A fun number I suppose. Not extraordinary. Not a nice round number ending in a tidy “0.” Not a number to be counted off by 5s. A palendrome to be sure, like all its elevensy kin. They don’t make special cards for 33rd birthdays.
Maybe they should.
I couldn’t tell you when or what sermon it was, but I remember hearing one of my favorite preachers, Alistair Begg, once say in a sermon something to the effect that he thought that God must love birthday parties because they are about celebrating life.
Life is certainly worth celebrating.
The calendar of my life will turn a page this week, and I will add another candle to the proverbial cake.
If I were a tree, the 2012-2013 growth ring would be very thin, and fire scorched on one side. This has not been the worst year of my life, but it certainly has been one of the leanest and most discouraging. There are a lot of reasons to take pause and want to forget most of the past year…
…but there is love and beauty to be found on even the darkest days.
I haven’t had a full-time job in eleven months. That’s not encouraging at all. The run-up to the election did not bode well for the job market for office contract work, it just didn’t. I eventually just gave up and decided to throw my hat in the ring for university.
Got in…to my first choice school…one of the most prestigeous universities in Southern California…very easily…on my first try. This wasn’t a gift — I worked really hard, have what it takes…and proved it.
But I can’t go.
Then the car accident.
Then the recovery.
I’ve been sick ever since, no prospects for work, little hope for school (though, on paper, I am “going” for fall; if I can find a cosigner I can make that a reality). No clue how I connect the dots from the ghetto to grad school (trying to finish the last two years of undergrad in Theological Studies). No clue how or where I will find work — meaningful or not. No car in L.A. is no asset. Intelligence is no asset without the credentials to prove it.
My credentials prove nothing to potential employers (except, perhaps, instability). God has a plan in this somewhere. God? Yeah, hi — a little direction in this would be nice.
I watched God open doors in supernatural ways — open them WIDELY — toward a bright and promising future, the way out of so much long struggle and despair. I ended up at dinner with someone oblivious to the fact that he was the devil’s mouthpiece for temptation to the easy way through school.
Was I willing to compromise my integrity to accept help from someone with less-than-honorable motives?
[Sidebar: Realizing that what started out as a business meeting has turned into a dinner date with the devil is terrifying.]
All hell broke loose at that point. Thanks-be-to-God for protecting me from much worse harm last December. Much was broken and destroyed, but I am mostly intact. Life will go on.
A friend and a cousin each got married last summer (not to each other, but each to very lovely spouses) — blessed to be there.
Found Annie, lost Eleanor.
Lost a dear friend and mentor, got a precious baby niece.
Waiting for little Annie/Wentworth babies…any day. A second generation of beautiful and precious — the combination of the two best-tempered guinea pigs I’ve ever had. The kiddos of two of the most dear and precious pigs I’ve ever had. I’ve loved these little ones since long before they were born, I only wish Eleanor could know them.
I am waiting…waiting between now and forever.
In some ways? It’s hard to think about 33 — for in thirty-three years Jesus Christ was born, lived, accomplished his entire earthly ministry, died, rose, and ascended to heaven.
In thirty-three years…I can’t even seem to get my feet off the ground.
I was advised by a well-meaning friend back in 2000 to focus every bit of my energy and resources to getting back to school. I didn’t, and I’m not sorry. I was able to live a much richer life for making sure that I looked up, and out, and to the world and life beyond…not just singlely-focused on that vague thing “the future.” There were so many people to meet, so many lives to touch, so many things to see…things to learn…days to fully live.
And life is never fully lived when one focuses only on one’s own self. It is possible to miss all of life if too narrowly-focused (and what could be more narrow a focus than one’s own self?).
“The future” moves anyway. It’s clear where I’m supposed to be. God will get me there…someday.
Today is not that day; tomorrow doesn’t look good either.
There are moments when I am momentarily angry or sad for my struggle. Is it fair that I have had to struggle so hard for so long…only to just stand still? Some of my former professors and friends share in this frustration. Sometimes blessings don’t seem to be distributed evenly or equatably — do little eighteen and nineteen year-old slackers with parents supporting them in everything really deserve a free ride? No, but we don’t live in a karmic universe. If life made sense, they would be living in the ghetto and pining for entry-level work.
Life doesn’t make sense, maybe life isn’t supposed to make sense, at least not in a karmic way anyway. I honestly don’t think it matters. Whether life is or isn’t fair, what does that really change about anything? Will singing the injustices of your own world really change anything? Not so much, but it will let you wallow in unalterable misery. Will that really change anything?
Yes: it will keep you miserable, self-centered and miserable.
Because, really, to some degree life really is what you make of it.
And at some point the question that needs to be asked, wrestled with, reckoned with is: what’s the point? What gets you up in the morning? Why bother getting up in the morning at all? What’s going to get you out of bed tomorrow morning?
Are you living life for yourself?
Are you living life for others?
Are you living life for God?
Are you living at all?
Are you merely alive and muddling through?
They’re honest questions, though perhaps incomfortable ones.
