving thanks that you can live your best life anyway and that you have another chance to do better.
Ancient manuscripts are often quoted as saying that “the truth will set you free,” but this is actually a mistranslation. The more accurate quote would be, “the truth will make you free.” So what’s the difference? Well, setting someone free implies that they’re being released from a punishment—maybe one they deserved. But the kind of love and forgiveness that these scriptures are talking about goes a lot further. Making a person free meshes a lot better with what these manuscripts have to say elsewhere, “Blessed is the man whose sin is never counted against them.”
That concept changed my life once I understood it, but it was so radical, so at odds with how I’d been brought up and even with the natural world that it took months for me to really digest it. Love means no end of second chances, and it also means trying our best on every single one of them. Commit yourself to living that way, and it’s the ultimate release from your fight-or-flight programming, from fear, and from dependance on the end results.
Have a blessed, wonderful day!