He Needs True Human Beings

Steve Robinson over at Pithless  Thoughts wrote something yesterday that really struck me–right in the solar plexus:

“God does not need our ministries and false humility and our greatness. He needs true human beings to live and die in Christ as a witness to the resurrection, and to be willing to be an obscure, no-name person in someone’s distant past who, because of a glimmer of faith, did one small thing in the name of God that, generations later, saved the very cosmos.”

God does not need my ministries and false humility and my greatness.


This is difficult to put into words–not because I’m embarrassed, but because I’m not sure how to speak of these thoughts. For most of my Christian life I have striven to be something. A leader, yes, in various roles. A nice guy. A potential mate. But it goes deeper than that. It seems to me now that I’ve spent my energy as a follower of Christ in trying to rise above my humanity, to be more than what I am or can be. Looking back over my experiences in the evangelical world, I’m surprised by how much loathing for people there is. For all the talk of love for others (where you can find it), there seems to be a general disdain for the human species under the surface–reverberations of a theology that denies or forgets the goodness of God’s creation. We are not dung. I don’t believe that.

Of course, I believe we should improve how we act, speak, think. But in my experience, such tasks easily become an external effort, as if putting on a costume, acting the part, rather than simply becoming those virtues, as dye stains wool. We feel empowered by the costume and begin to believe it’s who we really are, although no transformation has really taken place. We’re just wearing a set of clothes made for the stage, not real life. And when the gig is up, we feel disillusioned, like walking away.

The trouble is that one can only perform for so long. Sooner or later, the lines we’ve rehearsed to craft our false image become transparent, no longer able to conceal what’s really in our hearts, how we live, judge, hate.  We may try a different role, to craft another persona, but the same end is inevitable. All this manifests itself in cycles of zeal and piety, self-loathing and despair, wash, rinse, repeat. Sometimes excited and other times apathetic. Trying to be something for God and winding up resentful of ministry obligations, feeling the vastness of the chasm between who I am and who I have projected myself to be, the sickening gravity of standing at the edge of the abyss. Can you relate?

I hate the cycle. And I’ve realized at the heart of it is pride–the belief that I am better than I am, better than you, my wife, my friends, my family, neighbors, strangers–whether I realize it or not. I’ve found that the first in that list is the seed of all the others and is a stumbling block to true repentance. How could I have done that? I should be better than that. But you know what? I’m not. And I can’t make myself better by putting on good deeds and attitudes and leadership roles as if the clothes make the man. I’ve done that for too long. It doesn’t work.

I think at the heart of this, besides pride, is impatience. The unwillingness to accept who I am at present and to trust God to make me who I will one day become, by His grace and mercy. I have a tendency to short-change the process. It goes something like this: I read a few spiritual books, I have some great conversations with friends, and maybe I pray consistently for a week or two. Then, feeling puffed up with spiritual goodness, I do one of two things, if not both: think better of myself than I ought, and take on a spiritual project, believing there to be a readiness in my heart that does not yet exist. I want to do it all now. And I want to do the jobs I admire whether it’s good for me or not. And if I’m honest, sometimes that doesn’t become a question until the damage is already done.

All of that spiritual playacting isn’t being a human. Putting on someone else’s clothes or armor or job title won’t bring us to our true selves, our personhood, however much we admire what they do.

I want to live and not analyze or evaulate everything.  There’s a time and place for self-examination. But I fear too many people I know, me included, approach their life as if shopping for costumes. We turn away from what we truly are to embrace a self as wooden as the floor in my house. That’s not transformation.

I’m tired of trying to “get ahead.” I want to make mistakes and repent and be forgiven. I want to be wise and open and loving, not defensive or detached by self-focus and inherently limited analysis. I want to be my true self, deep in my soul, my heart, in my speech and actions, however long that takes to get there–not a manufactured, calculated facade (i.e. delusion). I want to live. That’s it. I want to live in the present moment and become better by the grace and mercy of God through everyday circumstances. I want to be healed. I want to be human.

All of this grossly falls short of describing the issue at hand. I’m no teacher, and I’m not a wise man. But I think for the first time, I almost “get” that oft-quoted proverb: “Cease striving and know that I am God.” Almost.

Thanks, Steve.


21 responses to “He Needs True Human Beings

  1. Amen. Amen. Amen. You said better what I was thinking than I could have. “Wash, rinse, repeat”… You nailed it…such is the vicious cycle of trying to find ourselves by role playing what we think a Christian should look like, informed by whatever “Christian culture” we find ourselves part of. We end up chameleons, not human beings. May we have the faith to accept the crucifixion of our false selves no matter how spiritually dear they are to us. Thank you for this post.

