A Reflection on Abundant Life, John 10: 1-10, by Rev. Dr. Katherine Godby.
In John 10:10 Jesus says “I came that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.” What amazingly powerful words. Jesus came, he lived and he died, and he lived again so that we might have life. But not just any life—abundant life.
In a spiritual direction group about a year ago, a woman suddenly stood up, threw her arms open wide, and shouted up to God: “I WANT IT ALL, LORD! I WANT IT ALL! YES! I. WANT. IT. AAAALL!”
Oh, what an image she created in my mind. She was without a hint of self-consciousness. Her action was completely spontaneous and completely beautiful. I knew—indeed, everyone in that group knew—that the abundant life was already hers.
The abundant life can be thought of in many ways, of course. What I offer here is a brief reflection based simply on that amazing image created by my friend. It seems to me that her action was an embodiment of abundant life because it held in creative tension two opposites: empowerment and vulnerability.
She embodied a sense of empowerment. Imagine with me, if you will—My friend is in her late 50’s, beautiful silver hair, and petite. She SHOT straight up and declared in exuberant and no uncertain terms that she wanted LIFE! She wanted it ALL! At a deeper level, her declaration was perhaps the most powerful prayer I have ever heard or witnessed.
Walter Brueggemann writes about how the ancient Hebrews had the nerve to hold God accountable. In the imprecatory psalms, the psalmist(s) figuratively shake their finger at God and say, “You promised to stay with us. We have done everything you asked, but you have abandoned us! Wake up! Rouse yourself, O God, and come to our aid as you promised!” I’ve always loved that—the whole idea that we “mere” human beings would have the courage to stand up to God and say, “Hey! Thing is wrong!” fills me with a sense of how intrinsically valuable we are, how we are indeed made in God’s image, and how we need not fear.
My friend’s action that evening reminds me of that: she knew her intrinsic value, she acted from within the center of the image of God within her, and I think she was so filled with exuberant love that there was no room for fear of any kind. What gorgeous power!
Think about it for a moment. In my own life and as a pastoral counselor, I know the ubiquitous role fear plays in our lives, whether we are aware of it or not. I once did a study of the number of words/phrases in the English language that signify fear. Here are a few:
—dread, chill, foreshadow, fright, trepidation, agitation, hysteria, apprehensive, cowardice, ‘oh, that was creepy,’ dismay, disquieted, fainthearted, jitters, misgiving, nightmare, cringe, quake, qualm, warning, nervousness, tense, scare, suspicion, timid, trembling, unease, intimidated, shudder, angst, anxiety, horror, terror, terror-alert, panic, awe, fretful, consternation, dismay, alarm, foreboding, ominous, ‘oh, you startled me,’ worry, concern, hesitant, bashful, meekness, insecurity, threatening…cold feet, backing out, chicken, chicken-hearted, chicken-livered, sinking feeling, second thoughts, weak-kneed, yellow streak, gutless wonder, turned-tail and run, funny feeling, mousiness, wimp, shrink from, bad omen, goose bumps, the heebie-jeebies, mass hysteria, big baby, fraidy cat, jellyfish, sissy, lily-livered milksop, milquetoast, and yellow-bellied doormat, paranoia, night terrors, mass hysteria. And of course, ALL defense mechanisms are trying to keep some kind of fear at bay: compensate, deny, displace, dissociate, obsess on something else, make a joke, idealize, identify, intellectualize, introjet, refocus threatening anger onto ourselves, isolate, minimize, project, rationalize, regress, repress, split, substitute, sublimate, and suppress. Not to mention just good old fashioned avoidance. And phobias? oh, please. We can take almost any noun in the English language, and somebody is afraid of it! Fear of cats. Fear of rats, bats, crickets, dogs, bogs, mice, lice, heights, flights, water, worms, sex, speed, space, race, constraint, cocktail parties, office hours, old friends, Friday the 13th, and fat. [Miller, The Mystery of Courage, Harvard Univ. Press, 2005]. Fear underlies all anger—because all anger is a response to some kind of threat. Fear often accompanies love—few people are spiritually mature enough to love without fear of losing love.
And we know that fear funds sexism, misogyny, heterosexism, racism, classism, ageism, ableism—all of which at their core are fear of difference.
But when we exuberantly love, when we are filled with a passion for LIFE, then fear doesn’t stand a chance. There’s no room for it within us! Jesus’ promise of abundant life provides the empowerment we need to live courageously and joyfully inside a culture of fear. Wow.
At the same time, my friends’ action also embodied a sense of trusting surrender. Her gesture of arms thrown open wide spoke of utter and conscious vulnerability, offering no protection whatsoever. The gesture never fails to remind me of Jesus on the cross. It is crucial to remember, however, that this gesture is made consciously. Jesus was aware of what might come when he decided “not my will, but Yours.” And my friend is no innocent babe in the woods—she knows from experience the bitter realities of life. Her gesture came amidst acute awareness of the inevitability of loss and suffering, of our own mortality, and of the evil that human beings can and do perpetrate. The consciousness of this vulnerability is what makes her action an embodiment of trust.
The tension between our empowerment and our trusting vulnerability is a creative tension that results in an abundant life, a life lived to its fullest.
My friend threw her arms open wide and said Yes to abundant life. May each of us know that kind of trusting courage as well.
Bio: Katherine Godby is ordained in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and is currently serving a United Church of Christ congregation in north Texas. Her Ph.D. in pastoral theology and pastoral counseling focused on issues of authenticity in a postmodern world. Married late, she is enjoying the plunge into life with a husband and three children-by-marriage.