When being "dissed" is a good thing

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Living an illusion-free life

Photo courtesy of gratisography

I went through a phase where I used the word disillusioned a lot. I said it because I thought it sounded sophisticated. And I acted like disillusionment was a negative thing.

Then one day I heard a faint voice (that sounded like Inigo Montoya fromThe Princess Bride) whispering, I do not think that word means what you think it means.

I did a little research and here’s what I discovered. The prefix dis — means “separated from” or “without.” For example, being dismembered means you have lost one or more of your body’s appendages. Four out of five doctors surveyed do not recommend this. Being disbarred means you are told by all your legal colleagues, “From now on, we’ll be practicing law without you.” If you are an attorney, this is not a positive career development.

But to be disillusioned means, literally, to be “without illusions.” It means to be separated from what you previously — and wrongly — only imagined was true. This is a very good thing!

Disillusionment is the process of leaving fantasy land and coming back to reality. When you are disillusioned, you see what’s true with great clarity, for example, that your job is a dead end or that your fiancée is a codependent, Grand Canyon of need. While being disillusioned isn’t always fun, it’s necessary and good.

What about spiritual disillusionment?

I meet Christians all the time who are reeling from the way their lives have turned out and are bummed (or even bitter) at God. I suspect this is because they’ve embraced some dangerous illusions about the spiritual life.

Here’s what I mean…if we read the Bible and don’t “spin” it, if we refuse to gloss over those sobering verses that nobody puts on t-shirts, if we resist the urge to try to make the Bible say things it doesn’t actually say, we’re left with this:

Life is terribly hard, and God apparently feels no compulsion to make things “easy.” In truth, belief in Christ only complicates matters. Pursue a life of faith and Evil will assault you from without, even as a renegade part of you fiercely resists God’s transforming work within. In other words, you may as well go ahead and gear up for an epic lifelong struggle.

Should you expect to make spiritual progress? Absolutely. But you should never expect heaven this side of heaven. You will face powerful temptations till the day you die. In your better, more lucid moments, you will resist them. In moments of temporary spiritual insanity, you will cave in. The good news? Not even your worst failures will alter God’s love for you.

While we’re at it, let’s go ahead and acknowledge our illusions about suffering too. You will experience lots of little, annoying setbacks in life, as well as other trials, big and terrifying. Nobody gets a pass from heartache or tragedy. The Bible doesn’t guarantee Christians (or anyone else for that matter) a sickness-free, money-filled life.

On the contrary the Bible says (and experience shows) every life will have multiple bitter moments. A hopeful note: You will experience plenty of glorious moments too. When the pain doesn’t take your breath away, the beauty just might. You will cry often. And you will do your share of laughing too. Sometimes both in the same day.

We could go on and on shattering spiritual illusions….how we won’t get divine answers to most of our “why?” questions. How our prayers will often not be answered in ways we’d like. How loving and serving others will be exhausting, and — usually — thankless.

Dis-crimination, dis-organization, dis-aster — these are bad things (and maybe we could throw dis-co dancing in there too?). Dis-illusionment? No way.

When we forget what this wonderful word means, we will want to quit again and again — which is why we desperately need to live in community with a few fellow strugglers and bumblers who can yank us back when we start wandering in the direction of la-la land.

What’s the truth about the spiritual life? All these sobering realities.

Anything else is an illusion we need to “diss” right here and right now.

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