27 September 2010

Meditation: "Letting Go of Outcomes"

"There is no way to peace. Peace is the way." --A.J. Muste

"The paradox is that you are more likely to get outcomes when you let go of getting outcomes: it frees you from the ego's grip." --Parker Palmer in the Christian Century

"For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it."  --Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew

Dear Friends,

The quote above from an article by Parker Palmer really messes with my head. More than I probably even realize, I'm all about outcomes. I'll have a vision in my head of what I want--for my own life or for the church that I serve, and I'll throw that ultimate goal out into the future. And then, as a hopelessly left-brained person I will start formulating a plan, which often involves lots of list making. Then I get busy working "the plan" to get to the desired outcome. It's almost like a wrestling match--I'm grappling with my life and circumstances to try to achieve exactly what I think I want.

This is a very logical way to approach things, of course. Set some goals, line-up the steps to get there, and then relentlessly work to accomplish those goals until the desired outcome is achieved.

The thing is, I don't always get there and even when I do, they journey isn't always very enjoyable.

What I hear Palmer saying is that the outcome we project into the future is less important than the present, less critical than today. In his case, he's reflecting on his desire to become a writer, which emerged in his 20's. Rather than focus on an outcome that would "prove" he'd become a writer--say, getting a book published--instead he simply spent time every day writing. It was his faithfulness to the daily discipline of writing that made him a writer because (well "duh!") writers write. They don't necessarily produce books. It was his faithful commitment to that daily discipline of writing--irrespective of outcome--that eventually brought him the outcome he had stopped trying to achieve--he published a book.

This is true in the life of faith, too. We don't suddenly wake up as people who perfectly love God, neighbor, and self. If that's the outcome we desire, if the goal of the Christian life is to be made perfect in love (a very Methodist phrase), then our task is to try to love God, neighbor, and self the very best that we can--TODAY. And then we do it again the next day, and the next day, and the next day. And, eventually, by God's grace we just may discover that we have come very close to the outcome we stopped trying to grasp at in the first place. As Palmer says, somewhat negatively, "the faith journey is less about making a big leap of faith than it is about putting one faithless foot in front of the other, and doing it again and again. What happens as you walk that way is sometimes transformed by grace."

I pray that as you open your hands to let go of predetermined outcomes, God's grace will guide you, day by day, in the direction that will bring you life, and life abundant.

Blessings, Jeremy

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