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Soul Care Sunday: When the ego takes a toll on our faith

As many of you know this has been a challenging week for our family. My father's episode coupled with brain surgery and a cancer diagnosis has kind of turned our little world's upside down. I've had many thoughts this week, Scriptures that just float through my head. Emotions that are hopeful and then absolutely gut wrenching. And like most things in life, things are put into perspective when the hard things hit.

But this has also had me thinking about something that happened at the start of the year. As I prayed about 2021 I kept feeling the impression that my intention this year was to seek peace and guard my energy. I thought this was because there is a good bit of change going on at work and I knew I would have to guard my heart and not allow it to consume me. Determined not to find myself back in that "burnt out place" that I was a couple of years ago, this became my mantra.

And here I am three months later and I realize now that that intention was for more than the worries of work. Keeping my peace and guarding my energy will be necessary in the months ahead. All who have walked this journey with their loved ones know just how true my statements are. Like much of life, there is no rule book for it.

And ironically, I was already preparing this content - the toll of the ego on our soul and ultimately our faith. This wasn't something I covered in my book - but the connection so relevant to the lack of peace that seems to seep out of every pore of our society today. It's a principle I have learned helps me guard my energy and keep the peace while doing what I believe I have been called to as a Christian.

I realize not everyone reading this may share my faith. But I believe that regardless of whether we share a faith or not, this principle could ring true. For the sake of clarity, though, I will speak directly to the principles and values of Christianity.

For those that aren't familiar with my background, I grew up in what I would call a "normal Christian home" until the age of 13. My parents decided to start homeschooling us and we joined a program that really entered us into the Fundamentalist Christian movement (if you are familiar with the Duggars from 19 Kids and Counting, we were part of the same program). Our involvement with this program lasted through my early twenties and honestly, had me scratching my head at times. I often struggled to reconcile what I was being taught, to what my intuition was telling me about God. Let's just say, they weren't the same.

I share this because I feel like I witnessed an extremist form of "over and above." This idea that because I live a certain way and claim a certain truth - whether intended or not - there was definitely always an attitude of feeling better than those around you. There was a good bit of "disassociation" from others that were not like-minded. Some of this was to protect our "purity and our hearts" and some of it was holding fast to principles that would not allow us to accept other's sins.

You may shake your head and feel sad at such a revelation - but when I speak of the lack of peace that I see permeating our society today this same attitude holds true. The dehumanization of others who differ from ourselves shows up in nearly every facet - from the conservative to the liberal and everyone in between. We currently are all wrapped up in how our views are "better than" or "what is right" and we dehumanize the people that are not like-minded. You can scream accountability - but dear Christian brothers and sisters, our attitudes are no different than the extremism I experienced in this fundamentalist culture.

Why? Well, in my faith, I point back to the two greatest commandments that Jesus taught in the New Testament. "to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, mind and soul" and to "love your neighbor as yourself" (paraphrased from Matthew 22:36-40). If my ego is driving my faith and I place myself over and above others because of it then am I living out these two commandments? I don't think so.

I read something this week that convicted me on this very subject. Richard Rhor, in his book The Universal Christ, states, "What, then, does it mean to follow Jesus? I believe that we are invited to gaze upon the image of the crucified Jesus to soften our hearts toward all suffering, to help us see how we ourselves have been "bitten" by hatred and violence, and to know that God's heart has always been softened toward us. In turning our gaze to this divine truth - in dropping our many modes of scapegoating and self-justification - we gain compassion toward ourselves and all others who suffer. It largely happens on the psychic and unconscious level, but that is exactly where all of our hurts and our will to violence lie, lodged in the primitive "lizard brain," where we have almost no rational control."

You see, when our ego is driving our faith, when we allow our spiritual position or truth to puff us up and compare and contrast to the point of dehumanizing others, we are not following Jesus. We are actually worshipping our egos and calling it our faith. Its a dangerous position and one I believe - if we could quiet - we might be better able to live out the Great Commission.

Don't hear me say that holding on to what you believe is true is wrong. That is not what I am saying. What I'm challenging is have you allowed your ego to drive your faith - instead of through the connection of your soul (where you don't compare and contrast)?

I'll close out with this, for "those who agree to carry and love what God loves - which is both the good and the bad - and to pay the price for its reconciliation within themselves, these are the followers of Jesus Christ." (The Universal Christ, Richard Rhor)

May we all seek to check our egos at the door (in faith, politics, morals and values) - regardless of believing in a deity or not - and forego dehumanizing others by connecting back to what exists within our soul. Maybe, just maybe, if we sought to love the person next to us instead of looking down on them there would be more peace in our world and less anxiety that disrupts our souls.

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