…and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
– Ephesians 4:24
In our becoming who we are in Christ, we should consider that our lives are not about striving to become just anyone. Rather, we become the very person God created us to be. In Christ we become the perfect version of ourself, and we thereafter live our life directed by His Spirit.
We may initially presume this process of becoming is an arduous task, one where we labor to plant seeds or struggle to continuously build, shape and form ourselves into the structure God wants us to be. There is some Scriptural basis for this perspective.
For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.
– 1 Corinthians 3:9
Consider how much mental and physical effort and energy we put into trying to make ourselves into someone we may want to be, or that we have convinced ourselves we should or could be. Many of us spend years striving to build ourselves into the image we have created for ourselves, the one we believe will fulfill our expectations for a happy and successful life.
At some point, hopefully, we come to an awareness of our spiritual nature and the role it plays in this image. And it is true that in the beginning of our spiritual life, we may need to undertake a significant effort to build a life of prayer, perform acts of charity and plant the seeds of virtue.
However, as we continue to grow in the spiritual life, we will come to recognize that our own efforts will always be inadequate to the task of transforming ourselves.
Note the Scripture verse above says we are God’s field, His building, not our own. Eventually we learn to release ourselves from a burden we can never carry, the burden of trying to make ourselves into the image of who we think God wants us to be, or worse, who we want to be in Him. Instead, we begin to allow the Holy Spirit to teach us that He is the agent of our transformation.
But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
– John 14:26
This period of transition, which usually occurs only after many hours and years in prayer, is a time of great peace. It is here we free ourselves from having to identify, define and make ourselves. And instead, we simply allow God to do this work in us – a work far greater than we could ever achieve or even imagine.
Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think…
– Ephesians 3:20
This is less a period of building up and more a process of removing the elements of our life that must be refashioned or altogether removed, as they were never really part of the core of God’s image for us.
This reconstruction is not simply about our occupation or even our vocation, though both of these are part of God’s plan for us. But this work is about who we are in the deepest part of our soul. This period can lead to great interior freedom if we realize that we are already and always have been the person God wants us to be, we became so at our Baptism.
However, through life’s travels and trials, and despite our best efforts at times, we began to layer over and distort that image. We have experienced, in some cases through no fault of our own, a buildup of unwanted elements. These are the unfortunate and unwanted effects of the harsh weather we have all endured in life.
These are not necessarily sins or the consequence of bad things in our lives. Rather, they are the desires, expectations, ambitions and images we may have had for our life, that at some point we realize are no longer needed on the path where God is placing us. So, we unburden ourselves. We begin to become increasingly clear about who we really are, we accept our limitations and seek to exercise our truest gifts. This is experienced as becoming extremely comfortable in our own skin, both knowing and accepting who we really are in Christ.
At this stage of our spiritual journey, God, the true artist of our life, acts less like a painter working to add color and images to a blank canvass, and more like a sculptor gently removing the layers covering the perfect image hidden within the wood, the rock or the ivory. The process can be uncomfortable for our soul initially, but grace, acquired through prayer, will allow us to accept the artist’s hammer and chisel.
The primary manifestations of this process are that our lives become simpler, more focused on the essential and the eternal. We will no doubt abandon many of the activities we once thought to be important to our happiness, and we will conform the remaining ones to their proper end.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
– Proverbs 3:5-6
The best way to think of this artistic endeavor of God is that He is fashioning us into the gift He always intended us to be. It is only in Becoming this gift that we will experience fulfillment in this life and the next. We are each individual gifts of God to the world, and, with God’s help, we will be so for all eternity.
Article Copyright © Deacon Mark Danis
Image credit: “Creation of Adam” (detail) | Michelangelo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
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