“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life.”
-Matthew 6: 25-27
Om. An American religious studies professor (I can’t remember who) recently gave his students an assignment to create their own religion. The resultant tenets of these religions were as diverse as the students that conceived them, but the professor discovered that there was a common thread all of them shared; each religion, without exception, involved some form of stress reduction.
This wasn’t surprising to me. We live in the most technologically advanced age that has ever existed. This undeniably has many benefits (duck tape, for instance!) but one of its by products for nearly everyone is stress. With so many choices it’s hard to know which ones to make. There is so much to remember: social security numbers, updating your license, credit cards, car maintenance, and, most significantly which one of the 200 breakfast cereals to buy at the store (Unrelated fact: A grown man can still eat Fruity Pebbles and have high levels of self-respect).
And to make matters worse our culture is founded on the unrealistic paradigm of infinite improvement. People feel constantly stressed because they compare themselves to photo-shopped cultural standards they never seem to meet. There is always someone richer, better looking, smarter, more creative, and more productive than you. Our culture constantly tells you what you need to posses to become whole, not that you already are whole in God!
In the next posts I want to share a few ways that God has helped free me from stress. In this post I will talk about God’s unconditional love (a.k.a. His grace) and how understanding it has radically changed my life. Of course I still live in this chaotic world and struggle with myself much of the time. But I now know that as God’s child I can never lose what I ignorantly have sought in just about every other place – His unconditional, perfect and unending love. This love is so boundless that compared to it lesser loves are like tiny light bulbs compared to the awesome sun, the reflected radiance of the Father’s glory within each of His unique children, the miraculous souls He created to live in the Divine freedom He Himself forever enjoys.
Divine Love as Principal
1+1=2, the sky is blue, geese sound like geese, and God is Love. He cannot help it, for His very nature is Love itself! Yet I used to ignorantly think that God’s love was based on my performance. Like the prodigal son, each time I made a mistake I thought that God was so angry with me that I couldn’t approach Him in prayer. Conversely, like the Pharisees of the New Testament I also felt that when I did good things I was somehow earning more of God’s love than I already possessed.
Now I know that both views are ignorant. In the Book of Isaiah the Lord tells the Israelites, “Your good works are like filthy rags to me!” because, first of all, God is after our heart, and second of all as the Almighty God He needs nothing. So when we base our relationship with God on the quality of our works, we commit the error of thinking that we have the ability to change the nature of God that cannot change. His love for us is constant, and like the omnipresent air that we breathe it gives Itself equally to good people, evil people, and indifferent people alike.
Understanding this radically changed my relationship to stress. I realized that underneath much of my worry was fear: fear of rejection, fear of failure, and ultimately fear of losing love. Luckily, I now know that I cannot lose God’s love, even if I stray for 1000 years (as the psalmist King David said, “If I make my bed in hell, there You are.”). Like an infant in the arms of its mother that does nothing rationally productive, I know that God delights in me because I am His unique creation, not because I have somehow perfected my inherently imperfect ego.
Embracing your Uniqueness
Another reason I used to be stressed was my negative habit of comparison. I felt inadequate to our culture’s narrow-minded interpretation of what a “man” should be. I wanted to earn everyone’s approval, and this caused me to act in ways foreign to my nature. Yet now I know that God did not make a mistake by creating me exactly as I am. He is not a cookie-cutter God, and created unique children because He Himself has infinite aspects. And you yourself (really think about this one) are an aspect of God’s love that only you can express.
My favorite metaphor for this idea is the Body of Christ. The Apostle Paul wrote that each part of the body performs specific functions that support the Whole, and because of this everyone is equally important. You may feel insignificant compared to other people, but to God you are more precious than you could ever imagine. If you had a tiny hole running through your chest the size of a mosquito’s ray, it would most likely kill you. That is why it is said that grains of sand of as important to God as sages, because every part of His creation is equally essential.
Knowing this will also give you the capacity to love others in a supernatural way. Even if we are very different from someone we can still understand that God created them the way they are for a reason and loves them just as much as He loves us. Eventually we will be enabled to see everyone through the lens of God’s love. This is the essence of freedom, a freedom that many of the world’s prophet’s (Krishna and Jesus, for example) have embodied for our benefit. Then, like Paul, we can finally say “it is no longer I who live, but Christ living in me,” for we will perceive the universal Christ Consciousness in both ourselves and everyone we meet.
