There are times when we find ourselves living lives of quiet desperation. We may feel like we are slaves living futile lives in an unpredictable and uncaring world. We feel unloved and we yearn to be loved. This leads us to become addicts to anything that will satisfy our hunger for love. We feel helpless and like Paul, we find ourselves doing the things that we do not want to do and unable to do the things that we want to do. We struggle with guilt and we wonder, as Paul did, “who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?” (Romans 7:18-19). We are physically alive but spiritually dead.
At such times some people, like the actor Robin Williams, are driven to seek suicide as a way out when they cannot find any meaning in life or are overwhelmed by their problems. Harry Emerson Fosdick drew attention to the truth that every person, sooner or later will find themselves in a “valley of decision” where the “death-wish” and the “life-wish” confront each other.
At such times, we are tempted to give up on life as a defeated person instead of seeing ourselves as God’s masterpieces in the making. But the good news is that we can use our difficulties, problems and limitations to become a new creation in Christ. We can be “dying to live” a life of redeeming love.
Dr. Tien-Sheng Hsu, a Taiwanese psychiatrist found that the root cause of cancer in his patients lies in their lack of self-acceptance and self-worth. He encouraged his patients to see cancer not as a death sentence but as a turning point for change in their outlook on life. He asks his patients to reflect on the following questions:
“If you do not work hard now;
if you do not live to certain standards;
if you do not live for the sake of other people;
if you do not care much about peoples’ opinions of your behavior,
what will you do?
Can you accept your own setbacks and non-endeavour?”
He defined failure as a form of success. Failure has been described as the runway to success. Dr. Tien makes the point that a temporary failure does not mean that a person is worthless. Unfortunately our modern society encourages only success and equates failure with being worthless. But life is full of ups and downs. When we accept only success but not failure, we will be very unhappy people.
We are all imperfect with a tendency to fall in our spiritual walk. To grow spiritually, we need to take Steps 1-3 of the Twelve Steps and live a lifestyle of repentance. We can acknowledge our helplessness with the hope that Christ is our Redeemer. Christ came to set us free from guilt that keeps us in slavery to sin and death.
Living a lifestyle of repentance is not paying attention to ourselves and trying to improve ourselves by our self effort. Such an exercise will only lead to an obsession with ourselves instead of “getting ourselves off our hands.” The objective of repentance is to increase our self-awareness and learning to accept ourselves as being imperfect but with the potential to be perfect as children of God.
The blood of Christ set us free to live as the children of God with the freedom to love ourselves and to love others as ourselves. We will not live up to the expectations of the world when we are seeking the perfect will and agape love of God for our lives. The discipline of repentance helps us to reflect on our lives each day to ask God to show us the attitude of self-criticism, the tendency to blame others and our hidden fears that we need to overcome each day.
Repentance is not feeling sorry for our misbehaviors. It is the coming to our senses that we have turned away from God and how much we are in need of His mercy and grace. It is acknowledging that we are spiritually blind and in need for healing for our spiritual blindness.
Jesus started his ministry with a water baptism by John the Baptist. This is the acknowledgment of the sinfulness of our human nature. The sense of guilt is more than our disobedience to God's laws - it is the consequence of sin in our human nature. The good news is that through baptism we have the means of grace to live a new life in Christ that is free from guilt.
We do not have to die physically to live spiritually. We can die to self through the baptism of our suffering so that we may be reborn to a new life in Christ. We can live our lives as the children of our loving Heavenly Father seeking to bring honour to His name. This is the zoe life.