We spend most of our time trying to be someone else, someone better, more successful. I think we spend the first thirty or forty or fifty years trying to be this other person. And most religion doesn’t help. In fact it makes our self-rejection divine—God is not happy with who you are and will only be pleased when you finally become a “spiritual” person.
Reminds me of the old guy who got saved at the Salvation Army. He was standing on the street corner with the Salvation Army band giving his testimony. “I used to live a life of sin and degradation,” he said. “Now I’m saved, and all I do is beat this damn drum.” The poor man’s “conversion” left something to be desired. He became this other, “better” person and all it did was suck the life right out of him.
Thomas Merton said, “To be born again is not to become somebody different, but to become ourselves.” Why is that so hard? But it is. We begin life with this sense that in order to be something in this world we have to transcend the paltry person into which we were born and become something really amazing, something that people would notice and talk about and promote and invite to small dinner parties. We spend years in this unavailing effort.
Sometimes people go to their bitter end still trying, or else giving up, cursing the Fates for thwarting their efforts. But with a little grace, many people finally give up on that old self-creation project. As if for the first time they begin to see their actual self, plain, unadorned. And it looks, well—beautiful. It’s seeing yourself with God’s eyes. Beautiful with all the imperfections that used to drive you crazy.
Brennan Manning tells the story of an Irish priest visiting a rural parish and seeing an old peasant kneeling beside the road, praying. Impressed, the priest says to the man, “You must be very close to God.” Looking up from his prayers, the peasant thinks for a moment and says, “Yes, he’s very fond of me.”
Not, “I’m very fond of him” but “He’s very fond of me.” That’s a stupendous spiritual leap.
Pray for that grace today—not to love God more (all of us strivers are pretty good at that prayer), but to have a simple, momentary awareness that God is very fond of you. That is truly to be born again.