  2. “We end up chameleons, not human beings. ”

    So true. That’s it summed up perfectly. And it makes me think of the ghosts in C.S. Lewis’s “Great Divorce.” When we live like that, there’s nothing solid about us. It’s such a small existence.

  3. Great post! This reminds me of a quote from Fr. Shmemenn’s “For the Life of the World”

    “If the Church is truly the “newness of life” – the world and nature as restored in Christ – it is not, or rather ought not be, a purely religious institution in which to be “pious,” to be a member in “good standing,” means leaving one’s own personality at the entrance – in the “check room” – and replacing it with a worn-out, impersonal, neutral “good Christian” type personality. Piety in fact may be a very dangerous thing, a real opposition to the Holy Spirit who is the Giver of Life – of joy, movement and creativity – and not of the “good conscience” which looks at everything with suspicion, fear and moral indignation.” – Father Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World p. 76

    It is sad and frustrating that the anthropology of so much of Christendom has become so warped

  4. Awesome quote, Waylon. Thanks for digging that up.

  5. “Of course, I believe we should improve how we act, speak, think. But in my experience, such tasks easily become an external effort, as if putting on a costume, acting the part, rather than simply becoming those virtues, as dye stains wool.”

    So well said.

  6. Pingback: Blessed is the Kingdom » Becoming Fully Human

  7. Thank you for this post Cameron…..I have posted a link to it on my blog with the hopes that others will take a look.

  8. Thank you, Fr. Christian. I’m glad it meant something to you.

  9. This hit me right in the heart. I am reading “Hinds Feet on High Places” and just copied out a quote I like about impatience that I was reminded of in this post: “Lately the way seemed a little easier and the sun shone, and you came to a place where you could rest. You forgot for a while that you were my little handmaiden Acceptance-with-Joy and were beginning to tell yourself it really was time that I led you back to the mountains and up to the High Places. When you wear the weed of impatience in your heart instead of the flower Acceptance-with-Joy, you will always find your enemies get an advantage over you.”

    “Hinds Feet on High Places” by Hannah Hurnard

  10. Wonderful post. I have been blessed indeed in that God simply would not let me do what I wanted to do, but closed all other doors that I opened one after another, forcing me into my current job. Then, when after two years of being in this job, I looked for better paying ones, God once again forced me to stay where I was — even sent a priest to my door with a message that my being in this particular job was important (and that priest had no idea that I was looking for another job and had already had one interview). Now, over a year later I am starting to see evidence as to why God would want me here, and I, about as impatient as human beings come, have learned to simply wait and see what God will do and where he lead me (or, as the case often is, push me).

    Thanks for the chance for reflection.

  11. Wow!
    you basically outlined here many of the reasons I converted…(and my continuing problems 🙂 )
    It seems to me that the orthodox church is the only church that ever had an actual “path” to follow and examples of those who had any sort of success!
    Thank you for this post

  12. Bravo, Cam! I spent a large chunk of my early walk in an Evangelical church, and I think you best described the ethos of myself and friends. It became such a cycle of disappointment that I thought to myself ‘there’s no reason to follow God if I can’t keep up’ and left the church. It took me 6 or 7 months to realize that I can’t force holiness; the point is to grow!

  13. Thanks, Matthew. You’re absolutely right. It’s both humbling and liberating to realize that it will take some time for true transformation to happen.

    I don’t know how you feel about this, having recently been received into the Orthodox Church (congrats, by the way!). But I find that, now, the same challenge/temptation I described in this post remains in coming to Orthodoxy–to not simply make it another set of costumes and props. It seems to me the same end is possible here: to read so many Orthodox books, to grow a beard, build an elaborate home altar, wear a headscarf, etc, and still miss the heart of the matter, skip the process, and wonder where things went wrong down the road. I imagine this has something to do with the “revolving door” I keep hearing about, and that I’ve seen some convert friends walk through.

    Blessings to you, your wife and the little one.

  14. Good observation, Cameron. I’ve seen the “Renaissance Festival Orthodox phenomenom” too. More costumes, props and interesting archaic toys. The Church becomes another “Society for Creative Anachronism” for people who can’t find or define themselves in our current age and culture. It takes an extremely grounded, mature and wise spiritual director to help someone navigate through these perilous waters and stay the course until they find themselves authentically. Unfortunately I think most people gravitate toward people (laity and clergy) who are of the same mind and will support and encourage their dysfunctional behavior and instill in them a sense of elitism for being “more Orthodox than thou” on top of it. Its a tough path, for sure.

