Often when somebody enters psychotherapy there is a honeymoon period. Some of the knotty problems the client has been facing are eased as the therapist listens well to what is going on in the soul. The therapist makes a few good suggestions and healing occurs. The client is relieved and joyful.
I learned to be wary of this period. I naturally like to bring happiness and healing to people, and so I might be tempted to keep on listening well and making good suggestions. But it would all, in these early stages, be in the service of the ego — the small self, as Richard Rohr calls it.
The soul longs for something much more profound: a complete reorientation that unseats conscious beliefs and expectations. The client needs to learn who they really are — who they were created to be. Their true nature is often at cross purposes with the small-self desires and longings their family and culture instilled in them. A painful stripping away needs to happen in order for the big Self to have its way. I have to be willing to be the agent of this unpopular process.
Maybe when Jesus went out to pray early in the morning in today’s Gospel reading it was because he was uncomfortable with his success in Capernaum. He knew in his heart that he was being appreciated for the wrong reasons. The people who came to him wanted healing, and he could give them that. But a deeper issue was left unaddressed. They wanted healing so that they could return to the same broken system that had caused their distress in the first place. They knew who they were in that system — but this was different from who God knew them to be.
Jesus had to be willing to abandon all those people waiting at his door for healing in order to go to the next level. His true work was the stripping away and reorienting process that would bring an entire people into a better relationship with God. Teaching his Way meant inviting everyone to let go of societal expectations. It meant upsetting hierarchies of power. Everybody belongs, he taught. Everybody is precious to God and therefore must be precious to one another. There are no more important or less important individuals, no more deserving or less deserving ones. This is not a popular message, especially to those who are doing well by the world’s standards.
So after that first success he went up onto a mountain alone to pray. It’s only with God’s help that we can turn away from those places where we are making things better for all the wrong reasons. It is only through prayer that we can opt for the scandalous choices that will ruin our popularity ratings, so that God will truly be served. It is only through prayer that we can abandon all those people yearning for healing in order to work for a deeper wholeness.
Where are you getting your “marching orders” from these days? Are you serving the needs of the small self, or are you working for God? It’s usually not an either-or issue so much as a complicated mish-mash. So bring it to God in prayer. In the quiet darkness of your inner holy mountain you will begin to hear. Let go of everything else, no matter how right or popular, to go where God is calling you.