Over 20 years ago while I was in seminary I entered a contest to memorize the Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Confession for prize money to fund my graduate degree. Did I bore you already? It used to be that teenagers becoming confirmed in the Presbyterian Church had to memorize it just to become a member. I had the luxury of choosing whether or not to memorize it with my only motivatation being prize money. I did happen to win the top prize after memorizing the entire 107 responses perfectly.
Now, twenty some years later I only remember one of the answers to the Shorter Catechism. It has, in fact, become a sort of spiritual mantra for me in recent years. The question is the very first question, “What is the chief end of man?” The correct response is, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” This one remaining nugget of the Shorter Catechism has seemed to float back into my consciousness recently. The reason is my soul has been increasingly yearning for the “enjoyment side of life” in recent years.
My therapist and I have been exploring a theme that I am coming to the end of something in my life. This pilgrimage is part a tool to usher that in as well as a sign and symbol of something that is already taking place in me. I can’t tell exactly what is coming to an end nor what exactly will emerge. What I do know is that this particular Shorter Catechism question lies at the center of a process of letting go and welcoming.
I can see now that I have spent a great deal of my life on the “glorifying God” part of this equation. I am not saying that I have done that particularly well, but if we spend most of our lives either glorifying God or enjoying God, my attention has been turned to the former rather than the latter. It’s not that I am consciously deciding that it is time to balance the scales. It’s more that my soul and body just aches to cross this bridge from “working for God” to “enjoying God and Her goodness.”
This ending that I feel coming has to do with an orientation or a worldview that said, “If I work hard enough and long enough, THEN I will be able to enjoy the riches and blessings of life.” Guess what? You already see it coming, right! After three decades of working and responsibility I still feel like I am saying, “Just a couple more years and I’ll get there.” The problem is I just no longer believe that anymore. How many more years do I have to work in order to earn that much deserved time of enjoyment?
It’s almost as if I have lived as if I had misread that first question to the Shorter Catechism. Somehow I picked up a wordview that said if I glorified God long enough then I would be allowed to enjoy Him or Her or Them (it’s fun to play with the pronouns!). Alas, I am discovering that one does not earn the right to enjoy God by doing good works. One enjoys God for the pure sake of enjoyment like a flower that has no other purpose but to bring beauty.
I have a long ways to go, but something tells me that my days earning time off or working until I feel like I deserve to enjoy life are coming to an end. My soul simply won’t stand for it much longer. In the meantime, this ancient Catechism has become a modern mantra as I learn to live into what it means to “glorify God AND enjoy God forever.” Apparently, the two are not mutually exlusive. I am a slow learner, I admit!