The paradox of devotion

“Your life is not your own.” This is a paradox. Of course my life is my own. It’s not my brother’s or my mother’s. It’s my responsibility to live my own life. And yet there’s another sense in which of course my life is not my own. Did I create myself? Can I make one hair on my head grow? My life is a gift and I am the recipient. My life belongs to Life itself. My life belongs to God.

Many of us fail to embrace this paradox, falling too far to one side or the other. We succumb to either a false devotion (“My life is not my own”) or a false responsibility (“My life is my own”). Unless we hold the tension of embracing both, we commit idolatry. I have a simple definition for idolatry: mistaking the part for the whole. It’s an error in perception, a failure to see things as they really are. In that sense, idolatry is not some grievous offense but something that’s almost always present to one degree or another. Anxiety is a form of idolatry, as is fear of death.

My point here isn’t to judge anyone. When Jesus told the woman accused of adultery to “go and sin no more,” this was a compassionate injunction. He wasn’t just saying “stop doing those things”; he was saying, “Let go of the burden of thinking you are condemned.” Sin is principally not a behavior but a clouding of perception, a failure to see the truth that we are not condemned but that we are loved.

When we finally see and know that we are loved—unconditionally, we become free, like children in the care of the most loving parents you could imagine. We have no need to act out, because we know that all our needs are taken care of. We embrace our life as our own. We joyfully and enthusiastically go after what we want. We are free and unafraid to be ourselves, with our unique talents, interests, and desires.

And yet we do all of this in the context of deep gratitude. We have no sense of guilt or separation because we stay in loving relationship to our Source. We know that our life is a gift and that everything we have comes from God. Our devotion does not have the feel of begrudging sacrifice. Instead, it’s the devotion that passionate lovers feel when they overlook their own desires to please their loved one. They focus not on what they’re giving up (which would just make them suffer); instead, they focus on their lover. Paradoxically, in overlooking their own desires, they fulfill their true desire: to please their lover.

Love is the force that sustains the paradox. In love, there is no suffering, there is no stress. In love, there is no anxiety, there is no fear. In love, life flourishes, chorusing in beautiful harmony. In love, I see clearly. In love, my life is my own and I am my Creator’s.