I was floating in my pool one day last year and this thought about being “born again” popped into my head. I never really put much consideration into that concept, seeing it only as a label, which Christians tend to attach to their title. This concept held little significance to me, but for some reason, at this particular time, it came up in a very different light.
I began to ponder on it, wondering if what I was going through was what Jesus talked about in his conversation with Nicodemus (John 3). What was once insignificant to me was now making an impression that loomed ever so largely in my mind, subsequently bringing me a sense of comfort.
I became fascinated by this idea. When Jesus spoke about the truths in life, he often referenced the natural world to describe these ethereal and enigmatic actualities. Of course, the inner detective in me activated and the questions and ponderings took effect.
Why did Jesus speak about accessing authentic life in this way? Was this the actual path to living connected and fully? Even Nicodemus expressed his perplexity over Jesus’s strange reference.
New Eyes: Awareness of the Real
Jesus said, “No one can SEE the Kingdom until he is born again.” There are three significant parts to that statement. First off, seeing is beyond what our eyes can behold. It is not physical, it is metaphysical. Seeing is deeper than what the eye has access to. It is from the innermost part of the person. It is a perception or an awareness that opens up in greater capacity.
Think about this, the way you see the world is colored by your own experiences in life. Our belief systems, have developed from our experiences and the emotional realm within these experiences. On a side note, that’s why people trying to “convince” others to see something differently, such as God existing, or caring, or being a healer, or that they are “loveable” or “beautiful” is ineffective, because the belief system changes when the heart is impacted by encountering a foreign experience that has greater emotional impact.
For example, when you have grown up with an absent, or critical father, you will only see God through this light, because of your fatherly experience in life. One must encounter a father-figure in caring and compassionate ways in order for that internal experience of a father to change.
So back to perception. The perception of life is shaped by our internal world that holds our own personal experiences. We see through a certain dimension and it influences significantly how we interact with life. We can either delight and indulge in it or live in insecurity and fear, leading to consumption of it.
But what is the Kingdom and what are we actually becoming aware of? The Kingdom is just another way of saying God’s presence to a culture that understood this “presence” in king/ruler/dominion terminology.
It seems that what Jesus is saying is that those who become born again, will see life authentically and truly. Their perception will change, because their internal world has changed, an internal world that has encountered something unique and foreign to their personal experiences.
One who has become born-again develops an awareness of what has always been, God’s presence imprinted in everything; this heightened awareness of how connected we are to him and creation. Life takes on new shape and meaning, exciting, thrilling, adventurous and inspiring. Nothing is arbitrary nor to be discarded. Life is lived indulging in the present, attuned to the now; a deep satisfaction. The perspective shifts from seeing the world only in black and white to being captivated by the complexity, range, depth, and variety of colors that inhabit all of life.
(I know this might sound esoteric, but I will explain in hopefully more tangible terms, so hold on.)
The Child Who Sees the World
Now, there is this caveat to experiencing life; that being, this born-again prerequisite. What in the world does this mean? Well, Jesus gives us a big clue, by referencing a natural experience to teach us about these mysteries.
What happens when someone is born? They now enter into life an infant. And infants are these precious, fragile, unaware, helpless and powerless creatures. They are purely vulnerable. Not one of us has escaped this stage, unless, somehow, you miraculously came into the world a full-grown, self-sustaining adult.
These beautiful, powerless persons have no ability to meet their own needs. They are fully dependent on their caregivers for nurture, love, safety and sustenance. Their only defense are the variations in cries inherently attached to their needs. But they have no self-awareness or consciousness. They are lost, in the hopes that their cries will be soothed by the one who watches over them. They have no ability to escape or defend themselves. They are completely exposed, a state of true nakedness.
Of course, naturally, they develop further, becoming children. And when children are satisfied and secure in the love provided by their parents, they live life unbridled, free to explore. They are fascinated by existence and its mysteries, encountering the things we, as adults, easily miss. Children are these explorers, filled with awe and wonder, delighting in God’s presence imbued in this earth. They are more attuned to life than adults who live out of self-protection and injured attempts to stay connected.
When children feel pain, they run confidently to the one who loves them. They boldly let their needs be known and reflexively turn towards their caregivers, trusting that it will be met. They innately and vulnerably share all of themselves. Nothing is hidden.
So essentially Jesus is saying that children experience life in fullness and authenticity. They hold the answers to living, connecting and being. One must reconnect with that true self/child-self in order to become aware of the Divine presence omnipresent in this world. Jesus came to reveal this and reconcile us back to this connectedness with all of life and with him.
I wonder then, if salvation is a very different experience than what we have defined it to be. Maybe it isn’t some “sinner’s prayer” mantra. Maybe it has to do with the heart beginning to recognize who the Connector of Life truly is and moving out of that kind of guttural/instinctual knowing. But this recognizing is less cognitive and more experiential, the soul being drawn towards something/someone. I guess that’s one worth exploring another time.
My “Born-Again” Story
During grad school, I remember being greatly impacted when a professor pointed out that the Beatitudes Jesus lays out in Matthew 5:3-12, was actually a linear progression. That was revelatory to me and I would continue to come back to this discovery. In fact, it became the creed I clung to in recent years, as a reminder that my intense struggle of change was not capricious, but actually very meaningful.
The Beatitudes is this blueprint on becoming both our true selves (who we always were) and truly connected to God and life. But it is a fascinating layout of loss, grief/mourning, wandering and then becoming filled. It is neither an intellectual nor forced process. No formula can be manufactured nor any short-cut created to living life fully. It is purely experiential and existential. Life just stops working the way we have been living it, for some enigmatic reason, and that block we feel, if we stop trying to quiet it, will lead us into fullness.