  15. Steve, it was your e-mail the other day that shook that observation loose, which had been forming in my mind (based on my own trials/dysfunction and experiences with friends). I wanted to make note of it in our discussion here, lest anyone think that I wrote this post in reference to an Evangelical problem that Orthodoxy is free of. In fact, the thoughts I shared here are primarily inspired by my experience as an inquirer into Orthodoxy over the last 2 1/2 years, even though my Evangelical life was fraught with the same cycles. I’m glad you and several other people gave me the advice to take my time. It’s made all the difference. It’s a difficult path indeed.

  16. Cameron – without taking large amounts of space in your comment board I say that convertitis strikes in all churches. Speaking generally as a former Anglican still living at Nashotah House, converts to Anglicanism are some of the worst people to deal with because they have to out-anglo everyone. Like Steve said, there’s this drive to get reactionary with one’s praxis. Being a causal friend of Orthodoxy for several years, my practical experience in the Church has really only been 6 months. Generally speaking about “those kind” of blogs what I’ve noticed is they are: 1. Evangelical converts and 2. in the OCA. This isn’t to say anything about the OCA and AOCA, rather that it happens to pick up evangelicals more than the GOA, so I think that they will sometimes reflect a more evangelical “We have to get this perfect” mindset than others.

    When we had the Anglican Orthodox thing in October it wasn’t good, because it was all OCA and AOCA people. Not one of them had a nice thing to say about my jurisdictional choice. Certain very important people informed me that I should be received into the GOA but by no means should I consider priesting there, because, you know, Greeks…all they care about is being Greek. They’re not known for their piety. Infuriating to say the least.

    But to the blogs…There is one where a woman wears head scarves as part of her piety, but her and her cadre of coverers all compliment one another on their variously designed scarves. To me this just screams vanity, or at the very least they’ve 100% totally misread what the purpose of covering is for. But this is the kind of stuff I see and I get frustrated.

    On a personal note, I grow a huge beard every winter, so I asked my priest if it’d be ok if I did, because I didn’t want to look like that guy who needed to embrace all the outward “stuff”. I didn’t want it to look like what drove me to Orthodoxy was this need to be seemly eccentric and set apart.

  17. I took a large part of your comment space. Sorry about that.

  18. No worries, Matthew–you are welcome to take as much comment space as you like!

    First, the beard in your avatar image above is awesome simply by beard standards, Orthodoxy aside. If my wife would let me, I’d probably grow one too. But alas, my cheeks shall remain shorn (though I try to get away with some stubble). I’ll just have to admire yours from here.

    Second, I didn’t mean to say I have a problem with converts wanting to grow beards, wear head scarves, carry prayer ropes, et al (not that you suggested that). It really isn’t for me to say–not even remotely. I think my concern in my previous comment to you stems from seeing people I love enthusiastically come to Orthodoxy and rapidly embrace the outward forms but just as soon drift away. (I’ve been close to that myself.) Some of them started attending services, quickly became catechumens–some were chrismated–and then walked away more disillusioned than ever. I know that it wasn’t all external for those friends I mention, just as it hasn’t been for me and probably isn’t for most converts. But I can’t help but think that what we’re discussing here plays a role in this phenomenon.

    In my experience, it’s easy to feel Orthodox for a little while if you read tons of books, listen to countless hours of liturgical music online, buy and hang icons, discuss theology with your friends or in forums, etc. I’ve done a lot of that. But eventually when you realize that prayer isn’t any easier, and that your heart hasn’t changed very much (if at all), despair sets in. It’s just the same old you in different “clothes.” After a few rounds of this now, I have a greater appreciation for St. Paul’s, “Knowledge puffs up.”

    But forgive me. I only know what I’ve seen and heard and lived. Surely what I’ve described here isn’t true of everyone.

  19. P.S. I’m sorry to hear about your experience in October, and the comments about your chosen jurisdiction.

  20. I totally don’t have any problems with it either, rather I’m just remarking what I’ve experienced so far, and probably answered the wrong question – that I see a lot of what looks to me to be “clothes wearing.”

    We had to read a ton of stuff “to learn” about Orthodoxy. In July I read the Orthodox Church, Dogmatic Theology of the Orthodox Church, The Greek Orthodox Church, the A to Z of the Orthodox Church, and countless pamphlets. It actually became nauseating because my head was swirling with so much info; and a rehashing of things that I had already previously known. I was on overload.

    We really had to put the brakes on it. Everything clicked, and we took a stance that we’re not going to find the Faith in books; books are what brought us to the point of seeking!

  21. “I totally don’t have any problems with it either, rather I’m just remarking what I’ve experienced so far, and probably answered the wrong question – that I see a lot of what looks to me to be “clothes wearing.”

    No, my fault. I was just trying to clarify my earlier comment.

    “…books are what brought us to the point of seeking!”

    I like that!

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