Sunday, April 12, 2015

Something Missing: Future, Vision, and the Purpose of Your Life

I haven't had time to write much in the past few days. Things have been busy: work commitments, art creation, life, planning, decision-making, and the demands (though pleasant and welcome) of friendships and other relationships have been more central than sitting down to let the words flow. 

But as often happens, if there's a shortage of time to sit and write the words, it's usually due to an increase in conversations and life events that prompt them in the first place. Art and writing are a part of my life on the basis of observation-making: staying aware and curious about the larger narratives going on in the world I live in, and being inspired to use those observations diligently and creatively. I haven't always done either art or writing with the consistency that I do them now: a lot of my life had to fall apart- and be released- to allow creativity, to allow a change in perspective about my world and what it means

It's a very literal thing, but also, abstract, somehow, to explain. A creative, happy life is not the result of thinking nearly as much as I thought it would be before I had one. It is more the result of feeling, and of trust- of vision and imagination- of allowing my life to be as it is, and allowing myself to be as and who I am. 
This is the idea that is so obvious and literal on one level- and so difficult, so terrifying, and so crazy, on another: that the quality of your life actually comes from how you feel about it- on this deeper, more imaginative (less-able-to-put-into-words, perhaps) level, than from how you think about it, as thinking is so contingent on what you believe you know to be the truth, and it is not a practice that lends itself well to change, innovation, learning, and narrating a new story (and therefore a new life) for yourself.

To live, really live, you have to be in touch with a deeper level of your being than just thinking. We hear often, from even the wisest philosophies and teachings, that your thoughts create your life. And that is true, to some degree- but we lesser often hear something more, something different: that your heart, or your soul- or your most inner sense of self- directs your thoughts in the first place. Yes, thoughts arise in the mind, but the are the result of something; they don't just arise from nowhere.

I look back on my life before I learned this, and I realize something that stands in great contrast to how I operate now: that thinking about the self- my problems, my circumstances, my losses, my future (that seems to be a hang up of each and every one of us, doesn't it?), my life, as far as I could see it- used to be the biggest expenditure of energy I put forth in a day: trying to work out a future that wasn't here, with a vision that didn't exist, for a purpose I didn't have.
So, I was not creative. I was stuck.

I didn't write much. I painted, sometimes. I didn't see beauty everywhere. I didn't love selflessly, but on my own terms and based on my own understanding of what love was. I acted from fear- of being seen and known, and not loved. I didn't invest time intentionally, but emotionally: based on fluctuating and inconsistent moods- not convictions, principles, or virtues.  I thought and thought and thought, I sought all kinds of knowledge and read all kinds of books, that I thought would fill what was missing and change my thinking, for good.  

I didn't share any art. I was not myself. I didn't know my heart- or I couldn't face it. I believed the story I had been telling myself about the worth of my life- it just wasn't the right one. 

And I realize that as I get closer to seeing the worth in my own story- seen from a creative vantage point so much bigger and bolder and more worthy than I could personally ever imagine myself to be- I get better at seeing the worth of other peoples' stories, too.

And that is why I haven't written the past few days: I am in a season of learning that most peoples' stories, like my own, are heavy
People are burdened. They're weary. They're tired. But they want creativity. They're jaded, or listless, or anxious. But they want beauty. They're working, they're 'moving forward,' they're striving- sometimes for their own happiness, sometimes to please others. But they want peace. We all want to live, and we all want love.

There is a discrepancy between the lives most people are actually living and the lives they actually want- and the distance between the two causes anxiety, people-pleasing, anger, hopelessness, emptiness, and fear. They want a whole new story- but they don't believe in their ability to create it, and they can't exactly see where it will lead them, so they feel stuck. Unless we are creative (good news: I believe wholeheartedly that we all are), we don't trust the future to turn out like we want it. Many people fear it, rather than chase it with enthusiasm

And, I generally find, they are surrounded by a lot of people who are really in the exact same boat- so it seems that no one surrounding them believes in them either. It's hard to find hope, and it's hard to change, when you cannot find anyone to uphold you, and you struggle to even uphold yourself.

