Monday, November 03, 2008

Being conformed

Reading in chapter 2 of Mulholland's book 'Invitation to A Journey.' Spiritual formation is a process of being conformed to the image of Christ, and he says, "The difference between *conforming* ourselves and *being conformed* is the vital issue of CONTROL."

I really believe this is the crux of the problem many people have with religion - control. Most of us would prefer "conforming ourselves" to the image of Christ, rather than "being conformed."

On p. 26:
In the final analysis, there is nothing we can do to transform ourselves into persons who love and serve as Jesus did except make ourselves available for God to do that work of transforming grace in our lives.

On p. 27:
Spiritual formation is the great reversal: from being the subject who controls all other things to being a person who is shaped by the presence, purpose and power of God in all things.

He talks about how we evaluate our meaning, value and purpose, as well at that of others, not by the quality of our being but by what we do and how effectively we do it. For instance, when you meet someone, one of the first things we do is ask "what do you do?" right?

He ties this to the high suicide rate among teens and senior citizens. Because teens have yet to figure out "what to do with their lives" and senior citizens have, after forty or fifty years of defining themselves and being defined by what they do, suddenly found themselves in the odd position of having nothing to do. He says (30):
We live in a culture that has reversed the biblical order of being and doing. Being and doing are integrally related, to be sure, but we have to have the order straight. Our doing flows out of our being. In spiritual formation, the problem with being conformed is that we have a strong tendency to think that if only we *do* the right things we will *be* the right kind of Christian, as though our doing would bring about our being.

...there is, indeed, an interrelationship between our doing and God's acting (spiritual disciplines play a role here). But we must always realize that it is God, not we ourselves, who is the source of the transformation of our being into wholeness in the image of Christ. Our part is to offer ourselves to God in ways that enable God to do that transforming work of grace... Our relationship with God, not our doing, is the source of our being.

Spiritual formation is the great reversal: from acting to bring about the desired results in our lives to being acted upon by God and responding in ways that allow God to bring about God's purposes.

To sum up... (p. 32):
So spiritual formation is not something that we do to ourselves or for ourselves, but something we allow God to do in us and for us as we yield ourselves to the work of God's transforming grace.

This is a good chapter. I meet so many people whose lives are messed up - or someone around them is messed up - and they want to know "what should I do?" I don't usually know how to respond, because most of the time it's not just a matter of changing what we *do*, but it's a matter of changing who we *are.* It's not as simple as changing something about our life... Often we need a NEW life. That's much of what the "being born again" thing is all about. It's a reversal of who's in charge.

Trying to conform ourselves is not the same thing as being conformed.

Peace out; and in.


Jim said...

I loved this and needed it RIGHT NOW, so thanks for posting it!

Big changes coming, I think... (hope...fear...)

MR said...

Speaking of the way people are being the root of the problem. I was speaking to someone you know a couple of weeks ago and after she told me about a string of dramatic circumstances brought about by bad decisions I said "that's a lot of drama for one person, do you like drama?" And, quite to my surprise, she admitted that yes, if it weren't for the drama life would be boring. Apparently she's making bad decisions as an engine to generate drama. Wow! You could spend the rest of their years trying to change someone like that with a drama addiction.

Jim said...


I also have known at least two drama addicts, one of whom expressed the very thing you talk about, that their life would be boring otherwise. In both cases they came from very dysfunctional families and upbringings, really horrific stuff, and so I think they got used to "life equals drama" at an age literally before they could remember.

Sort of similar to a friend of mine who killed himself three years ago. Before that he self-medicated a lot, but would not take anti-depressants because they made him "think wrong", i.e., in a way that maybe wasn't depressed, but also made him feel he wasn't himself. How many of us are unwilling to let ourselves be changed because we are "comfortable" with what we are now, even when that is causing us great pain?

Carrie Jade said...

whoa - i was just thinking abotu this stuff. funny how that works.

i read a statistic while i was writing my paper about how much higher suicide rates are amongst men than women - especially now. As men are losing their jobs, or are even just afraid that they will, they feel like they've lost their self worth. It's not a good thing and I have a feeling it will get worse before it gets better.

And then this morning as I was doing my Sunday School lesson one of the questions asked why freedom can be scary. And i think it's because we often find comfort in our oppression. Like in the movie Shawshank Redemption - they prisoners are freed and don't knwo what to do. I think the same is true for drama adicts and even people who are depressed. The familiar is comfortable even if it's binding.

Anyway...this is a really good post. Thanks for sharing.

P.S. I bought Rob Bell's far I enjoy it. Lots of history.

JAH said...

On a different train of thought, I do think we think of being conformed backwards. We think of conforming ourselves - which puts the pressure on us, but also leaves the control with us. I always want to somehow master spiritual disciplines so I can make myself more Christlike and then just end up frustrating myself. Anyway...thanks for sharing everyone!

dan h. said...

Good comments, folks. Thanks.