6 months ago I was paralyzed. Figuratively, I should clarify.

By what, I couldn’t articulate.

My life was on hold. I felt like a booster rocket ejected from a space shuttle. All burnt out and succumbing to gravity’s merciless pull, while I watched many of my friends hit the stratosphere.

People were getting married, changing jobs, seeing explosive growth in their businesses, all while I, conspicuously, wasn’t—or so, perhaps, it seemed.

“Why was I so tired? So empty? Without motivation?” I’d ask. “Am I broken?”

Naturally, as many of us do when times get tough or confusing, I turned to my faith…

…which seemed to be of little help.

I’d grown up in the Church, but I’m not sure I’ve ever felt comfortable or at home there. Too many “Do’s” and “Behave’s” and “Perform’s.”

Echoing down my ears from years of well-intentioned spiritual mentors were the familiar thoughts, “You should read your Bible more,” “You should do quiet time with God,” “You should listen to this song, or go to church more, or serve in this ministry, or pray for more people, or… whatever.”

But after years of all of that, I was exhausted.

Even my moments of spiritual solitude and supposed ‘rest’ were colored by this ‘it depends on you’ mentality. I would sit with my Bible open and wonder, “Am I doing this right? Should I be reading the Bible more? Less? Journaling? Sitting still? Quietly breathe? Should I be focused more on God? Should I empty my mind more?”

And so I would sit in a muddle of thoughts, desperately trying, striving to “just be with God.”

The fruit of that in my life was absolute paralysis. My quiet time wasn’t quiet and my work time was constantly bombarded by thoughts that I should be “giving God more time.”

I was divided and spinning my wheels.

When I would have an idea for a creative project, I would bring it into my prayer life and throw it on the proverbial altar.

“God, is this the idea I should pursue?” I would think… and overthink. “What if I do it and it doesn’t work out?” 

“Better not do it then,” I’d think to myself, “And besides, how do I know this is what God wants me to do?”

And so, I resolved that I would “die to self” in the most self-motivated way. I would, by sheer effort of the flesh, attempt to sacrifice my deepest creative desires.

Unsurprisingly, I would languish creatively and simmer in a low-grade despair. Not accomplishing anything.

But then, it hit me like a verse out of Matthew…

“You will recognize them by their fruits.” – Matthew 7:16

All throughout this passage, Jesus basically says, “If you want to know if who or what you’re believing is good, look at the fruit!”

The fruit of my way of thinking was misery. And if what Jesus says about God is even remotely accurate, how can a good God possibly want his children to be miserable?

“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? So if you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” – Matthew 7:9-11

All at once it became clear. I had become—in my own special way—an ascetic.

AsceticNoun. A person who renounces material comforts and leads a life of austere self-discipline, especially as an act of religious devotion.

And so, somehow, my pharisaical legalistic way of life—the one I thought I had rid myself of—was again laid bare.

In a twisted way, it seemed that by killing the things I loved most, I could somehow get closer to God. And, so help me God, I would do the ‘right’ thing. Even if it killed me.

I was so twisted up, I’d forgotten that God’s checklist is really simple.

But what does god ask of us?

“He has told you, O man, what is good, and what the Lord really wants from you: He wants you to carry out justice, to love faithfulness, and to live obediently before your God.” – Micah 6:8

The rest is cake.

I used to wonder how to do everything to God’s glory. “Should I be thinking about Him more as I’m editing this video or writing this story?” 

But if all of the earth proclaims His glory, how does it do it?

An ant doesn’t try, through frustrated consternation to bring God glory in what it does; it merely does and that is that. 

A tree doesn’t squeeze itself upward in a constipated effort to bring glory to God, it just grows freely and, in so doing, brings God glory.

Glory is given to God when the works of art he has created and died to redeem walk in fear-free living, not needing to prove anything to God by effort of will but trusting that God is pleased in them because He is. 

And so, what if bringing God glory was as simple as enjoying and pursuing the good things he’s put in your heart to pursue, because he made you to pursue and enjoy them?

And what greater sin could there be than to directly contradict God’s purpose for your life and say “No Lord, I must instead be miserable.” How foolish!

Maybe “dying to self” has more to do with getting out of your own way, stop overthinking, and just being and doing. 

What if God is actually excited for this next season of your life—a season of expansion and abundance and joy and creativity?

Maybe that is the freedom of Christ.

Photo by Hutomo Abrianto.