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Distilling the Essence

Here are a couple of definitions from the dictionary that have been rolling around my head for some time.

The first is “distill”, which means: 1) “to subject to a process of vaporization and subsequent condensation, as for purification or concentration”, 2) “to extract the volatile components of by distillation; transform by distillation”.

The second is “essence”, which means: 1) “the basic, real and unvariable nature of a thing or it’s significant individual feature or features, 2) “a substance obtained from a plant, drug, or the like, by distillation, infusion, etc. and containing its’ characteristic properties in concentrated form, 3) “(philos.) the inward nature, true substance, or constitution of anything, as opposed to what is accidental, phenomenal, illusory, etc., 4) “something that exists, especially a spiritual or immaterial entity.”

As a mother of 5 children, ages 31 to 19, I’ve now had the up-close and personal view of the innate “essence” of each one of them in several seasons of life. From birth, each is a unique combination of ‘ingredients’ that you will see from infancy to adulthood manifested over and over again in new and greater ways. I still have “flashbacks” every time I see the “flash of light” that is in them in a new and more mature way. My mind goes back to the very first time I saw the “glimmers” of that special light within them as an infant, then like a video, reruns the drama of their lives in living color from then to now. As a parent, this video is permanently and indelibly imprinted in your mind, there to keep as a perpetual memory of their unique “blueprint”. There is a destiny locked up in each one, ready to be released if the proper measures are taken to nurture and distill that essence.

Likewise, each of us were all born with that same inalienable essence, with the potential to enrich and change the world we live in for the better, just by being who we were made to be. The balance between nurturing and developing our strengths and seeking to shed our weaknesses is not an easy one to achieve. Focusing on strengthening our strengths is the primary strategy for developing to full potential, the foot we need to lead with in walking out the process of maturing. Aligning your life with your strengths is the way you will flourish in life. But what about those pesky weaknesses that trip us up and constantly buffet us, possibly leading us off course into becoming someone we aren’t and don’t want to be? If we ignore them long enough will they just go away? Most of us who have lived a couple of decades or more can vouch for the fact that they don’t!

Back to the definition of the word “distill”. Sounds like you simply subject yourself to a process of “vaporization”, “subsequent condensation”, “purification”, “extraction of the volatile components” and subsequently “transformation” somehow happens. Sounds fairly brutal, doesn’t it?

The easy part is that you won’t have to seek out the things that will cause you to be “vaporized, condensed, purified, and perhaps transformed”! Life will provide an abundance of those kind of opportunities to facilitate this process in you. All you have to do is respond in character with your God-given design, respond from the best part of yourself rather than the worst. With each opportunity you have the priviledge of choice – you get to choose whether to let it bring out the best or the worst in you.

Back to the word “essence”. In one sense, we are all born with a unique “essence” that does not change. I grew up hearing Shakespeare’s saying, “To thine own self be true”. One of the most powerful tools and weapons we have to navigate life with is the profound and clear understanding of what is “changeless” about ourselves. The more true we are to that revelation, the more authentic we will be. Knowing what is changeless about you gives you the “plumbline” that pulls you back to center when you get “hit” by whatever life throws at you, whatever threatens to make you lose your balance.

But in the #2 part of the definition above, there is a sense of “obtaining an essence” after going through a long process of distilling. This is the other half of the equation. We get to CHOOSE who we will become over and over again with every opportunity life throws our way, for better or for worse. Wow – that’s a lot of power! We get to choose “how” or even “if” we will live out the destiny we are born with. Sometimes that feels scary to me, sometimes it fuels and motivates me greatly.

Today I’m reminding myself that I get to choose my way – choose how to better live according to my own blueprint, choose how to redirect myself when my weaknesses appear and live in the strengths I have been given. I think maybe this is one way to describe what it means to live “fully alive”.

The famous words of St. Irenaeus have been around for centuries now, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” Maybe God smiles like a proud parent when the “glimmers” of the dreams He had for our lives in the beginning emerge as “flashes of light” through us as mature people.