Why your life is not your own

By Father Chris Thomas

To really discover yourself leads to the freedom to be who you really are, to be usable by God and to do what you are called to do for the sake of the world.

Just recently I was working in Nottingham and a woman came up to me for a chat. I don’t know what I said to her but I guess I must have given her the space to say what she wanted to say. She told me that she was gay and that she lived with her mother who was sick, nursing her. She said that nobody knew she was gay and that she had spent most of her life hiding it from others. It was sad to see in her eyes the fear of rejection and the pain of hiding behind the masks that she’d created to survive.

I guess we all wear masks. We play games with ourselves and with other people. We pretend that we’re something we’re not, to cover up our insecurities, anxieties and fears. Sadly, our wearing of masks does mean that very few people know us and that we don’t really know ourselves.

The process of getting to know ourselves is a very long and painful one in which we have to let down our guard and let who we are be seen. It’s not a journey that most of us relish and we only really undertake it if we have to and yet to truly discover ourselves is the most incredible gift of God and it leads to immense freedom.

That gift of freedom isn’t freedom to do what you want, which is really just self-indulgence, but freedom to be who you really are and do what you are called to do for the sake of the world. It’s the freedom to know that ‘your life is not your own’, as Richard Rohr puts it.

I love the story of the paralytic who is lowered through the roof of the room where Jesus was. Everyone in the story – the man, the scribes and Pharisees, the friends – are all being invited to drop their masks and be real. The man has to decide what he really wants: inner freedom or physical freedom. In the end he gets both. He also has to face what he believes about himself. Is he the sinner that Judaism would have believe or is he loved by God?

The scribes and Pharisees are challenged to stop hiding behind religiosity and ask themselves whether God is at work in this situation and in this man, Jesus. And if God is at work, then what does that say about their image of God and who is in and who is out, and who is unclean and who is worthy?

The friends have to face their image of who God is and the people around have to look again at their beliefs and their authority structure. We are all like them and are being invited to lower our masks and face ourselves and move into the bigger picture of who God is and who we are. If we allow the Lord to touch us, then the freedom to be ourselves and all that means is ours. It’s then that we become usable by God and our very sense of God, self, the world, will touch the hearts and lives of those around us.