Self-help is an $11 billion industry. Books, CDs and DVDs abound promising techniques and strategies for self-fulfillment. They could fill libraries. They often top bestseller lists. No doubt, many have found relief through their advice (otherwise they wouldn’t make money). Their emphasis on self-realization is especially attractive. Whether its gaining a competitive edge or acquiring peace of mind, this genre offers the means to become our better selves, to become what we think we should be. But with 80 percent of their consumers being repeat buyers, they arguably fall short of their promise (for if one is fulfilled, why buy again?).
Fulfillment is one of the promises of Christianity, but it is not our first motive as disciples. Jesus tells us very clearly, “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly,” (Jn 10:10). But that is not why we follow him. Jesus assures that those who sacrifice for him, who commit themselves as his disciples, will “receive a hundred times more,” (Mt 19:29). But that is not why we love him. “Self-fulfillment” does not fire our hearts for the Savior. Rather, “we love because he first loved us,” (1Jn 4:19). We are not seeking self-realization, but responding to divine love. Christians “no longer live for themselves, but for him who for their sake died,” (2Cor 5:15).
Love is ecstatic. It takes us out of ourselves. This is clearest in love’s ability to suffer (even joyfully). In our second reading this weekend, Peter exhorts us,
“Rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ.” We see this throughout the lives of the saints, a tremendous ability to endure physical and spiritual trials with ease and charity. Motivated by self-fulfillment, they would never last. It’s hard to meet your needs hanging on the Cross. But motivated by love — well, “love endures all things” (1Cor 13:7). Seeking not themselves, but union with Jesus, they are fulfilled, but fulfilled in Christ: “I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20).
Of course, God wants us to reach our potential. He made us. He desires we become all he imagined. Saint Irenaeus (no small authority) famously wrote, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” Becoming who we are meant to be gives God glory. But the question is, how to get there? Living fully is not a matter of cataloguing our needs, managing our time and keeping everything in balance. The full life begins with ecstatic love. It begins when “the love of Christ compels us” (2Cor 5:14). He is the pearl of great price (Mt 13:45). Loving him well is the fulfillment of our potential. Loving him well is the full life.