Sometimes this is the boat you have to find yourself in before your Creator- and your own creativity- makes any sense to you. And then you're in a new story.
On Wednesday I met a friend for lunch: she is educated, smart; one of the kindest human beings I have ever met. She lives in the city she has always wanted to live in and is applying for jobs in a field she loves. We talked about her life, caught up on what was new: everything is going great, she is grateful, she has dreams and also some uncertainty about how to proceed towards them; nothing is really 'wrong,' but something seems to be missing.

For dinner, another friend: one I have known a shorter time; educated, smart; another very kind human being. She has a job doing something she loves (writing) but not for a purpose she cares anything about (she is a reporter for a large newspaper in a major city), or, she says, with people that seem to care much for what they're doing. She is grateful, she has dreams and also some uncertainty about how to proceed towards them; nothing is really 'wrong,' but something seems to be missing.

The following day, I met another friend for coffee. Different elements, same story. At this point I wanted to come home and write something along the lines of what I'm writing now- but I got a phone call from another friend. Same story.

By the time today came around, I had these thoughts stored up in my mind for a while. I wondered, why the onslaught of the particular expression, 'something is missing' so lately? And I wanted to write and reflect earlier, but as I had the weekend off, I thought some time out in nature would be good, so I went camping with a friend. Spiritually, I am going through a time in my life where I feel intensely and intimately close to God, which gives me a creative energy and boldness I don't think I would have otherwise- and that story is one I chronicle here often. 
(It is also sometimes why I don't write for several days: I am currently in the good habit of reading a lot, setting aside close to an hour or so a day to study the Bible in addition to reading other literature. The more I actively involve God in my life, the more His love seems to actively play a part in mine.) 

So I thought a combination of the two- God and nature- would be nice this weekend. I was looking forward to some quiet time: in any exchange of conversation where you play the role of the upholder- the one who lends an ear, who tries (as best as they can) to ease the worry of another, and offer compassion; the one who tries (as best as they can) to give loving advice, and withhold words which will not help based on the needs and wounds of the other person- it is something of a diligent, patient process. 

Listening well is an extremely active, mindful task. Having the right responses- and delivering them with the well-being of the other person in mind- takes selflessness. My time spent in prayer and engaged in the word of God, and spent welcoming His movement in my life on a daily basis, is a way for me to be upheld- to get energy and strength and creativity- from a source that has them eternally. I myself do not.
And I have no reason, no purpose, to be there for other people without condition- especially if the condition is that they all seem to need me for something at the same time- unless I am seeking the will of God first. This requires obedience. If I were living this life for only myself, and only my own happiness, I would have a breaking point: I would say, at some point, 'I can't talk about this now,' or I would get frustrated, or moody- and I certainly wouldn't spend hours thinking and writing about the encounters after the fact. 

There is a human amount of patience, and there is a Godly amount of patience. There is a human example of love, and there is a Christ-like example of love. There is happiness in a life of feeling good on your own terms and in your own understanding, and there is joy in a life of walking with God.

I am not seeking my own happiness, but seeking God- the thing that has my happiness- and that, every day, requires work. I have heard it said that the most dangerous prayer you can pray sincerely is use me: because He will. And 'your happiness' won't always be the result- but His purpose always will. And if you can learn to want His purpose before your happiness, the reward is this: nothing is missing. The 'what am I here for?' goes away. It is a feeling- an intuition, an instinct- not a thought. There is a wholeness found in finding yourself and your worth exclusively in the hands that made you.

Like real love, it is not a feeling, it is something more: an experience. You know it when you find it; it doesn't go away like a feeling. It stays with and in you; it is eternal.
As I was driving to camp with my friend, as luck would have it, I wound up hearing much of the same story as I heard days earlier (I have to admit, none of which I initiated. I would have been fine, at this point, lightheartedly joking about the stupid things we usually do.) But he was feeling burdened, heavy; like something was missing. So that is what, with an open heart, I listened to. 

