If I have determined that my essential work is either to serve God or serve myself, what are the essential needs to do that which I choose? A quick note before exploring the answer. I considered including to serve fellow man but decided it is, indeed, redundant because serving God consequently includes serving my neighbor in a way most loving to him and her. That’s all.
It would seem if I were to serve myself, my needs would be to sustain and protect my life, making sure my appetites and desires are filled at every moment. What is left to do once I am warm, safe, well-fed and watered? Well, to do it all again. How tediously monotonous and boring it may become. How equally subtly we slip into this mode of being though, imagining as in a daydream this is all that is for us. Not until a pandemic threatens the acquisition of our essential needs do we wake up, hopefully, in an enlightened panic and consider the ways in which we obtain our essential needs is truly out of our hands. If the earth dries up and is somehow rendered infertile for all growth, what am I left with for my toils? A store of supplies to last me a bit longer? A pat on the back for my efforts? Congratulations you have manipulated and wrangled your surroundings thoroughly to make it this far. Well, well done then.
In the Hunger Games: Catching Fire, when Katniss comes back from the victory tour, she tells Gale about the rioting she saw happening in the districts. She laments that she started all this by threatening to eat the poisonous berries with Peeta in the arena. Katniss deems it would have been better if she died like she was supposed to, so everything would be back to normal, and everyone would be safe.
“Safe for what? To starve? To send their kids to the Reaping? You haven’t heard people, Katniss. You’ve given them an opportunity, and they just have to be brave enough to take it.”
Gale’s response offers an important insight. Being safe and well-fed are good things but at what cost? Inevitably, my self-preservation will run up against obstacles forcing me to make a choice. These obstacles will take me to the limits of my humanity and only there will I find out what I am willing to allow to preserve my own life.
If I determine there is more to be had than this pat on the back (though not even this is a guarantee) or self-proclaimed victory of self-preservation, then I must suspect something more eternal or elevated about my design. Even now though, there seems an awfully wide gap between this suspicion and serving God.
“This [Psalm 23] will serve to unmask a temptation, sometimes subtle, which is very common in the Christian life, one into which many fall and which greatly impedes spiritual progress. It concerns precisely the temptation to believe, that in the situation that is ours (personal, family, etc.), we lack something essential and that because of this, our progress, and the possibility of blossoming spiritually, is denied us.”[Father Jacques Philippe, Searching for and Maintaining Peace]
It seems reasonable my first move from this suspicion would be to identify what exactly I could offer in the service of a deity. What I myself have to offer and what my circumstances allow me to offer. As Father Jacques notes, this is the temptation I think not only Christians fall into but those wondering about Christianity as well. Maybe more so wondering about who this God is Christian people profess to know personally. How can you know a god personally? I would say you cannot, unless that god becomes you.
On this hangs all else because now there is nothing I can offer, truly, nor is there anything “I shall want.” Everything I am comes into relationship with God made Man. This means my character, talents, abilities, personality, etc., all hinge on God and Him coming for me, on Him emptying Himself of His divinity and taking on humanity. Thus, He has already provided me all I need to serve Him. He came for me, not I for Him. Things get muddled, and I doubt Him when I perceive He has denied me something essential in my environment or my very person to know Him or be adequate to serve Him. If I am surrounded by church-going folks dressed in suits and dresses I cannot afford or hear a prayer full of eloquent words I cannot understand or see pious teammates, who don’t cuss and stay at home Friday nights doing homework, do Bible studies I certainly cannot be good enough for, I would most likely feel I must not be the sort of person God desires to serve Him. I must be lacking some essentials.
“I have the feeling, according to Rimbaud’s expression, that the ‘real life is elsewhere,’ elsewhere than in the life that is mine…I am concentrated on the negatives of my situation, on that which I lack in order to be happy. This renders me unhappy, envious and discouraged and I am unable to go forward. The real life is elsewhere I tell myself, and I simply forget to live.”
“Happy are those whose hearts are purified by faith and hope, who bring to their lives a view animated by the certitude that, beyond appearances to the contrary, God is present, providing for their essential needs and that they lack nothing.”
“That which we lack is, above all, the conviction ‘the love of God turns to profit all that He finds in me, the good as well as the bad’ (Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, inspired by John of the Cross)…We don’t believe He is capable of utilizing everything for our good, and that never, under any circumstance, would He leave us lacking in the essentials- that is to say, lacking anything that would permit us to love more.”
“Let us then be convinced of this and it will be for us a source of immense strength: God may allow me to occasionally lack money, health, abilities and virtues, but He will never leave me in want of Himself, of His assistance and His mercy of anything that will allow me to grow unceasingly ever closer to Him, to love Him more intensely, to better love my neighbor and to achieve holiness.”[Father Jacques Philippe, Searching for and Maintaining Peace]
Say less, Father.
I dare not describe it any better. My essential needs in serving God are anything allowing me to love more, which He Himself gives me in His grace. I do not have to own fancy clothes, wield a fierce vocabulary or even desire to be studying the Bible. I could be cussing for others to laugh or take me seriously, drinking to feel less and fit in more, eating to satisfy something other than my hunger, keeping myself within known spaces to avoid pain and safeguard manufactured love, even living the forgotten life due to a withdrawal into unhappiness and hopelessness, even then, I lack nothing. He came for me and continues to come for me. As I let myself be romanced by Him, I find proper pleasure and gratitude in human goods and joys, not enslavement. The blossoming of Himself within me keeps all affections, relationships, sorrows, even pandemics, rightly experienced according to His promise and my conviction that “The Lord is My Shepherd, I shall not want.” My essential need is His love and all that is left to do is say forever Amen.
I love you dad,
PS- “Forever Amen” is a song by Steffany Gretzinger and it is OUT OF BOUNDS. Highly suggest checking it out.