Thursday, December 31, 2015

From Beginning to End: Reflections on a New Year- and New Life

The last day of the year: it's such an opportune time to look back at what the past year held and tell ourselves the story of what happened to us, what we learned, what we lost, what we gained, what was good and what was bad, and how the coming year will be different. 

But as I sit here on the final day of 2015- a year that did teach me a lot, that did contain losses and gains, goods and bads- I realize that slowly, over time, as my perspective of life itself has changed, so has my sense of both timekeeping and self-improvement. 

My tendency to break life up in years- these sort of arbitrary markers of how long things last or how old they are- has diminished a lot, and in its place has come a perspective that is much more rooted in a sense of eternity, not connected so much to 'the spanning of time' as to 'the depth of inner growth.'

If I only get 30 years on earth but I stay curious, alive, joyful, and maturing, it will be better than to get 80 years and cease learning, stop exploring, and age but not get better

The biggest change in my life these past few years has been, and continues to be, a deepening relationship with God (even more so than a deepening relationship with just myself), and it has moved me from looking at life like this 'route' I'll have to follow and drudge through for as long as I'm on earth to this adventure I am blessed to go on because I have found that the meaning of this life lies quite far beyond it. 

When I am focused on myself or the world, I become sad and disheartened and lost- but if I am focused on higher love, I become joyful and emboldened beyond myself.
It's been a year of not necessarily building more and more into my life, but simplifying: and in that simplicity, finding a deep sense of truth, an awareness of more, that I would not have been able to see had I not walked the path. There are some things in life that become real only when they are experienced, when they are done: not talked or dreamt or imagined or theorized about. 

A relationship with God- and within that, the unfathomable sense of being home, content beyond all circumstance- was one of those things I couldn't know was so valuable until I obediently walked that path (and stayed long enough to see the fruit). Life is not a heaping up of a number of years, but an experience, a journey toward some greater thing. 

C.S. Lewis says it well: 'Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. But if I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.' 

It's been this awareness (in a literal, not metaphorical way) that we seem created for more than this world immediately offers us that has lead me, however skeptically and doubtfully in myself at first, to where I am now, putting the Lord first in my life. Every inner desire that we have- on a base and primitive level as well as on a heart-felt, more emotional level- seems designed to point us to something all together greater.
I never noticed how prone we are- not as a matter of personality or intelligence or education or generation or anything else, but simply as human beings- to take what the world offers us in status, money, power, validation, sex, gratification, wealth, comfort- and assume that those things are ultimately satisfying. They satisfy the desire to which they are attached- but they do not come close to satisfying the deeper desires in our souls for belonging, understanding, authenticity, real living, real self-knowing, and love that we all deeply crave.

And yet- that's what we tend to use them for. Every stimulation we feel on earth pulses with our need for God, pushes us toward a union and a bond so vital to our souls that we do not see how empty and hollow and lost we have been without it- until it comes back to us. 

"If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy [this more ultimate desire], that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. 

If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise or to be unthankful for these earthly blessings; and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that country and to help others to do the same." -C.S. Lewis

The mission of earth is Heaven, a greater beyond, or I can't tell what else it would be at all. Even the satisfaction of all my pleasures and the deliverance of every desire right when I wanted it; even an existence of total and complete comfort and painlessness wouldn't necessarily seem to make life worth anything more at all. 
I had thought I was made for the satisfaction of my own desires, for my own happiness (if I had thought I was 'made' for anything at all, really). I have learned that I was made for intimacy with God- which really just means a working relationship with something within me that is not "me" (as I understand myself and my experiences, and as I judge myself, but the "me" that is so much more pure and real and innocent than that), which is a relationship so much more satisfying than the one I have within the world, within the monotony of every day life. 

I still have to live in this world, of course (and do all the things that everybody needs to do: pay bills, make money, go to work, shop for food), but I think when we are really meditatively and quietly reflective on our truest selves- in our happiest hours and in our darkest- we know there is more. It's not even a very 'spiritual' idea- it's a pretty literal observation, a common feeling. 

It's less intuitive- but definitely wise and insightful- to inquire as to what  that sense of 'more' actually is; to realize that we wouldn't feel it if it didn't have a knowable, trustworthy name; to realize it is available to us constantly and eternally; and that the sooner we get to know it the more opportunity we create for ourselves to have life mean something.   

I realize even as I type these words that a 'spiritual' quality of life is also a real thing, and a real thing that manifests not in words or the ability to 'study certain religious doctrines' or articulate certain religious or spiritual ideas, but manifests as the ability to live life constantly pursuing our specific set of God-given passions, purposes, and expressions. 
To be spiritual means that we have found what it takes to be continuously alive- not just stimulated by different experiences, but really alive, integrated, with a sense of wholeness and oneness and honestly and authenticity, because if we are willing to come out of hiding from God, then we must be willing to come out of hiding with ourselves

Life takes on a quality of realness when we live it openly, in love, without fear. I'm less concerned with 'how old I am,' 'what the year ahead will bring,' or 'how things will be different' and more concerned with being aware of where God wants me, what He has planned for me, and what I can do for Him and His purposes, which are always- regardless of the year, the time, the culture, the trends, the circumstances- lovely, beautiful, awe-inspiring, and good.

So here's to 2016 bringing not just what is self-serving or comfortable or profound, but what is simply good.


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