June 24, 2013, 12:09 PM
Returning Home to a Spacious Mind
This is one of my favorite stories. The story itself is dramatic and junior high Sunday school students especially love the part where the pigs jump into the lake. Like most stories in scripture, this story is multivalent, meaning it can be interpreted in a number of ways to reveal different meanings to different audiences and at different times in our lives. This story has important implications for ministry to and with persons who suffer from serious mental illnesses that we will consider another time. Today, I’d like to look at how this story speaks to us in our daily lives.
But the story doesn’t start here. If this were a TV show, this is where the announcer would say, “Previously on the Gospel of Luke. . . .” One day Jesus got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they put out, and while they were sailing he fell asleep. A windstorm swept down on the lake, and the boat was filling with water, and they were in danger. They went to him and woke him up, shouting, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?” They were afraid and amazed, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?”
The burial caves overlook the Sea of Galilee. Can you imagine what it would be like to watch Jesus calm a raging storm if you couldn’t control the storms raging inside your head? When Jesus and his disciples reached shore, there was the tormented man hoping that Jesus would perform the same miracle in his life. Jesus simply commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man and then he began to talk to him.
Most of us are not tormented in such a dramatic way. But most of us do live with fears that determine our expectations and actions. Sometimes we don’t know that the fears exist because we have lived with them so long. We carry with us messages from our parents and early teachers about what makes us lovable, sometimes the messages make us question whether we are lovable. Most of us work with an inner council made up of messages from our past. We might hear our parent’s voice, a grandparent’s voice, a shaming teacher’s voice, the voice of our inner child, the voice of our inner adult, and probably a couple of values voices. Let me give you an example from my inner council. I hear my parents voices expecting me to excel and telling me I can do better. My inner child wants ice cream at odd times and can really throw a fit. My inner adult is a work-aholic. I have a voice that always thinks about the bottom line—I’m not sure whose influence that is, but it’s a loud, strong voice in my head. I often hear my best friend from high school reminding me not to show off, but to let other people discover my gifts. The good girl in me doesn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Most of these voices are expressing a fear—fear of not being good enough, fear of being deprived, fear of failure, fear of being embarrassed, fear of rejection, fear of not being lovable.
The good news is that perfect love casts out fear. Jesus shows us that God looks right through all my fears and loves me just as I am. God’s perfect love casts out our fears. Just as Jesus looked at the tormented man at the foot of the burial caves and asked him what is name was, God asks us to name the fears that torment us. If we don’t recognize those messages and the fears behind them, we will continue to live with behaviors that harm us and others. Some of us break off relationships before we can get hurt again; or we withdraw whenever there is a hint of conflict; or we bully others because that’s what we know; or we try to make everyone as perfect as we think we are; or we do things for people so that they will like us. My guess is that you can add behaviors to the list. It’s often easier to see those flaws in other people, but we have all found ways to try to protect ourselves that end up hurting us and others. Jesus looks at us with love and asks, “What is the name of your fear?” As his perfect love casts out our fear, then we can sit in our right mind, once again at home in ourselves.
When I am trying to make a decision, or when I’m tired or having a bad day, when I am having difficulty with a relationship, the voices in my inner council can get loud and strident. It gets more confusing as I try harder to listen for some wisdom. What I need is space and peace, but what I get is often clutter, noise, and discord. What I want is the peace that Jesus could bring over a raging storm at sea. That’s when I need to run to Jesus, run to prayer, and sit at his feet. As his perfect love casts out my fear, then I can sit in my right mind, once again at home in myself.
When I know that I am loved, I can become a better moderator at my inner council. I can listen to each voice or influence. I have even learned with the help of a spiritual director to thank some of the voices at the table for their help in the past and dismiss them. They don’t seem to go far, but at least I don’t hear them as often.
God’s love has the power to break the messages that hold us captive. God’s love has the power to cancel out messages that hurt us. God’s love has the power to let us receive love we may not believe we deserve. God looks through our fears and creates the space that allows us to return to our right minds and be at home in ourselves.
In the midst of the raging storms in our lives, God’s love has the power to create space and peace.