What are you seeking?
While reading a book recently, I came across the question ‘What are you seeking?’. Well, the proper answer is God. Isn’t that who we are all searching for? A similar query is the first question we are asked at our Profession service, before we take our vows: ‘What do you desire?’ to which the answer is given ‘I desire God’s help and to offer my life to him in this Community of All Hallows’. Of course, that was true for all of us (or, at least, I hope it was). But it probably wasn’t the whole truth; our motives for joining were bound to be a lot more mixed, and the Profession service was just the beginning of honing our desires, so they become more and more God centred.
So back to that question: ‘What are you seeking?’ What struck me between the eyebrows was that the answer wasn’t in fact God but safety. What I most desired was to be safe. My faith was part of that desire for safety, along with a lot of other mechanisms whereby I attempt(ed) to keep myself safe, but which are irrelevant here. Part of me is genuinely seeking God; I don’t want to give the impression that my faith is just a sham. But it was held back by the fact that, underneath it all, I was seeking safety, and what I most wanted from God was that I would be kept safe. It limited my growth in faith, and my relationship with my Lord.
Living with that realisation, I knew that this was a more honest answer than the pious response ‘God’ which I would have given a few months before, genuinely believing it was totally true, yet in reality using that answer to blind myself to my desire for safety, to the fact that the answer ‘God’ was in itself part of that seeking for safety. I learnt to see the other ways in which I tried to keep myself safe, and the ways in which I misused my faith for that end.
I also realised that it was incredibly hard work, and doomed to failure. For instance, the more I tried to keep people happy in order to keep myself safe, the more I had to keep them happy (and the more likely I was to irritate someone, thereby eliciting the response I was trying to avoid!). I could see that I had completely missed the point. (I increasingly wonder how I could have followed Jesus for most of my life, and missed such obvious factors about the Christian faith). I cannot keep myself safe; I simply do not have enough control over the world, and those I meet, to do that. It is God who keeps me safe, and if I can cede to my Lord the responsibility for my safety, God will take charge of that. It’s all there in Psalm 91, which we say every night at Compline.
Of course, on a superficial reading, Psalm 91 is a pack of lies: read it. It promises the angels shall bear us in their hands lest we dash our foot against a stone, that no evil shall come upon us, not plague come near our tents. Yet we are not safer from Covid 19 than our atheist or agnostic neighbours, and certainly the angels weren’t bearing various Sisters in their hands when they’ve fallen and broken something (none recently, thankfully). Yet a deeper reading of this Psalm produces a different response. There shall no evil happen to you; I am with them in trouble…. this Psalm isn’t talking about specific instances, it is saying that God will be with us, holding us, through whatever happens. What is the evillest thing that could happen to you? Surely it is being without God, going through whatever happens without the Spirit’s presence and support – whether we are aware of it at the time, or not.
So I realised that as I sought safety, I was in fact avoiding the one thing that could most keep me safe – stop trying to be safe, and allow God to do it for me. Of course, that is easier seen than done, and it is yet another part of our faith journey which is a journey, although a one-off letting go can be part of that journey as well. But this is not about me, but about you. It is not about what am I seeking, but what are you seeking? Stay with that question for a few moments… What are you seeking? What is it that you are looking for? What is your deepest desire? Maybe the answer is genuinely God, maybe it isn’t. It doesn’t matter. What is important is the truth, which will indeed set us free.
Knowing what we are actually seeking for (instead of what we think we should be seeking for) will free us to live with that, to hold it before God, to journey with it with Jesus, to allow the Spirit in to work with that desire, whatever it may be, to bring us closer to God. To show us to have the humility to accept that we cannot order our world so that our desires are achieved, nor should we; but also that if we can let go of the need to do it myself and let God into the heart of that seeking – whatever it is – it will move us forward, both for ourselves and in our faith; will move us deeper into who God is. It shows me not that I was wrong for seeking to be safe, just that I was going about it in the wrong way. If I can learn to let God into the very specifics, the daily issues, that I need to be kept safe from. then God will be able to journey with me, in a new and deeper way. A way that the Spirit is drawing us all towards.