I grew up in a Christian home and found myself drawn to God, “accepting Jesus into my heart” when I was about 10. My connections to the Church and others throughout my life has often ebbed and flowed. I found myself feeling like an outsider and struggled to speak the language most spoke within the culture.
I wrestled with hiding pornography from loved ones because of shame, struggled with my sexual identity, OCD, anxiety, depression, internalized rage, self-doubt/consciousness, this intense and obsessive need for love from women, insecure relational attachment, self-hatred, and cutting myself off from people when I felt hurt.
I learned to get my relational needs met by criticizing myself, often highlighting the negative to others when they asked how I was doing. Viscerally, I could not talk about anything positive, because the way I would get love and affection from one of my parents was to beat myself up with self-criticism and confess interesting fears/phobias; all to stay connected and salvage the relationship.
The Revving of Restlessness: Inner Desire for Change
I went through grad school, where I encountered about a dozen existential crises, questioning this path I was on, but something would remind me to keep walking. Then I hit my internship where I began to feel very stuck. This frustration began to surface, but I felt directionless. I hit burnout and almost quit my internship.
My supervisor wanted to meet with me, seeing how I would beat myself up and walked with me in exploring the wounds of my past with greater depth and clarity. I began to see why I avoided anger or at least directed the feeling towards myself. He pointed out that I hated my father, which terrified me to see. He confronted me on some of my sticking points, such as judgments and defending my parents as an attempt to avoid how I really felt towards them.
Meanwhile I was pressing the gas pedal, but the emergency break was on. He instructed me to pay attention to my frustration, because it was telling me something.
I also recall a moment when I shared with my colleagues, during my interning, that I didn’t know who I was anymore. I became aware of how depression and self-hatred had become a part of my identity and how it was not who I really was. Yet, the problem was that I had no clue who I was apart from that. Talk about terrifying and unsettling!
I was tired of just going to a church service, listening to a sermon I could never remember, and then leaving. This hunger was for something beyond the lane I continually traveled in. I found myself drawn towards more experiential gatherings when it came to connecting with God. I learned to hear his voice and took very uncomfortable risks in sharing “prophetic” words to others, eventually developing greater confidence. I recall sharing specific words to a gentleman one night at this church gathering, who was then moved to tears, acknowledging the truth of what I had shared.
But despite these wonderful and exhilarating moments, I would retreat and pull back into these safety zones and reencounter my wandering.
Last year, I felt so tired with staying stuck in my fears that I began to take more risks. I started to get into the dating arena. I also frequented this experiential or “charismatic” church that was more interactive in their gatherings. The far recesses of these gatherings was where I camped out, internally judging those who “worshipped” in odd ways, while admittedly wanting that kind of freedom.
Eventually, I moved into the center of the gatherings to worship, struck by this crippling insecurity and the desire to be seen. As I stuck to this, this nudge to sing and dance before everyone began to surface, and I stepped out of my comfort zone, trusting this Voice to lead me. Incredible experiences would take place, particularly my own growth.
In moments alone, at my house, my times with God changed. Viscerally, I would feel this block towards spending these times toiling in introspection, scraping over my problems and deconstructing my wandering in the hopes of finding the truth. Instead, I would feel this prod to put on instrumental music and dance and sing. It was the most uncomfortable times starting out. And I was alone! But it revealed my injured ways of dealing with pain.
I began to develop beautiful friendships with women, and a deeper closeness with the men in my life. I connected more to my anger, confronting the judgment and criticism that would block me from learning and growing. When anger would come up, I would embrace it, expressing it in a raw, explicit and unfiltered manner.
When deep pain from my childhood or present life would surface, I would weep intensely, intentionally staying present and going towards it. These moments of vulnerable connection with God led to bursts of creativity, including writing. My understanding of life was now changing and I was developing greater insights into this world than I was aware of before. It was clear that something was happening.
The Discovery of My True Self
Recently, during a session with my therapist, we talked about these changes and he said that I was on the “road less traveled”. I shared how I felt more at peace, less stressed about how my life plays out and excited about my newfound bursts of creativity through music, writing and now, podcasting. But it was not until a couple days after that something very powerful had happened.
It was at night and stemmed from looking at Genesis chapter 3 in a whole new light. I realized how this wrath and judgment was not from God, but what we carried. I saw how he was inviting us into intimacy, back into reconnecting with him. It also became clear that Jesus’s death was not to block God’s wrath, but an outpouring of love and invitation back into intimacy; that we do not have to force reconnecting with him, by straining to do “right” and avoid the “wrong”.
It was the oddest experience, but something clicked, and I immediately felt this incredible aliveness. The shame, judgment and fear had disappeared. I realized how truly connected I was to God and to life. I began to see the problems and disorders we wrestle with in a whole new light. I put on dance music and joyfully celebrated this aliveness, moved to tears for the next few days, while simultaneously given greater insights into sexuality, gender, and the issues we find ourselves entrenched in; how all of this is rooted in disconnection.
I felt this inconceivable peace within. The days that followed were likened to those cheeky movies, where two lovers meet for the first time, kiss and this whole new world opens up to them, followed by song and dance.
These few years, if not more, of wandering and going through the loneliest, emptiest, neediest, disquieting, severely painful and scary times, began to make more sense. It was not arbitrary. It was a necessary process of becoming who I always was, living out of that True Self, deeply rooted in connection with God. What also made sense was why I clung to the Beatitudes and why it strongly resonated with me. When I felt lost, I returned back to these truths, giving reassurance to the brutal internal struggle.
I have no clue what this journey holds from now on, but it is an exciting and mysterious one. What I am confident in is my passion to share the overflowing insights into the human heart I have been given. I have very little anxiety about sharing openly and candidly all of my life and struggle, so that others may come to know the powerful Love and awakening I experienced.
May you listen to that nudge that draws you closer to the Love for which you are truly yearning.