Her words came to me over the phone: "Whenever someone talks to me about goodness and the importance of being good, I feel like I'm being asked to give up my individuality." How much I longed to reach over the miles that separated us and hug this 14-year-old dancer. I treasured her honesty and yearning to find herself.
I can't remember all that we talked about, but I do remember one point: goodness isn't something you conform to; it's something you respond to. It's what happened to me when I stopped and noticed a winter morning's sunrise. It made me forget I was standing outside in the cold. The beauty echoed something so deep within me that I stopped complaining about having to shower at the neighbor's because my water heater was broken.
Worth and goodness are never going to come from outside ourselves. This elegant universe that expresses so much life evokes a deep response, but the reason it does is that creation's bird song is indwelling joy being recognized. Nature's change of seasons expresses the resilience and the continuity of life. The breadth of the sky reflects eternity.
"As an active portion of one stupendous whole," Mary Baker Eddy wrote, "goodness identifies man with universal good" ("The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany," pg. 165). This is a blessed relief from the attempt to define men and women according to cultural, psychological, and biological influences. If individuality were shaped primarily by these influences, people's concepts of themselves would fluctuate like the grains of sand tossed by the winds on a beach.
To be known of God, to be made by God - as we all are - means that our identity is secured on a core of values and characteristics that run deeper than the outward appearances. God's being has consequences every moment of every day. It is God, who is Spirit, that makes goodness natural to us.
Being gentle and kind to your family after a hard day is the irresistible expression of God, Love. The willingness to do another week's laundry, grateful to have machines in the basement of the building, is the expression of God, Truth, showing the strength that undergirds everyday responsibilities. These are the simple qualities of goodness that permeate our day, despite the negativity that tempts us.
And even if people have failed their last three tests and still haven't figured out why, there's an intuition that their lives are not going to be ruined. The honest efforts will not be wasted. There's a hope that their talents will find useful expression, even though the present going is rough. As much as achieving human goals gets a lot of air play in a culture of "Just do it!" - the spiritual qualities of goodness that go into it clearly control the outcome.
Christ is the power that shows God to be the source of talent, opportunity, and the satisfaction that comes from using talent, especially in serving others. Christ is the individuality that results from God's qualities coinciding in each of us in uniquely wonderful ways. When the harshness of life tries to crush out hope, the Christ acts as a saving law to reawaken and rededicate your thoughts and effort.
The Christ is why grief at a loved one's death yields to gratitude for the person's life. It's why the cruelty of gossip can't destroy your willingness to give the best. It's why, even amid the fear of failure, there's one step forward that you can see and commit to. When things are hard, God, the Soul that gives life and beauty to all, keeps renewing life and beauty for everyone.
What this means is that the basis of your identity is not a list of unsolved problems. So much of the fear we experience is a lurking feeling that the mistakes and weaknesses of human character are what determine life. In this connection I find this Bible verse reassuring: "If you are really eager to give, then it isn't important how much you have to give. God wants you to give what you have, not what you haven't" (II Cor. 8:12). The adventure of life is recognizing and using the good at hand instead of longing for what isn't available.
I remember another thing that my dancer friend and I talked about in that phone conversation. The reason goodness is so important is that it's the only anchor and sanity of life. To overlook the good and be preoccupied with evil not only is terrifying, but makes everything feel chaotic and pointless. But to acknowledge the goodness in anyone or anything is to instantly feel the love of God. It is to know your innocence, dissolving the problems at hand. It is to see obstacles removed. It is to see healing happen.
The purity of God's relationship to each of us can never be displaced. Goodness is dynamic, moving you by the power of God. It moves you into ever-widening circles of usefulness. It helps you discover the peace of your real spiritual individuality - authentic and unopposed. It inspires you to be as good as you are.