Recently, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to will myself to be a better person. A new year and a couple of inspirational movies can do this to you, but attempts to improve through sheer willpower always fail rather spectacularly for me.
I fell into this approach partially because I have practiced it for most of my life and partially because I forgot where I’m going and how to get there. In his book The Homing Spirit, John Dunne writes about “living in love as a direction” rather than searching for some experience that will once and for all make everything OK. If love is a direction, then it’s going toward something—we are going toward something.
That something is God. It’s easy to get confused about this, as I have over the last few weeks. It’s easy to think we’re heading toward retirement, a promotion, a new car, a massive failure, or just Friday. But none of these things will satisfy our heart’s longing (or, in the case of the massive failure, destroy life as we know it); none of them will provide a direction.
Only if we’re headed toward God are our direction and destination the same, and perhaps only when we recognize that they are inherently the same can we locate within ourselves that “peace which surpasses all understanding.” Just as the oak tree is inherent in the acorn and the cat in the kitten, so we are already what we are becoming.
When we get stuck in conscious thought or in willfulness, we forget this. As a friend reminded me this week, we cannot live spiritual truths from the outside in. We cannot go in the direction of God—which is always pulling us—by following a set of self-prescribed holiness standards or, as in my case, thinking we must need a longer set of standards since we don’t seem to be living up to the current list.
We can only live in love as a direction by being loving to ourselves and others, by spending time being in love with God and letting God be in love with us. The good news is, this is as easy to do as it is to forget. Every moment of silence, every time we admire the shape of a leaf, smile at someone we don’t know, offer a compliment, or count to ten to avoid yelling at our loved ones—all of these increase our capacity to love, all of them point us in the right direction and make us more who we are.