Thursday, May 14, 2015

Life in Choice: Abundance from Simplicity

"Beware the barrenness of a busy life." -Socrates 

Today I wanted to write about being busy

I sat down to think about when the last time I felt busy was: like there wasn't enough time, like there was too much to do (and not enough energy, or desire, to do it), like I couldn't get it all in; like work was too overwhelming or demanding, like peer of family pressure, however subtle or subconscious, made it all seem like too much.

And I realized something I never thought I'd be able to call a reality: I don't know when the last time I felt 'busy' was. I haven't felt busy (for more than a day or two, maybe) in a long time. Busy hasn't defined my life or my time, at least persistently enough to describe my life over any given time. But I have felt productive, like I'm doing a lot; accomplished, satisfied with work; like I'm learning a lot. 
Ironically, I realized this too:

The times in my life where I've felt the busiest I was actually accomplishing the least. The times when the anxiety of busy has been absent, I've accomplished the most- and enjoyed it the most.

When I was younger I used to be busy a lot: run to work, run home; run to-and-from unintentional (and often uninspiring) relationships. We all go through phases like that I guess: life happens and we find ourselves in places- and frames of mind- we didn't expect to be. We check everything off the list and go to sleep and do it all over again- sort of meaninglessly, and mindlessly, maybe saying it felt accomplished but feeling, if we're honest with ourselves (which we so often are not when we don't want to face things that may be difficult to change), pretty fruitless.
It's been about two years since I returned from volunteering in South America and allowed myself to process that experience, to allow it to have an impact on the way I perceived my life. This was certainly a point where a lot changed for me: it made me more mindful of privilege, and more acutely aware of how lucky I am. 

And it made me stop running from one thing to the next in life- it made me reset. It made me leave a comfortable corporate job, a comfortable family life that was more toxic than healthy and genuine, and stale relationships that prohibited growth. It forced a lot of changed that, though positive, did hurt much of the time. Lots of change often means lots of loss, and that feeling of 'free fall,' like the future isn't very defined- and that is scary.

But it also made me realize that to live a fierce life- brave, authentic, honest to myself- from the core of my being, I'd have to be convicted by walking with a guide whose intuition surpassed my own- because I had no idea where I was going. As I got closer to Christ, I got farther from certain people, I got closer to myself, and my values changed: I stopped wanting the comfort that the world offered, and I started, over time, wanting the greatness (in a humble way) that I felt called to, beyond the comfortable model that the world provided. Spirituality became a real thing, not just a theory; not the finding of a religion, but a way to live, and be.
But not called to 'greatness' like the world tells you is great. The world tells you that prestige is great, that credit is great, that validation is great, that proving yourself is great. That having more than the next person is great; that competing with your fellow man is great.

A life lived for God means that greatness is a quality of heart. Prestige, credit, validation, or recognition may or may not be a byproduct of your walk with God, but they certainly can't be the motivation- or you're still walking according to your own standards and desires, and not His. Following Him, and not yourself, is a refining process to go through.

I learned that when we actively chose to run toward the Lord, we change. On a heart level, we change: our ultimate values, desires, and core beliefs about who we are and why we are here change. As we actively change our perspective to running towards something, we stop the behavior of running from things. We seek greatness not so much from constantly trying to self-transform, but from conscientiously seeking the thing which contains greatness itself. And in doing so, we discover that who God calls us to be is the 'us' we've wanted to be all along. 
A Biblically-led life means lots of things, but one of which is the real implementation of something I had previously sought from all sorts of other philosophies- psychological and spiritual- and that is: that if you really want to come alive, you cannot simply think your way into and out of every moment of your life. There is something you need to believe. There is something you already do- even if it's disbelief. Both are choices.

You can think, know, and intellectually understand anything, but you will never develop a positive character for the person you wish to become unless you understand that your fundamental beliefs, not thoughts, about the world- and about yourself- are ultimately what shape you. What you think of this world is a reflection of what you think of yourself. Your opinion of this world is a confession of your character.

For me, this shift in thinking changed a lot. It came right down to living with the awareness that choices make life. Spiritual, financial, nutritional, creative, personal, relational, the list goes on- we make choices daily in all of these areas, and something began to dawn on me when I returned from life abroad that made me see how little conviction I had previously had (not that I lacked the desire to want to have that conviction) in many of them.
Now, there's a choice to paint everyday instead of being consumed by a job that stresses me out, or by feeling like I need to engage in relationships that are not actually growing me as a person.

There's a choice to spend hours writing- thinking, thought-gathering, paying attention, creating myself- so that I have something to say and can share a narrative of life, instead of watching television.

There's a choice to surround myself with people who support who I am even if it means temporarily enduring the backlash of disingenuine people who don't like it, instead of finding myself in inauthentic relationship.

There's a choice to put spiritual growth first in my life amidst the social, relational, and financial demands of the world that would never tell me this is worth it.

It made me realize that choice is effective and liberating when it is active and made with conviction. Creative growth emerges inevitably. 
When we feel busy, it often means that we're not making the choice, among other things, to be still, to live still. To be still in our hearts and not just in our thoughts. We can't, for example, run to and from yoga classes and expect that action alone to calm or center us, to deliver the effects we're imagining, if we're not making the choice to go to yoga class from a place of genuine desire for change. 

The choice has to come from the convicted idea that we want some kind of inner transformation- not appeasement- to take place. The choice has to be rooted in some kind of desire for surrender to that which no longer serves us- and pursuit of that which really does.

We can't seek Christ if what we want is a more risk-free, comfortable life free of suffering and full of smooth sailing. We live in a world which promises us comfort and happiness, which offers us all sorts of very human means of obtaining them, and the automatic desire to want those things and appease our own discomfort are tempting, but they don't last. 
If we don't make the choice to want God more than we want happiness- which is to say, our fullest expression as a human soul as conceived by the One who created it- happiness will, ironically, elude us too. We will rise only to the occasions to which we feel worthy, and there is a choice involved in belief: in believing that we were made for some purpose, and that we are forgiven, loved, and free. Sometimes it is a choice that takes a long time to make, and that is okay. There is also a choice involved in disbelief, in believing that we were not made with any meaning or for any purpose, that love isn't part of who we are, in believing that there is no reason to live other than for our own pleasure or advancement. 

It's not a matter of calling one belief 'right' and the other 'wrong,' it's a matter of recognizing that the choice we make to pick either route will determine the depth of our life. Wisdom involves this awareness: not only that we can but that we already do choose what we get out of life, and why

In the words of Thoreau, "it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things." Not to want our own pleasure or comfort so desperately that we forego character development to get it. There is a quality of desperation in staying busy- in go, go, going to get it all done without any real deep, driving, sense of purpose or reverence. 
When we pause long enough to feel not only our own lives and experience but their source, desperate living is replaced by intentional living: our concern is not whether we are above less-than-perfect circumstances all the time, but that we have the true peace to navigate whatever they are.

Life becomes full this way, but of the right things. We will feel we live in abundance only when gratitude for what is supersedes the desperation we feel when we live constantly worrying about what is missing. Spiritually, it means we are choosing to be filled more by the eternal source of God than by the temporary supplications of the world. Emotionally, it means we feel free as opposed to burdened. Mentally, it means we are not so hung up on our getting our own pleasure and more concerned with living lightly, so that we can lead ourselves, and inspire others.

All in all, it means that we actually believe life is what we would really like it to be: beautiful, and pretty simple.

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