So you may not be the inventor of the Internet, a famous artist, or the world’s richest person – but in God’s eyes you are precious like a rare gem. He has placed you exactly where you are for a reason – in your work, your school classes, and your family – and all these things matter to Him. He also made your unique personality for a reason, and loves it exactly as it is right now – down to the last detail! When you realize this you wont be so consumed by the futile pursuit to earn everyone’s approval, for you will know that in God you are always approved as His valued, precious, and infinitely loved daughter or son.
Living a Life Empowered by Grace
So if we are unconditionally loved by God and cannot lose that love, should we then indulge in desires that harm us? For this I will quote Paul, who articulated this point with unsurpassed brilliance in Romans chapters 6-8: “What shall we say then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace will increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:1-2) He further says that God’s grace is not an excuse to violate His laws (the law of karma) that impersonally dispense evil results for evil actions, and good results for good actions; rather, under grace we spontaneously uphold the Law because the Law or morality is simply an external expression of our own Self!
The nature of our Soul is love, peace, and joy. The way we live is therefore spontaneously in accord with the Moral Law when we are in touch with this Reality by the grace of God. This is why Jesus said he came to fulfill the law, not to abolish it. Jesus was not moral because morality was “good” and immorality is “bad.” Rather, just as Jesus realized that he was “One with the Father” and expressed this Truth with his ethical life, so our own realization of Christ-hood naturally includes morality. For if we, along with everything, are God Itself, how could we intentionally harm another being that in fact is our own Self?
God’s grace therefore doesn’t mean that we cease to act for the benefit of humankind. Our worldly goals, self-improvement, and charitable lifestyle is supremely important. Now, however, we can do these things from the platform of grace, freed from the stress of basing our identity on how we perform. We still act, but under grace there is no stress since we cannot lose the love of God or change our own changeless Self! As Jesus said, we are “in the world, but not of it.”
If this is the case, why not live your dreams, why not express your uniqueness without fear, why not help others with courage? Even if you fail, you will only be judged in the eyes of humans who, in the un-ending Kaleidoscope of cosmic time, are like specks of dust passing briefly through a shaft of light. Contrarily, even our failure is success to God, for as Paul said, “God works all things for the good of those who love Him!”
Conclusion: Building your House on the Rock
Jesus told his disciples that they should build their house on the rock and not the sand. The house, in this metaphor, is our life – our desires, our worldly dreams, and our human relationships. Jesus is not saying that we should ignore these things because they are somehow “un-spiritual.” Rather, he is simply pointing out they are impermanent. When the inevitable storm of trials come a life founded on them will crumble because they are by nature unstable.
A life founded on the rock, however, is a life rooted in God. I have learned that my relationship with God, and my spiritual practice in general, is the only reliable thing in my life. Everything we do should be based on this foundation, for even if we lose everything the indestructible Spirit will be ours forever. This type of religion has nothing to do with right or wrong, should or shouldn’t. It is simply the recognition that God alone can give us genuine happiness, and that therefore we should always put Him first.
If you truly base your life on this it will free you from stress, for as Christ said “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” And as Jesus also said this Treasure cannot be taken from you by “thieves,” by changes in circumstance and the unpredictable fluctuations of human fate. For at the end of the day only God can satisfy us. His Love alone can give us peace, because no human being can love us like He can. And no fate, however glorious, can even compare to the Eternal Bliss that God has reserved for those who seek Him first above the flimsy and unreliable boons of the world.
May God reveal Itself to you, and may you taste and see that His love for you is truly unconditional. To Him be the glory, now and forever! Thank you for reading. Om.
– The Apostle Paul communicating the message of God’s grace to the Jews of Jerusalem, who falsely thought that God’s grace as expressed in Christ nullified the Jewish law. Paul, however, taught that a true understanding of grace empowers us to spontaneously uphold the moral law because we perceive that it is an external embodiment of our own Christ Nature. This Christ Nature cannot change based on our moral performance, yet immorality and egotism obscure it as the sun is obscured by clouds.
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