Everyone loves surface things. It's easy to show what is on the top, the growing, beautiful things. We love to see what is blooming. We put it out there into the world, not necessarily in a bad way, but it's out there. We see it. Stuff. Achievements. Happy moments. Beautiful adventures. Snapshots and stories of what we can see and quantify. All the things that are beautiful. Our world is obsessed with what grows above the surface. Stay on social media long and you'll see things like "how to grow your platform" or ads saying "you need this" or carefully curated ways to get more likes and acceptance in this world. And it's all based on what you can see. Happiness is found in enrichment, enjoyable things, abundance, leisure, travel, a cute house, a cute family, a cute wardrobe, cool friends and just the right balance between killing it and exploring the world. (Among other things of course.) These things are the measure of success. Do what makes you happy and show everyone your wonderful life, with just a touch of real thrown in so we know it's legit. And we get sucked in. Not on purpose, I don't think. It's just easy to be caught up in what we can see.
And yet God's way to better well-being is the absolute antithesis of what we see. God's way is upside-down. With God surface things don't matter. He sees what lies below in the dirt. He doesn't measure our blooms, fruit or growth above ground. He evaluates the roots. He is interested in the soil. Growth that matters to God lies upside-down from how the world measures success. I think even in our spiritual lives it's easy to buy into "more" and "bigger" when that is not God's way. My world has been turned upside-down in many ways this past year, though not by choice. It hasn't been bad things. In fact the reasons for these shifts have been good things, but even good things can be hard. My ground in my little garden has been overturned and tilled up. God wanted to deepen my understanding of the immense importance of the things unseen by taking away all the beautiful things I could see and measure. Fruit isn't bad - it's good! There is nothing wrong with outward things...not at all! But it's not where we find the true "blessedness" of God's kingdom.
I'm not going to lie. I've always found the Beatitudes found in Matthew 5 to be a bit hard to swallow. What exactly does it mean when Jesus said blessed are those who mourn? Most of the time I skimmed over it. Nothing about that passage seemed pleasant or appealing. A few times I prayed to understand it better, but it has only been in the last few years I have sought to grapple with the truths there. Jesus describes a life that is 100% upside-down from what we think a happy, blessed life looks like in this life. I'll just lay a few of them out here:
The poor in spirit - humility, the opposite of self-sufficiency, empty
The mourning - weeping, over sin, over brokenness
The meek - humility, not weakness but gentleness, self-controll empowered by the Holy Spirit
Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness - above all other wants they want God, not trying to "make it" on their own merits
The merciful - not giving out what is due and deserved
The pure in heart - not tainted by lust for other things, spotless, clean in thoughts, will and emotions
The peacemakers - not stirring things up, loving enemies, sincere good-will towards everyone, giving up your rights
The persecuted - reviled, falsely accused, made fun of, enduring evil from others
This is the blessed life? This is the ultimate well-being? Really? Poor, weeping, giving when I shouldn't have to, separated from other "wants," giving up my "rights" and being persecuted...that doesn't sound like what is beautiful. And yet Jesus promises that these people will have the Kingdom of heaven, eternal reward, mercy...they will be called Sons of God...they will be satisfied, filled...they will SEE GOD. That does sound amazing. Why can't that come apart from all the other precursors right? And yet this is what Jesus says. To top it all of, this is the life HE MODELED. Philippians chapter 2 puts it so beautifully, "He emptied Himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." Christ, the King, God in flesh lived these truths. His way was upside-down. He went lower, lower and lower. He died and was buried. THEN He was raised to life. And it is the same for us. He calls us to the unseen, to what lies in the dirt, to the low, humble things. THIS, He says, it what matters. He makes new life rise up from roots deep in Him. He cares a lot more about the depth of your roots than the brightness of your blooms.
No one will see our roots, not really. They won't know the times we choose faithfulness over selfishness. No one will see the hard work done in the deep, in the dark and in the mess. But God does. And He who sees in secret will reward you. It might not (read, probably not) look like the reward the world says is good. Nope. If anything, I've learned it looks nothing like the world's way of happiness. But it is BETTER. You might not have anything to show, to point to or to post and say "this is good!" But it is the deep, soul well-being that Christ promised. In the secret, in the unseen, in the upside-down God sees and rewards. In that place He reveals Himself. I can't say my heart really wants to be poor in spirt, to mourn to hunger and thirst. Even so, I have found that allowing God to make me barren, bereft of quantifiable growth, to pull up my outwardly blooms and plant more of Himself in the deepest parts of my soul has made me rich beyond imagining. I might never see the blooms from this digging in the dirt. But then, I remember that my life will last far beyond the here and now. If I have nothing to show the world in this life apart from my tear-stained face and emptiness apart from God, it will be worth it. I'll take the upside-down of God's ways. (And continue to preach this to my soul on the days I'm tempted to believe otherwise.)