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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Simple Ways”

I didn’t think much of this episode initially, as you may have seen in my review, but on further viewings I can appreciate what it’s going for. Namely it outlines a problem that’s sadly a truth for human society: we are willing to change who we are in order to either be in a relationship or simply to ‘fit in’. In this case, it’s Rarity trying to change her fundamental nature just to get a guy to like her. Yet it could easily apply to any other non-romance circumstance, such as to fit in with a crowd, or be a member of an organization’s “inner circle”, or to be one of the gang on a team or gathering, or even to be within a Church.

In some cases, changing oneself to fit in somewhere is not only not such a bad thing but a necessity. Obviously, if I want to get hired in a professional business or firm, I need to dress in business or business casual both for the interview and on the job no matter how much I like t-shirts and jeans with holes in them. Why? Because that’s the climate and it shows my commitment to professionalism. And if I have the habit of swearing or cursing a lot and generally having a “potty mouth”, then I need to rein that in rather quickly to fit into most groups of people who don’t swear left and right. All societies have certain norms and standards of behavior, and they’re things we just have to live with if we want to belong to them so as to not offend or to have a society or even a community.

But in many other cases, a group or organization only letting you in if you change who you are is not only detrimental to the individual; it’s a means of control. Certain boyfriends or girlfriends might demand a change of behavior away from your aptitudes or, in more drastic cases, tell you who to make friends with and what family members to hang around. Heads of other organizations might expect you to contribute to certain causes or attend certain functions if you want to get ahead, or make sure to make friends with the right people in the organization and support them in various spots to move on. Still others might key in on certain behaviors you do or don’t do, or enforce others as requirements, with the threat of exclusion for non-compliance.

And sadly, one of the biggest culprits for this is religions. And Christianity can be lumped in with that. Many cults demand exclusive behavior; such as moving into communes or consenting to a hierarchical structure. Some require you to forfeit rights and see yourself as lesser than other members of the religion, especially in the case of women. Other groups demand some form of regular contribution either directly or indirectly. Case in point, I had a family member who had made some bad lifestyle choices but was trying to come back from them, and to that end started going to Roman Catholic Church as she had been brought up. When she had her first child, she wanted her baptized there. But when she talked with the parish, they called out they didn’t think she was “serious” about pursuing the Christian faith…because she hadn’t made any contributions in the weekly collections. She tried to explain her financial situation (which was poor), but their answer was that some parish members gave only a few cents but they did give. In other words, they were extorting money out of her. She ended up giving some contributions until they agreed to baptize her child, but only after mass had gotten out and no one was present and without bulletin notification, whereas other children who had been baptized there were either done in mass or the audience was told to stay for it afterward with a section in the bulletin written about the new member of the Church.

Neither this family member nor I stayed at that parish much longer.

Of course, this begs the question about why  should one be devoted to religion at all. All religions, whether of Christian faith or not, involve a push for a change in behavior and lifestyle. Whether you think your religion is great or isn’t, all of them want you to be different. This is a big item that atheists key in on; about how religions aren’t ever satisfied with “who you are”. They always want you to change to be someone more appropriate and acceptable to them. The question is…is that true, even for Christianity? And if it is, what does it mean?

Again, for the answer, I look to Lord Jesus. Jesus warned people of the consequences of their actions. What He said, at times, caused many people to leave Him or take offense at Him. (John 6:66) However, He never drove anyone away or gave them conditions for following Him. He never said anyone was too “bad” to come and start listening to Him. Rather, it was being in Jesus’ Presence that motivated people to change, rather than them changing themselves first.

In Matthew 4:18-22, Jesus calls His first disciples: “While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.” Jesus wasn’t telling them to start giving more to the Temple or to start following the Law more closely. And it’s not as if these men were perfect either. In Luke 5:8, on beholding a miracle Peter did the following: “But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.'” What happened with the disciples wasn’t that they got themselves right and then drew near to Jesus, but that they found themselves changing as a result of being near Jesus. Just as with all people, as we draw nearer to Jesus and grow in love for Him and a desire to understand Him. And as a result of that, we naturally want to change to be more like Him. It’s not something that’s forced; it’s something that occurs as a result of a greater relationship with Jesus.

The best example I can find is in Luke 19:1-10. “He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.’ So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, ‘He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.’ And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.'” Jesus didn’t have to give him a lecture about him defrauding people or a lesson on generosity and the condemnation for misers. The fact that Jesus accepted Zacchaeus when the rest of the crowd was grumbling that he was a sinner was enough to motivate him to change his life.

Ultimately, the only real changing we will ever do has to originate from within us and our desire to be better people. Anything else is merely external observation, or “requirements” to fit in. As I said before, there are obviously some things that society itself cannot tolerate, but beyond that we must be on guard of any individual, group, organization, or even church that demands we conform to a preset standard to even gain admittance. Such could be a not-so-thinly veiled means of control.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you that you always accept me just the way I am and desire that I seek you out today and not wait until I feel ‘holy enough’ to follow you. Help me to be on guard against those who masquerade as ‘angels of light’ and use the false promise of acceptance and inclusion as a means of control. And grant that when I draw closer to you that I will see a change in my life that comes from within as a consequence of my greater love and understanding of you. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”