Spiritual Journeys: “To” God or “From” God?

by Stephen Rozelle

The season of Epiphany celebrates the manifestation of Jesus.  That’s to say that God “shows up” in the person of Jesus.  There are some wonderful stories connected to the season, the journey of the Magi, the Baptism of Jesus, his first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee, the beginning of his ministry.

Here’s the inquiry I invite you to consider: After God has “shown up” in our lives, is the spiritual journey one “to” God or “from “ God?  Your spiritual life, in fact your whole life, will look differently depending on how you answer the question.  Is the spiritual journey one to God, or one from God?

I’m reminded of my relationship with my parents.  It seems to me to be analogous to my spiritual journey.

Much of my life was spent wanting my parents to be proud of me.  In fact, hearing “I’m proud of you” was much more important than hearing “I love you.”  We say “love you” all the time, even at the end of a telephone conversation.  But to hear “I’m proud of you” – that was special.  The worst thing was to be a disappointment. That was awful!  And so I spent much of my childhood and into my adult years trying to get to something  – namely my parents being proud of me.  As you can imagine, It was an “up and down” relationship.

I spent much of my time looking for evidence that my mom and dad loved me or were proud of me.  The evidence was “up and down.”  When they said nice things to me it was good.. When they yelled or got angry, it wasn’t good.  When I didn’t get the good stuff, the relationship was impaired.  And so, my relationship with my parents rested on the evidence – the evidence as I saw it.

It wasn’t until I was well in my 50’s when I realized that all my parents wanted for me was my happiness, my wholeness, my success.  They already loved me.  They already were proud of me and their love didn’t rest on any evidence.  There may have been disappointments with some of the things I did – and they always loved me.

That’s what parents do.  They love their children.  Even the ones who weren’t very good at it did the best they could, under the circumstances. There are exceptions, especially with parents suffering with mental illness, like alcoholism, or schizophrenia, or depression.  With mental disease, all bets are off.  Otherwise parents love their children, without reservation.

Coming from this “knowing” made all the difference in the world to me.  I learned to listen differently.  I listened from the perspective that my parents already loved me.  Even the yelling occurred differently.  Parents yell at their children more that other children because they have such a profound investment, a loving investment.  When my mother reminded me to put on my raincoat, she wasn’t nagging me anymore.  She was loving me.  That my parents loved me wasn’t a place to “get to,” it was a place to “come from.”

It seems to me that our spiritual journey is like that.  We keep trying to get something or somewhere, like God’s love and approval, and we already have it.  The voice that spoke to Jesus at his Baptism is the same voice that speaks to us.  “You are my beloved.  I am well pleased with you.”

My worth, then, as a human being, has already been bestowed. It doesn’t depend on anything.  It is a gift from our loving god. A gift we call grace.

What a freedom this is!  The journey is not to “get to” God’s grace and love.  We already have it.  The journey is to “come from” having already gotten.

Maybe the spiritual journey is to live our lives as one big “Thank you!”  Thank you God for blessing me.  Amen.

Is your spiritual journey “to” God or “from” God?

Stephen Rozzelle has been the been the Priest-in-Charge of Christ Church, Pompton Lakes, New Jersey, Diocese of Newark for the past two years, previously having flunked retirement.

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