Lenten Question of the Week: What Distractions/Addictions are Keeping You From God?

Lenten Question of the Week: What Distractions/Addictions are Keeping You From God? February 28, 2013

Lenten Question of the Week: What distractions or addictions are keeping you apart from God, love, and abundant life?

It’s an interesting question. Richard Rohr teaches that 95%+ of human thought is repetitive and useless. If he’s right then the answer to that question is: me.

I am the distraction, the addiction that keeps me from the presence of God.

When I was in elementary school I lived just down the block from a girl who was in my class. My first memories of her were that she was extremely smart, and could run faster than anyone else in our grade including all the boys. Somewhere around third grade her dad moved out of their house and her parents divorced. One day as a few of us were walking home from school, she told us that her dad left “because he had to go find himself… whatever that means.” You didn’t have to be grown up to sense the pain in her voice. I’m not sure I knew at the time just what trying to find yourself meant, but I could easily track the fallout as it worked its way through her life over the next few decades

When the great psychologist Abraham Maslow constructed Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, he placed self-actualization at the top of the pyramid. At the bottom of the pyramid are the basic physiological needs such as food, water, shelter, safety, health, and security. In the middle sections of the pyramid are the more complex needs which are much harder to find and maintain; needs such as friendship, intimacy, confidence, and self-esteem. The top and final section of the pyramid is self-actualization. For Maslow (and subsequent generations of pop-psychologists and cultural icons from Richard Simmons, to Oprah, to Dr. Phil), the path to human transcendence runs through self-actualization. This has become a cultural maxim. But is it true?

Lent is a powerful counter-narrative to the self-actualization narrative so prevalent in our day. Our culture tells us that in order to find the good life, you must discover who you really are, and then be true to that discovery above all else. Within this narrative, life is really about achieving our true potential. On the surface it sounds pretty good. But Lent beckons us to dig beneath the surface, to see how this narrative actually runs contrary to the gospel story

Once while he was teaching, Jesus told his followers, “Unless a grain of wheat is falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it.” It’s the most strikingly counter-intuitive part of the Jesus revolution. The only way to find your life is to lose it for the sake of the gospel – or as Alexander Schmemann says “for the life of the world.” Self-actualization is the way of death

In Western society – America in particular – living the good life consists of getting what we want. You want to find your life? Live it! You want to have a good life? Then you have to figure out what your deepest desires are and then find a way to attain those things. Enjoy and appreciate them to be sure, but first you must possess them. Within this narrative, life becomes a battle to see who can obtain the resources they need to get what they want out of life. It is at this point that Jesus’s teaching could not be more at odds with the teaching of our culture.

This short passage from John 12 connects us to the greatest stream of wisdom concerning what it means to be a human being. Unless the grain of wheat dies, it remains just a grain of wheat. There’s nothing wrong with a grain of wheat. It’s a perfectly fine grain of wheat. Still you can’t do much with a single grain. It won’t even feed one person. But if t dies, that single grain can turn into hundreds of grains of wheat, and those hundreds into thousands, and so on. Packed into that single tiny little grain of wheat is the potential for an incredible amount of life. But none of this will be realized unless the grain of wheat dies, the seed germinates, and new life comes from death.

In light of this it’s interesting to me that Lent begins with Ash Wednesday – a time to remember our own death. “Remember you are dust,” we say, “And to dust you shall return.” We cannot experience Lent, nor can we experience life, unless we are ready to die to ourselves each and every day.

Jesus teaches us that our lives are like a grain of wheat. We can live them selfishly. We can self-actualize until the day we die, but this is viewed as a kind of waste. If we choose to die – to lay down our lives for other people and for the life of the world – then we will find the life that is truly life.

What distractions are keeping me from the abundant life? Me. I’m the distraction.

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  • Deven Johnson

    This is a very well written and good post. However, it makes me very uncomfortable when you assume that self-actualization is ‘selfish’. In a nutshell, I believe that God has created us all and that our true selves are the ‘best Christ followers’ we can be. And..that God’s spirit works within us to help us know ourselves better.

    I agree with the movement that self-actualization is a high priority, but because IF we take the time to know ourselves and love ourselves, then we can love our neighbor and love God more. Basically, if self-actualization is done well and along with the spirit, then it should be our first priority. To me, this is self-care. If we do not learn who we are and how to take care of ourselves, we fail EVERYONE around us. I do agree that what culture defines as self-actualization and living the ‘good life’ is NOT what God calls us to do. But, to throw out knowing one’s self and taking care of oneself, is failing to live up to the ‘loving oneself as one’s neighbor’.

    I know because I failed myself, my family, and my God when I lived for everyone else. I died to myself and served everyone. And with that, I was so unhealthy and confused, that my ministry and life suffered. Slowly, I learned to take care of myself, to get to know myself and to come to some self-actualization. Now, I am able to love myself, neighbor, and my God in ways I never dreamed. God’s spirit works in me as I love myself, know myself, and then serve others from a healthy, spirit-filled life.

  • This article (by Tim) and this comment (by Devon) touch on one of the philosophical themes that never ceases to intrigue me. The point of the author and the point of the commentator are both well taken, IMO.