Living life for yourself: If you’re living life for yourself, you’ve set yourself up as the center of your own universe. Thus you get credit for the good, but when all hell breaks loose in your life, it’s on you to fix it — alone. Totally alone. You can’t give up, you can’t phone a friend, you just have to plod along. If this life is all there is, that’s it — the beginning and end of everything. Come what may, you’ve got to keep it together, because you’re all you’ve got. I know athiests who try to live good lives, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why. If no one’s keeping score, what’s the point of effort? In The Imitation of Christ, Thomas à Kempis writes at length on the idea that anything “great” one accomplishes in this world will be little noted nor long-remembered. Ashes-to-ashes, dust-to-dust, from dust you came, to dust you shall return. If we are all “dust” and no “soul,” there probably is no point. I absolutely DESPISE the writings of Eckhart Tolle, because I find him to be one preaching false ideas of “cafeteria spirituality” (take what you like of various theological and philosophical worldviews, crowd it together on a tray, and leave the rest), but one thing I think he got at least somewhat right is that most people live their lives in light of their own egos. His “what to do about that” is a view I feel to be dead wrong, but that’s another story for another post I never wish to write. But if you travel through life, perhaps driven by ego, as the center of your own universe, are you — yourself — reason enough for the universe to exist? If you are perhaps not an atheist but a vague deist trying to live a good and moral life, who sets the standard? How good is “good enough” to squeak into a benevolent afterlife? If it’s all on you — can you do it? Eternity is at stake here (no pressure). Living for yourself is empty, very empty.
Living life for others: Living life for others isn’t exactly wrong…unless you’re living life only for others. Because if you’re living life only for others, you’re setting yourself to be the center of someone else’s universe. It’s a quick trip to holding up all of the sky at that point. The pressure of living to carry the lives of others is enormous — no pressure, but you never get a day off and can never, ever, ever fail.
Not fail, not ever.
Your entire life exists for the sole purpose of only serving other humans — perhaps only one other human — with no higher purpose apart from this service. There is no glory or honor in that, you are a slave. And — no matter how much you love the person or how lovely the person might otherwise be — people are inconstant and disappointing. Eventually there will come a moment of resenting and feeling trapped under the weight of this life. “Oh, no, that sounds terrible…I’d never do that.” No? What’s first in your life? If you’re the type of person who makes idols out of relationships or the type of parent who stops at nothing to serve your children, this just might be you. Don’t tell yourself it’s love, it might not be love. If it is an all-consuming obsession and drive to serve, it’s not love. As the Bob Dylan song goes:
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody
So what about the Lord?
Maybe this is the first of St. Val the Eccentric’s posts you’ve found. Could be…I’m an ecclectic person, I often throw a few odd tags — fitting, but odd — into every post. I have a pretty ecclectic following. If you’re following me, I’ve read at least some of your blog — enough to get a picture of who you are and what you’re about. I love the “tag cloud” widgit — tag clouds give a beautiful picture of what we write about. The biggest words in my tag cloud are: Christ, Christianity, encouragement, guinea pigs, hope, love, and theology.
This is me.
I am about hope, love, and encouragement all rooted in Christ Jesus (and also about guinea pigs, because I am “fearfully and wonderfully made,” and God decided I was supposed to be the Guinea Pig Whisperer, and I’m okay with that).
Nothing is more practical than finding God,
that is than falling in a love in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination will affect everything.
It will decide what will get you out of bed in the mornings,
what you will do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read,
who you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in love, stay in love and it will decide everything.
— Pedro Arrupe, S.J. (1907-1919), former Superior General of the Society of Jesus (i.e., the Jesuits)
Living life for God: Some time in the past calendar year, I quietly crossed a line and have now lived longer “beyond” the day when I was so powerfully redeemed from death so many years ago than all my natural life before it. That’s something to give me real pause. I’ve lived long enough to know and experience profound loss, and to also experience profound gratitude for the precious pieces of my life that remain. I struggle, however, with a general “elevator pitch” statement for why you, too, should love Jesus. All I know is that I was powerfully redeemed from death through faith and prayer, I am not the same person I was, God always keeps his promises (“I will never leave you or forsake you” being among them), and that even though sometimes God can seem to disappoint because my life doesn’t quite go the way I think it should…God is still sovereign and comes up with answers that are (in the end) better. My life is just better for God being in charge. I’m not sure I have a better answer than that.
A friend of mine sent me a quotation she found in her studies a few days ago:
“Faith is an expression of the fact that we exist so that the infinite God can dwell in us and work through us for the well-being of the whole creation. If faith denies anything, it denies that we are tiny, self-obsessed specks of matter who are reaching for the stars but remain hopelessly nailed to the earth stuck in our own self-absorption. Faith is the first part of the bridge from self-centeredness to generosity.”
— Volf, Miroslav (2009-08-30). Free of Charge (p 44). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
“Men and Women for Others”: Pedro Arrupe, S.J. coined the phrase “men and women for others” in a famous 1973 address on the feast day of Ignatius of Loyola when he declared:
“[O]ur primary educational objective must be to form men and women for others, who believe that a love of self or of God that does not issue forth in justice for the least of their neighbors is a farce.”
That was part of the prompt I picked for my university admissions essay, and it’s stuck with me ever since. “Men and women for others” — isn’t that a very large componant of Christian discipleship?
I think it is (and argued it deftly…and will someday finish editing that essay to blog format).
Because the difference between merely living for others and living for God for others is that when we live for God for others, the motive is to serve God. What is on offer from God is such a beautiful and powerful gift — life, eternal and beautiful; we do not work for the kingdom to earn salvation, we work for the kingdom to glorify God with our lives in a gratitude response of obedience to his call to love and to serve. It’s a beautiful thing. Life and love are meant to be celebrated, not kept in a box on a shelf.