I have shared so much of my story away from and back to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. For most of my life, the church has been the container which held God for me. The lens through which I interpret the world. I don’t need it to be that way, and I don’t need it to not be that way. I’ve had shelves break, picked up the pieces, and then been so annoyed at the mess that I’ve decided to take everything down slowly and carefully, until dealing with the shelf was more like going through a box of memorabilia from my youth.
I’ve had to rely upon the love of God to help me have grace for myself and for others. I’ve had to rely upon my heart and my truest self instead of my mind, which I had to acknowledge had become mostly ego. I’ve had to be brave and honest with experiences and beliefs that I’ve kept neatly tucked away, hidden from the ridicule and misunderstanding of anyone and everyone. These practices have made room for new experiences and a new relationship with God that I’m still just beginning to explore.
Today, I encountered another tap root of my ego that had been sending forth shoots into my world, leaving me feeling frustrated and bitter and I couldn’t figure out why. I finally got the courage to ask God to show me this sneaky part of my ego, to help me see it so that I could dig it up and get it out of the garden of my soul once and for all.
And he said, A certain man had two sons:
And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living.
And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.
And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want.
And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.
And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.
And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!
I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee,
And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.
And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.
And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.
But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet:
And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry:
For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.
Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing.
And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant.
And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound.
And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and entreated him.
And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends:
But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.
And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.
It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found. (Luke 15:11–32)
This is a story about me. For years I have seen myself as the prodigal son. I’ve left, lost everything, and come home to find an always loving Father with a ready embrace. I’ve found so much peace in my contemplative experiences. So much love in the glimpses of eternity. I’ve known the pain and the exquisite joy. It’s been a rough road. Many old selves have had to die. I’ve searched and found, knocked and had it opened, but only with great turmoil, grasping for the good fruit wherever I could find it.
The problem: Whenever I find some good fruit to rejoice in and share with others, someone with a louder or more established voice swoops in and shares it on a platform larger than my own. They make it look so easy. Like, “Here, look at this great little essay I read, or listen to this cute little podcast I found, isn’t it cool? We might be able to learn something from it. Let’s toss it around a bit. What fun!” While for me, when I discovered it, it had felt like, “Thank God, finally some light in this darkness. Some truth to be the salve to my weary soul. I will hold it tenderly and close until the bleeding stops.”
I’d get so frustrated at the seemingly flippant approach others would take to the things I’d worked so hard to find and, now popular, were just low hanging fruit for them to kick around a little and get followers from. “I had it first!” I wanted to yell. “You’re not understanding how important this is!” Their use of my most precious pearls to pad their fame and clout made me angry. I don’t want to be famous, and I don’t feel like I need to have a following, but they took my pearl and cast it to swine. I didn’t even have a say in the matter. And I wasn’t going to see it any other way. I wasn’t going to see them as prodigals too. No way. “I worked hard for that! I worked really, really hard for that. You should know how hard I’ve worked!”
This is how I was feeling today when I went to God. I was so done with the pain and the frustration. I was so done with watching my good fruit turn to bad fruit, knowing that I was doing it to myself. “What is wrong with me? What am I doing?”
I started thinking about all the times I’d wandered. And all the times I’ve tried to explain it to others. Nearly every time I would say that I was grateful for the experiences I had and that I feel that I really needed them, someone would reply, “Well, of course you didn’t need those experiences. It would have been better if you hadn’t sinned at all. But I get what you’re saying.” They didn’t get what I was saying. What I was saying was that for all the wandering and all the darkness, all of satan’s lies, I somehow never really believed that God didn’t love me.
Actually, looking back I can see that I was never really that far from God. There was a subtle bright quality to the darkness. Even when I heard the voices that told me I wasn’t worthy to pray, I still somehow felt close to Father. Not all the time, but enough of the time. Like, I had left, but he never left me. Curled in a ball on my floor wishing I was strong enough to defy the accuser and pray my prayer to God was the prayer that God heard and sustained. I remembered all the prodigal moments and realized I was never only the prodigal son. I was also always the elder son. Always in the presence of Father. “Why are you showing me this, Lord?”
Then, I remembered something I had heard a couple days ago. I’d actually listened to it a few times, feeling like it was going to be important for me to remember. It was a excerpt from something Thomas Merton had said at a conference once, as related by James Finley in one of my favorite podcasts.
We tell God, “When it comes to this mystical union with you, I really really want this, but under one condition, that when I cross the line into mystical union, my ego will remain intact, and I’ll become a mystical ego and finally get the recognition I deserve.”
Daggers. I felt the deepest groan well up from my heart space. Yes, I know this part of my ego. The tap root that sends shoots up into my world to poison all it touches. I see you clearly now. You, who turn my heart against honest seekers, just because they don’t seek the way I do. You, who taint the good news of the gospel with jealousy that someone else can sing it better and louder than I can. You, who makes it impossible for me to enjoy the fatted calf placed before my brothers and sisters who are discovering the beautiful truth of God’s infinite love. The music. The dancing. I feel angry. I’m alone. No one ever throws me a party. All I’ve ever wanted is a party. And the lonely awkward child deep within me weeps.
“Daughter, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.”
I take a deep breath and blow out the hurt, making room for God’s everything. I sense I have a long way to go. Transcending the ego takes courage and patience. But now that I can see these venomous little shoots, I can watch out for them. I can be gentle with them, have grace for myself, even laugh at myself as I struggle to dance in the weeds to the music that I hear. Eventually, the tap root will transform, it will give up on it’s dastardly mission and let me love it into something beautiful. All that the Father has is mine, and I’m going to throw a party for everyone!