I do not want to lead myself. Imagine getting to a point in your life where you genuinely cringe at the thought of allowing your own heart and mind to lead you. This is the state of innocence that the angels are in. They are keenly aware of the fact that only the Lord knows what is good and true. Because they know and perceive this, they want nothing more than to be led by Him. They avoid being led by themselves like the plague.
This is such a different state of life than we often find within and around us. Spend a little bit of time on Facebook, read the paper, reflect on your own motives and goals during the day. It won’t take long to recognize that so much of our time and energy is spent trying to do things “our way”, and trying to convince others that “our way” is the superior and only legitimate way to go. We think so highly of our own point of view that we relish the opportunity to share it and to convince others of its validity. Come on, we’ve all had those moments where we’ve said something quite brilliant or clever on Facebook and wait with great anticipation for even a random stranger to “like” it : ).
Recently I’ve been reflecting on just how important it is to change this kind of attitude in order for real spiritual growth to happen. There is something enjoyable and strangely addictive about leading yourself. Our egos don’t want to give up control and allow someone else to lead. To the natural man there is no greater high than being “right” and being adored by others for the apparent wisdom you display. And yet, I’ve noticed more and more that this kind of arrogant desire to lead myself and to put my own ideas up on a pedestal for the world to admire always ends up leading to a dead end. It may feel good for a time but long-term it only results in emptiness.
I won’t go into the details, but last week I had a moment where I felt the horror of being led by myself. After allowing my ego to get a little bit out of control, I suddenly saw what life is like when we insist on doing things our way. The possibility of being led by myself – by my own thoughts and loves – genuinely felt terrifying. In that moment there was nothing I wanted more than to be led by the Lord: I wanted Him to lead my affections; I wanted Him to lead my thoughts; I wanted Him to lead my actions. Being led by myself felt like a monster that I wanted to do everything I could to escape.
How different the world would be if we all had as our goal in life to truly be lead by the Lord and not by ourselves. What if in every moment, every decision and every temptation we could all learn to say: “I’m not interested in arguing my point of view or in trying to convince people that I’m right and they’re wrong. I’m not interested in trying to do things my way. What I’m interested in is letting go of my opinion, my outlook and my loves. What I’m interested in is focusing all of my time and energy on allowing the Lord to teach me what to love, think and do.“
Getting to a point in my life where I genuinely hate the idea of being led by myself, but love being led by the Lord – That would be wonderful; that would be heavenly! This is a lesson that I hope to continue to learn for myself and to teach to my children.
“As innocence consists in being led by the Lord and not by self, so all who are in heaven are in innocence; for all who are there love to be led by the Lord, knowing that to lead themselves is to be led by the proprium, and the proprium consists in loving oneself, also that he who loves himself does not suffer himself to be led by another. Therefore, so far as an angel is in innocence, he is in heaven, or to the same extent, in Divine Good and Divine Truth, for to be in these is to be in heaven. Consequently, the heavens are distinguished in accordance with this innocence. Those who are in the outermost or first heaven are in innocence of the first or outermost degree; those who are in the middle or second heaven are in innocence of the second or middle degree; while those who are in the inmost or third heaven are in innocence of the third or inmost degree, and are therefore the veriest innocences of heaven, for more than all others they love to be led by the Lord as little children by their father. For the same reason the Divine Truth that they hear immediately from the Lord or mediately through the Word and preaching, they take directly into their will and do it, thus committing it to life. This is why their wisdom is so superior to that of the angels of the lower heavens. These angels of the inmost heaven, being such, are nearest to the Lord from whom they have innocence, and are so separated from the proprium that they live, as it were, in the Lord. In external form, they appear simple, and before the eyes of the angels of the lower heavens they seem as little children, that is, as very small and not very wise, although they are the wisest of the angels of heaven; for they know that they have nothing of wisdom from themselves, and that to acknowledge this is to be wise. What they know is as nothing compared to what they do not know; and they say that knowing, acknowledging, and perceiving this is the first step towards wisdom. These angels are naked, because nakedness corresponds to innocence.” (Heaven and Hell 280)