Every once in awhile an athlete or actor or singer wins an award of some sort and then feels the need to inspire the next generation with something like, ‘I want to thank God for helping me’ (because apparently God wanted you specifically to win an Oscar more than those other people…). Then saying, ‘I just want to say to all of you out there – you too can accomplish your dreams! You just need to believe in yourself and never, ever, give up trying!’
Now I don’t want to be an old negative-nelly-pants (who would?) but that’s not really true. You can never be an award winning singer if you can’t sing, you can’t dunk a basketball if you’re four-foot-six with arthritic knees, you can’t be a brain surgeon if your IQ is south of 70, and you can’t remember whether you closed the garage door if you’re Brian.
But somehow most of us feel it, even though we might deny it at first – our worth is attached to our accomplishments. The need to succeed: the unseen pressure to stay busy, take on another project, accept more responsibility. Our lives have to always be going somewhere, gathering assets, impressing someone.
There is usually another money-making opportunity and you can’t be nice if you want to get ahead. There is always another leadership seminar or strategy lurking nearby to give us new motivation to manage ourselves and lead others better. They cost a few hundred dollars and fill our brains more information (20% of which we can use, 10% of which we actually use, 0-5% of which we continue to use).
But still we hurdle through each work day, grabbing food when we can, stressed in ways that are only partly visible, dragging our families with us. Then the weekend comes and we rush through the list of chores at home or the cottage or church.
Maybe you’re an introvert and people exhaust you; maybe you’re not smart enough to handle that promotion; maybe you don’t care about red gidgets and would rather spend your time with green gadgets. Our lives are too easily driven by a false narrative about what is important only to be haunted by disappointment in ourselves when we can’t keep up.
So, what would be so wrong with doing what you should be doing instead of what you think you should be doing?
When I was a pastor I had a three-foot long shelf in my library crammed with ‘church growth’ books. You see, that is what evangelical pastors do, they grow churches – or they don’t. Then feel inadequate themselves or angry at the others in their church who don’t feel the same passion. To this day I can fill you full of information about how to do that sort of thing even though I don’t have any of those books on any shelf any more.
There is more story to it of course but the bottom line was that I realized that I wasn’t made to grow a church. I didn’t want to vision cast or formulate mission statements or oversee policy or chair meetings or market religion or discipline volunteers or strategize the Christmas programming in July. More importantly I realized that the people who wrote those books were alpha leaders or larger than life personalities or workaholics or driven and gifted in ways that I was not. They loved a challenge, believed in the organization, fixated on success and were drawn to people like themselves.
Me, I was a pastor. I didn’t want to confront people about their dedication or bend a congregation to a new perspective. I didn’t want to undertake building projects or work seventy hour weeks. I wanted to bless people and walk with them and hear them and share the little bit of Jesus that came out of my life.
A few years ago I spent some time on a silent retreat. Let me explain what a silent retreat is: a silent retreat is a retreat where you stay silent… So the way it works is, there is no artificial sound: no phones, music, no talking. So, you know … silent.
At first it was difficult: boring, weird, unnatural. But I will never forget the drive back to Toronto and my soul longing, almost screaming that it wanted to return to the stillness and simplicity. Even thinking about it years later creates warm longings.
I believe we need to create more spaces in our lives for quiet, for the things in our soul. To just Be.
The Hebrew word for soul is nephesh, a strange word that means something like ‘throat’. If you think about it, that choke point in your throat that your breath, food, drink, voice all share is kind of a good way of expressing it. It’s a way of explaining the centre of who we are. In the book Immortal Diamond, Richard Rohr describes it as ‘… who you are in God and who God is in you.’
Jesus famously posed this question to his disciples: ‘And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?’ Or in my words, what good is it to get whatever you want in life but lose who you are? Is accomplishment worth exchanging for the things you were created to do?
My wife Cheryl is an artist. No, not professionally – she is an amateur hobbyist who enjoys playing and learning with paints and a brush or palette knife in hand. Her second-most-recent creation of that type is pictured here on the wall of the room where I do most of my blogging.
She paints portraits and landscapes but her real joy is creating abstracts that blend shape, colour and texture. Time in front of the easel slips past effortlessly, fulfils some passion inside, and makes her happy. She doesn’t feel the need to be a great artist or to make money from her paintings – she just loves to do it. I love watching her paint, sometimes with grace, sometimes with effort but always with enjoyment and I can’t help but think That is what you should be doing now – you’re in the sweet spot of God’s goodness.
I’m not suggesting that you make major life changes. On the other hand maybe I am.
But at the very least, try to find more time for your passions, the desires of your heart and soul. Do more of what you were made to do:
- take a real, phone-less vacation;
- sit under a tree for no reason;
- spend more time with the people you love;
- get your nails dirty in the garden;
- sit around a campfire and let yourself smell smokey;
- look at those flowers, birds, whatever;
- read a book;
- take a day of rest;
- sing that song until your voice cracks;
- be quiet;
- put that hammock to work swinging in the shade;
- whatever comes in to your brain to do.
And just Be.
…for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. (Phil. 4:11-12)