One of the problems with some self-help plans is that they by-pass the absolutely necessary first step of all spiritual progress and growth, namely, that we are powerless to change ourselves and must surrender to the power of divine grace. Change that comes about through mere willpower and determination is not real spiritual change.
The veil around our minds is often disguised as some great moral issue that makes us feel superior and asks nothing of us while asking everything from us. That sounds paradoxical, but it’s true.
For those on the theological left, it can mean investing in some great social justice cause at great personal cost and sacrifice, while living one’s actual life in total isolation from any real suffering and without any personal transformation.
For those on the theological right, it can mean investing heavily with great effort and sacrifice in some current political correctness or preaching a gospel of evacuation into heaven (it’s amazing how these two go together in some circles), while ignoring the transformative texts of Scripture that ask us to personally change and adopt a larger vision for the common good of all.
In both cases above, the ego is still in charge; it just wears different disguises. It’s the egocentric self that has to die. When Jesus said that in order to be his disciple one has to deny one’s self, this is the self he is talking about—the false self, the little self, the egocentric self. This is what Paul is talking about in his letter to the Galatians when he says, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20). The “I” he is talking about is the little, ego-dominated I.
In Hope for the Flowers by Trina Paulus, a kind of picture book for adults, a yellow caterpillar comes upon a gray-haired caterpillar who tells her about becoming a butterfly.
Yellow asks, “How do you become one?” Gray says, “You must want to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar.” “You mean to die?” asks Yellow. “Yes and No,” says Gray. “What looks like you will die but what’s really you will still live.”
“Isn’t that what matters most? That which is really you? Jesus said that we have to lose our life to find it. Jesus said a kernel of wheat has to fall to the ground and die in order to produce many seeds (John 12:24).
The biblical word for this is repentance. It is a turning from and turning to. It involves a relinquishment of our egocentricity, our need for position, power, prestige, and prominence, of all denials, excuses, and rationalizations. It also involves a surrendering in humility to divine grace. It is relinquishment and surrender.
This turning to the Lord and removing of the veil is not a once-for-all experience. Father Richard Rohr points out that this “does not happen in one moment but is an extended journey, a trust walk, a gradual letting go, unlearning, and handing over.”
Paul says it is a transformation into Christ’s image from one degree of glory to another degree of glory (2 Cor. 3:18). It is a process. But it begins with a decision—not a feeling or emotion, but a decision—that we must reinforce daily. According to Luke’s version of Jesus’ saying, we have to take up our cross daily (Luke 9:23).