    There is much room for misunderstanding, here, and in the general course of things, we tend to miss the mark more often than we hit it (subtle theological reference intended). I want to share some quotaitions from Heidegger’s “Being and Time” that speak to the issue at hand and to refer anyone who is interested to a couple of short essays on the subject. With regard to the essays, please realize that they were written 18 years ago and 8 years ago, respectively, and that they I would not necessarily write them in the same way, today, as I did then. Also, the website on which they are posted, in general, reflects a provisional point of view that seems to me, at this point in my life, to be too “future” oriented and unecessarily concept-laden. Nevertheless, I sincerely believe that the two article point to the solution to the tension that exists between the needs and expectations of others and our desire for self-satisfaction, under God:

    The first article is entitled “Duty and Accomplishment” — it is based on a couple of texts from Kierkegaard’s “Either/Or”: http://www.thefourprecepts.com/propublish/art.php?artid=112

    The second article is entitled, “The Call of Conscience” — it is based on my reading of Kant and Heidegger:

    And here, finally, are the promised texts from Heidegger’s “Being and Time” — nested in between a Kurt Vonnegut quotation and another Kierkegaard quotation. Note how what a burden the Kurt Vonnegut character feels in light of the box that “they” have put him in:

    “To the as-yet-unborn, to all innocent wisps of undifferentiated nothingness: Watch out for life. I have caught life. I have come down with life. I was a wisp of undifferentiated nothingness, and then a little peephole opened quite suddenly. Light and sound poured in. Voices began to describe me and my surroundings. Nothing they said could be appealed. They said I was a boy named Rudolph Waltz, and that was that. They said the year was 1932, and that was that. They said I was in Midland City, Ohio, and that was that. They never shut up. Year after year they piled detail upon detail. They do it still. You know what they say now? They say the year is 1982, and that I am fifty years old. Blah blah blah…” ~ Kurt Vonnegut, in “Deadeye Dick”

    “Because Dasein is in each case esentially its own possibility, it can, in its very Being, ‘choose’ itself and win itself; it can also lose itself and never win itself; or only ‘seem’ to do so. But only in so far as it is esentially something which can be authentic–that is, something of its own–can it have lost itself and not yet won itself.” [Being and Time, 68]

    “Losing itself in the publicness and the idle talk of the “they,” [Dasein] fails to hear its own Self in listening to the they-self. If Dasein is to be able to get brought back from this lostness of failing to hear itself, and if this is to be done through itself, then it must first be able to find itself–to find itself as something which has failed to hear itself, and which fails to hear in that it listens away to the “they.” This listening-away must [be] broken . . . [by a call which] arouses another kind of hearing ; in other words, the possiblity of another kind of hearing, which, in relationship to the hearing that is lost, has a character in every way opposite. [315-316]

    “The call is from afar unto afar. It reaches him who wants to be brought back.” [316]

    “And to what is one called when one is thus appealed to? To one’s own Self.” [317]

    “But how are we to determine what is said in the talk that belongs to this kind of discourse? What does the conscience call to him to whom it appeals? Taken strictly, nothing. The call asserts nothing, gives no information about world-events, has nothing to tell. Least of all does it try to set going a ‘soliloquy’ in the Self to which it has appealed. ‘Nothing gets called to this Self, but it has been summoned to itself–that is, to its ownmost potentiality-for-Being. The tendency of the call is not such as to put up for ‘trial’ the Self to which the appeal is made; but it calls Dasein forth (and ‘forward’) into its ownmost possibilities, as a summons to its ownmost potentiality-for-Being-its-Self. [318]

    “Hearing constitutes the primary and authentic way in which Dasein is open for its ownmost potentiality-for-Being–as in hearing the voice of the friend whom every Dasein carries with it.” [206]

    Heidegger was influenced by Kierkegaard:

    When around one everything has become silent, solemn as a clear, starlit night, when the soul comes to be alone in the whole world, then before one there appears, not an extraordinary human being, but the eternal power itself, then the heavens seem to open, and the I chooses itself or, more correctly, receives itself. Then the soul has seen the highest, which no mortal eye can see and which can never be forgotten; then the personality receives the accolade of knighthood that ennobles it for an eternity. He does not become someone other than he was before, but he becomes himself. The consciousness integrates, and he is himself. Just as an heir, even if he were heir to the treasures of the whole world, does not possess them before he has come of age, so the richest personality is nothing before he has chosen himself, for the greatness is not to be this or that but to be oneself . . . (Either /Or, II, 177).

  • behaviouralsciences

    Most of Maslow’s research focused on the
    characteristics of persons who have satisfied the need for
    self-actualization and are thus considered to be psychologically
    healthy. He found that such persons share the following characteristics:

    an objective perception of reality

    a full acceptance of their own natures

    a commitment and dedication to some kind of work

    simplicity and naturalness in their behaviour

    a need for autonomy, privacy, and independence

    intense mystical or peak experiences

    empathy with and affection for all humanity
    source page; http://behavioualsciences.net/self-actualization/