Stepping Stones Towards Living in the World, not of the World: A Message to Myself
As Christians we are called to be a people of hope, but how can we live this out in a culture which, at times, seems so full of despair? It’s pretty clear to see that we are living in an environment overwhelmed with suffering. This encompasses the atrocities of war, corruption, and structural injustices, to the personal, internal struggles of insecurity and doubt. Every time we turn on the TV or scroll through Instagram we are saturated with lies about who we are and where our worth comes from. This all sounds pretty bleak, yet Jesus’ story makes us the ‘the Easter people’ - a people of joy in the resurrection. So how can we navigate this as Christians? We are called to be lights in the darkness but how can we do this? Exploring Jesus’ prayer to his Father on the eve of his crucifixion helped me to unpack these questions:
‘I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.’ (John 17:14–19)
Build strong foundations
In order to be a light to others, we first need to be rooted in God’s love. Jesus tells us that the greatest commandment is to ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ (Mk 12:31). How can we love our neighbour as ourselves if we don’t love and respect ourselves first? God invites us to know where our worth comes from, the truth that we are his children.
God calls us to love others from the overflow of his love for us, not to give of ourselves until we’re empty. To do this we need to spend time growing in our relationship with him, to let the truth that Jesus died and rose for us direct our lives. God loves to spend time with us, he asks us to spend time in personal prayer and conversation with him and from this to live our lives rooted in an unshakeable joy.
‘And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love may have power, together with all the Lord's holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.’ (Eph 3:17-18)
Live in the truth that you are worthy of healing and it is possible. Acknowledge the lies you believe about yourself and invite God’s healing light into that hurt. Be kind to yourself, we all make mistakes. Jesus invites us to get back up and be forgiven, to constantly grow. Recognise where your weaknesses are and ask for help from friends, family, professionals and God. We are not asked to face our culture alone. Pray about it and find a community or a spiritual director to help root you. We need people daily, real friends to walk with.
Be yourself. God has given you your personality, your gifts. Find out what those are and use them. Don’t try and be like anybody else or live in the spirit of comparison. The Church needs you. As Saint Catherine of Sienna says, ‘Be who God created you to be and you will set the world on fire.’
Know where you’re headed
If we know our destination, we can keep our eyes fixed on it. Jesus has a clear goal for us, to get us to heaven! In John 17, being ‘not of the world’ is the starting place, not the destination. Jesus asks his father to ‘Sanctify [us] in the truth’, to make us Saints! We know that ‘our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ’ (Philippians 3:20).
We are made for perfect relationship with God, we are made for a relationship with love Himself. The desire within us to be fully known, to build relationships with people is no coincidence. We are made for a greater fulfilment than this world can give us. As Saint Augustine says, ‘Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.’ What gives us fulfilment and true joy cannot be completely found in this world. Saint John Henry Newman explored this by sharing how ‘God has created me to do him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next.’
"God has created me to do him some definite service." - Saint John Henry Newman
Be protected in prayer and ‘put on the armour of God’ (Eph 6:10-12). Ephesians 6 tells us that ‘we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.’ If our destination is spiritual, then the things stopping us from getting there will also be spiritual. We cannot do this in our humanness alone, and God doesn’t ask us to. He is with us every step of the way.
I once heard a powerful homily exploring how our call to holiness is not as simple as believing in God. The Priest encouraged us to ask ourselves how we are responding to God’s invitation into relationship with him? We have to choose him constantly, to make a decision to love God every day. We’re so lucky to have the gift of the Church, we know what we’re being asked to do! To go to mass, to receive the sacraments, to pray and to follow his teachings. One of my favourite praise and worship songs explains how ‘To know you is to love you.’ To know Jesus is to love him, to choose him. When I was a baby, my parents likely didn’t want to get up for the fourth time that night to stop me crying, but they did it out of love for me. They chose to love me.
Be bold. The more you step out for him the more you’ll see his fruits. Stand up for what is right and just. Accept that sometimes it’s going to be difficult. John 17 says ‘I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.’ We have to acknowledge the painful reality that we are divided but to be kind anyway. There is a difference to what our culture is calling us to and what God is calling us to.
Be thankful. We live in a world of entitlement. Once we realise that everything we have is from God, we will live more responsibly. Even our money is from him, how are we spending that?
Love people with a radical love
We are called to love others with a servant heart, with a selflessness. We are called to love people as Jesus loves us and them because he loved us first. This might sound drastic, but it’s as simple as doing the washing up before you’ve been asked or to be the friend who leaves the party early because your friend needs to go home. Point people towards God by the way you love them.
"We are called to love people as Jesus loves us and them because he loved us first."
Speak positively, spread truth. We have to combat and expose our culture’s lies with Jesus’ truth. Jesus tells us that we are loved, that we are known, that we are precious. Build your friends up. Tell them how much you value them and highlight their strengths. John 17 shows us clearly that we have been commissioned. ‘As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.’ Jesus doesn’t ask his Father for his disciples to be taken out of the world, but he prays for them as they are ‘sent into’ it.
God is inviting us to bring his light into our world by loving ourselves and others with a radical love, how we will respond?