A coat tale

The mental 'coats' we wear can bury our potential.

When I was about 8 years old, I had a habit that annoyed my mother. As soon as I walked in the front door, I took my coat off and left it wherever it fell – never gave it another thought. I did, in time, learn to hang up my coat (much to my mother's relief). But there's something about that childlike impulse to abandon the unnecessary outer layers that still appeals to me.

There are so many mental "coats" we wear that can bury our potential – layers of human expectations, false responsibilities, superficial goals that we don't need and that don't serve us well.

Here's a simple example. I have a career that I think is worthwhile and meaningful. But it's very easy in the course of my day to put on a "coat" I'll call "good employee." I'm fairly adept at anticipating what my supervisor wants from me and producing it. But I believe we all have the capacity to respond to a higher direction. I'm learning that ultimately I work for God, for the divine Mind that directs and guides my every effort. "He performeth the thing that is appointed for me" (Job 23:14).

If I focus less on being the employee I think my manager wants me to be and more on what it means to be the image and likeness of God, created to express His divine intelligence, direction, and power, I'm an even better employee. I contribute more than efficiency; I bring originality, insight, and inspiration to our work.

For me, this takes prayer. It takes a willingness to drop off a "coat" of thinking of myself primarily as a mortal, physical person operating through my own intelligence and resourcefulness. It means asking: What has God made me to be? What is He asking of me?

The Bible gives a fine example of a man who was willing to drop a superficial sense of himself and fulfill his spiritual potential. As a child, Joseph was the favored son. In fact his father had a unique coat made for Joseph – the famed "coat of many colors." Let's call that coat "favoritism."

Favoritism is bound to cause resentment in any family, and it did in Joseph's. His older brothers stripped Joseph of the coat and sold him into slavery. Somehow, Joseph rose above this adversity. I like to think it was his willingness to drop the "favored son" coat in favor of a more lasting mantle: his heavenly Father's protecting love. Though he faced hardship and danger, he trusted that God was with him and would guide and protect him.

Soon Joseph found himself in a better situation. His new master "... saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord made all that he did to prosper in his hand. And Joseph found grace in his sight" (Gen. 39:3, 4). But once again, this "favored son" status brought him the wrong kind of attention. His master's wife made advances. She grabbed him by the coat, but Joseph left it in her hands and fled from the house. Although she accused him of harassing her, and his master put him in prison, Joseph stayed true to who he was.

In the end, his willingness to trust God's guidance more than any human standing or accomplishment served him well and enabled him to bless multitudes – including his family.

Here's a statement, made many years ago by Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy, that to me helps explain Joseph's success: "Man is the offspring and idea of the Supreme Being, whose law is perfect and infinite." She went on to say, "As mortal mind, or the material sense of life, is put off, the spiritual sense and Science of being is brought to light" ("Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896," p. 82).

We all face challenges that make us feel mortal and alone. But the same insight that guided Joseph is here to help us. To the extent that we are willing to view ourselves and others as spiritual, we find we are cared for by God's tender love and wise government. We also gain more of the spiritual understanding and insight that enabled Joseph to cast aside the wrong "coats" and we discover our own spiritual capacities for good.

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