Beyond Nothing But to More Than
Moving forward in your life
We bring our hearts to You, warm them with Your love.
We bring our wills to You, consecrate them to do Your work.
In the name of Christ, our Lord, we pray. Amen.
A few years ago, I received a Father’s Day card from my son Tim. On the front of it was a picture of a little boy sitting up in bed. Terror was written on his face. His hair was standing straight up, and the card said, "Dad, I want to thank you."
Well, I wondered, a Father’s Day card with this boy terrorized, had I done that to my son? I opened the card up and it said, "I want to thank you for helping me kill all the dragons of my mind so I could go out and fight the real ones."
You know, we all have our dragons of the mind. My old professor, Conrad Sommers, the psychiatrist whom I trained under in St. Louis, said, "There are five drivers that get in the saddle and drive us. They’ve got spurs on their boots and they kick us, and all of our emotional miseries come from being dominated by one of those drivers."
Here are the drivers he listed:
- Be perfect.
- Please everybody.
- Try harder.
- Be strong.
- Hurry up.
Have you got any of those driving you? At one time, I had them all.
These dragons of the mind keep us from going and fighting the real ones. They keep us from living in our humanity or experiencing God’s grace, and they certainly keep us from the joy of growth. We can’t take time to grow. We have to do it now. We’re driven by pleasing everybody and doing everything perfect. These are dragons of the mind.
There’s a greater dragon though, the dragon that Jesus faced when he went back home—the dragon of unbelief, the dragon of devaluing people.
When Jesus went back home, he could do no mighty works among them because they said, "Is not this the carpenter? Do we not know his family? Are not his brothers and sisters among us? Who is this man that claims to do mighty works? He is really just one of us."
They devalued Christ. They made him less than he really was. The real demon that we have to face is the demon that takes away from us the power to be who we are--those ideologies and philosophies and political views and social and cultural views that reduce us to less than being children of God. These demons tear us down.
Carl Jung, the psychoanalyst, said, "The goal of therapy is to move persons from the nothing buts of life to the more thans of life."
That has stuck in my mind. As a counselor, I have been dominated by that desire to move persons from the nothing but to the more than. You are nothing but a housewife, a businessman. You’re nothing but a consumer. You’re nothing but this or that.
They put a label on you and you become simply a pawn on the chessboard of life, you become dominated by the system. You let other people control who you are and what you think about yourself, and so to move beyond the nothing but to the more than is a movement of grace. That’s what God is always doing, moving us from what we are to what we can be.
To me, some of the most thrilling words in the New Testament are found in those words that Jesus addressed to Simon Peter when he first met him. Simon Peter was just an ordinary fisherman, probably roughhewn, profane. He reverted back in his moment of temptation to his profanity and denied Christ with an oath.
This ordinary man, this fisherman—Jesus looked at him and said, "You are Simon. You will become Peter. [Peter is the Greek word for rock.] You are an ordinary person, but you will become a rock. I will make you that."
The commitment of Christ is always to see what our possibility is. He never looked at an individual that he didn’t see potential there, because he knew that through God’s grace that person could become less of what they had been and more of what God would have them be.
There was an old minister in the past generations, a country minister, who preached a sermon with three points. His sermon was very simple; it was based on the text, "By the grace of God I am what I am." His three points were: I’m not what I ought to be. (All of us should accept that point.) I’m not what I used to be. (That’s hopeful, isn’t it?) I’m not what I expect to be. No, I’m not what I ought to be, I’m not what I used to be, thank God, but I’m not what I expect to be.
Victor Frankl in his writings constantly used this expression: "If we treat a person as he is, we make him worse. But, if we treat him as though he is what he ought to be, we help him to become all that he can be." That’s great advice for all of us. If we treat our little kids as they are, they’ll drive us crazy. We’ll make them worse. If we look at them and see the potential and see them for what they ought to be and treat them that way, we help them to become all that they can be.
We know that so many people fail because they do not get that affirmation early in their life. They’re not looked upon as persons who can be, they’re looked upon as someone who’s limited. They are devalued even as the people of Christ’s hometown devalued him – nothing but a carpenter.
Alice Miller, who wrote that wonderful book The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self, says the problem is that when a child is little they get the message: "Your opinions don’t count, you’re just a child. Your feelings don’t count, you’re just a child." And so they are discounted.
Virginia Satir, the great therapist, once spoke of the five unfreedoms in a workshop I attended. She would put earmuffs on a person and say, "You don’t hear what you hear, we’ll tell you what you heard." She would then blindfold that person and say, "You don’t see what you see, we’ll tell you what you saw."
Next she would put a gag around their mouth and say, "You can’t talk about what you want to talk about, we’ll tell you what you can talk about and the words you can use." Then she would tie a rope around their stomach real tight and say, "You can’t feel what you feel, we’ll tell you what you can feel."
A little girl comes in one day after school very angry and her mother says, "Oh, you’re not angry, you’re just hungry. Sit down and eat something." Have you ever done that? Discount the feelings?
To demonstrate the fifth unfreedom, Satir would put handcuffs on the person and say, "You can’t work for yourself, you’ve got to depend upon us to do it.
"So here’s a person who can’t hear, can’t see, can’t speak, has knots in her stomach, and is handcuffed. Virginia Satir said to us in the workshop, "Your job is to set her free."
We all need to be set free. We need to be set free to say we’re not limited, we’re not handcuffed, we’re not blindfolded, and we’re not gagged. God wants us to become who we can be.One of the great experiences of my life was visiting the nation of Panama. I spent a week in the Canal Zone, preaching on Sunday and visiting missions the rest of the week.
While there, I heard from my friend Weston Ware of a church and a community that had been completely transformed. He said, "You must go out and visit it. It’s San Miguelito.
When I came here in the Peace Corps, this community was the most degraded community that you can imagine. Every house was made of a burlap sack and had mud floors. There were no medical clinics. There was no school. There was no church. There was nothing. But, in five years that community has been completely transformed. You must go out and see it, and you must meet the priest and the nuns from Chicago who made that possible."
I went to San Miguelito and I saw a lovely community. The houses were made out of concrete blocks, no mud floors. There was a clinic, a school, and a lovely open-air church overlooking the whole community – a church in the round seating 3000 people, and it was packed every Sunday for Mass.
I met the head priest, Leo Mann, the one who had led the mission down there, and I said, "Leo, what did you do?" He said, "Oh, I didn’t do it, God did it." "But, what did God ask you to do?" I said. "All we did was go out into the homes of these people and read to them from the New Testament. We told them that they were the sons and daughters of God, and as such, they were the leaders of humanity."
Here were these poor, ignorant, starving people in the most degraded part of Panama City who were told that they were the sons and daughters of God, and the leaders of humanity. "You know what? They believed us. They believed us and their lives were transformed," said Father Mann.
The demonic powers want to reduce us – you are nothing but. The power of Christ says you are sons and daughters of God, and you will become more and more by the grace of God. I’m glad that I can claim all of who I am on the basis of the God who sent His Son into the world to say, "Brooks, you are more than."
Let us pray.
With gratitude, oh God, we thank You that You have spoken to us the word of hope. You break the powers of a domination system that reduces us to nothing, and You liberate us to become people – men, women, and children – of the highest potential as Your sons and daughters. We thank You for this in the name of Christ our Lord. Amen.
Copyright ©2000 Calvary Episcopal Church
Delivered at Calvary Episcopal Church, Memphis, Tennessee, on July 9, 2006.