When he went to get our camping permits, I stayed to rest a little bit, and I prayed. This whole week I've had some good news and some happy occurrences of my own, but the time to share has consistently seemed unfitting. And I know what it's like to feel down-and-out, to be self-absorbed and selfish even when you don't mean to be: the last thing you want to hear sometimes is how good someone else is doing. Simply, sometimes your good news just doesn't help someone else. And when people need upholding, and help, the Christian message is clear: you uphold them. And you have an unwavering trust, and patience, that your time will come. Your actions are convicted, not convenient.

While I was alone, I decided also at this point to pull out my Bible, which I brought with me in hopes of some personal quiet time. I opened randomly, scanning the words for something to connect the dots, for something to uphold me.
I had opened to the book of Philippians, and my eyes caught the header, 'Unity through Humility.' So I read. 'Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.' And I stopped reading. 

I remembered the words I read and reflected on myself from my post just last Easter weekend: 'If we can't say Thy will be done from the bottom of our hearts, we will never know any peace. We will feel compelled to try to control people and control our environment and make things the way we believe they ought to be.'

Everything now is a reminder: trust Him, trust Him, trust Him. Not 'try to help people the way you would' or 'try to control the situation.' I am learning to really trust: trust to let go, trust to have patience, trust to not work out the future, trust the story He is writing.
Something is missing, or something is found. We are lost, or we are home. When you start to love and seek Christ, that is when your heart changes- and that is when your life changes. The change is constant and ever-present in His hands. When just your thoughts change, they are susceptible to change again depending on circumstances. Faith does not depend on circumstances: in a way, it is much more stable than that. But it cannot be blind: being Christian makes life harder, not easier. It does go from feeling like a battle you can't win to a battle you can't lose, but either way, it's a battle.

But you're fighting on behalf of a different story now. One thing I did get to share with my friend while we were camping was the story I heard last weekend on Easter: that Biblical Christianity is the only spiritual practice in the world that is not contingent upon what you do. It is not for some and not others. You are already worthy of love whether you think so or not- this does a lot to eliminate purposelessness and meaninglessness. 

Your deeds, your past; whether you spent the last 5 years or fifty years feeling lost, purposeless, afraid of your own dreams and future, a little like something is missing; it's not important. You can come home at any time.
Turning to Christ is like being a child who turns around to see its mother and feels an immediate sense of home, and relief, and love. (Even if you had the misfortune of not being able to experience that on earth, you still crave it and you can still imagine what it would feel like. I have learned that there is a reason for that.) You don't have to forgo any other intellectual pursuits or try to shatter other concepts in which you believe to accept God. You simply want to want your heart to change.

The purest love is not something you can earn- and that is the hardest way in this world to understand that you are loved. You are not loved because of anything you did or did not do. You are loved the way an artist loves a creation or mother loves a child: instantly, because you are inherently dependent on that source for life, and because that source freely gave it to you. 

That is what it looks like to be a Christ-follower: to be someone who walks through life in love. And to be an example of that love to other people. You know very well who the judge is- and it's not you, so you don't do it. And that means: you love people right where they are. In all their brokenness, you listen. In all their lostness, you show love.
It's uncommon in the world. Most people- perhaps in their upbringing, in their family life, in relationships, in friendships, in the workplace- are loved conditionally. They feel, for whatever reason, that they cannot be fully themselves, or fully seen. There is not an overflow of love and joy from the people they are around most often- as there is continually from God. 

And I think we seek our own happiness as a means of comfort from that lack of intentionality which is in the world all around us- we try to figure out what this life means, as though because we are temporarily stimulated by something that feels good to us, this brings meaning to life itself. 

But nothing brings meaning to life itself like the One who creates it. They know it, nuance for nuance, best. There is a reason we feel it's within us, waiting to be known: we were designed to know it, intimately, relationally, through Christ. Knowing this changes the depth and intentionality of every human relationship we have. We can have everything else this world has to offer and still be missing that piece: unconditional love
People are burdened. Their stories are heavy. They're weary. They're tired, jaded, listless, anxious, working, 'moving forward,' striving. Christ is in the stopping, the remembering: who am I? What was I made for? How will I fulfill my purpose? What is my actual story? It's internal. The more you seek Him, the more He seeks you.

It is an intentional, mindful, sometimes difficult journey- but a wonderful adventure. 

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