Not long ago I was sitting on a dock, watching boats scoot across the lake, when one of my wife’s co-workers started talking about her daughter. I learned she was in her late twenties, not too far removed from college, yet she had spent three years living in London. And during that time she managed to swing a summer in Paris as well. She eventually took a job with the FBI but didn’t enjoy it. So when her boyfriend got a job in Tajikistan, she decided to quit her job at the FBI and go with him. And right now she’s teaching English there. The more I learned about her, the bleaker I felt about my life, as if everything I’m doing is dull and uninteresting.
I tried not to, but all afternoon I kept thinking to myself, “What if there’s something better for me out there, something better than what I’m doing now?”
It’s not the first time such a question has crossed my mind, and I know I’m not the first one to ask it. Like most people I’m pretty good at dreaming up a future that looks better than the present; nonetheless, I’m discovering there is an inordinate number of people around my age (26) who are just as apt at dreaming up alternative realities. Unfortunately they’re also plagued by a sense of restlessness, constantly wondering why the life they’re living feels so far removed from the life they had hoped. And to make matters worse, they feel disoriented as well, such that they are incapacitated when it comes time to make any firm decision as to what to do, or what to believe, or where to live, or who to marry, or well, almost anything.
A desire for something more or something different isn’t unique to any one generation, but today’s context is clearly unique. In every area of life there are more choices available to individuals than ever before, and all of these choices complicate one’s ability to construct an identity and to confidently navigate the terrain toward becoming a mature adult.
Though our access to options, alternatives, and choices is something worth celebrating, when you have too many choices it can be paralyzing. Consequentially, a culture of endless choices means more and more people are wandering from one relationship to the next, one job to the next, one housing situation to the next—all the while discontent and dissatisfied, wondering if the next thing is going to be the better thing.
I reserve the right to be wrong, but it seems a lot of people, specifically young people, have aimed their boats at some utopian horizon and set sail with no intention of ever dropping an anchor, because in their mind settling down or settling in means closing the door to something better than what they’re doing now. And what they’re doing now seems so far removed from the ideal they’ve concocted in their minds.
Naturally, when you find yourself confronted with a reality you don’t like it’s tempting to consider all the options available to you as a way out, but if we have even the slightest desire to grow and mature then we have to eventually make a choice and stick with it. We’ll never have complete certainty or unwavering confidence regarding the weightiest decisions, at least not from the outset, but in spite of this, we must commit to something because it is the first step towards building a foundation you can jump off of into the world.
To all of you who view the world as highly complex and ambiguous, I know how tempting it is to deconstruct everything and to play out countless scenarios until everything has a question mark beside it, but deconstruction is a pointless venture, at least on a personal level, if you don’t first have something constructed, and that requires making some decisions.
I’m fairly sure there’s no clear-cut solution or fool-proof process when it comes to making important decisions, but perhaps the first thing we all should do is slow down. Most of us are way too busy running from one thing to the next, and it’s keeping us on the surface of life. What this means is most of us are just floating from one activity to the next, allowing the wind to take us where it will, instead of living with intentionality. Even when we’re perfectly positioned to make a decision, we end up spending most of our time wallowing and complaining, and our focus is diverted away from decision and towards amusement or entertainment, which serves as a wonderful distraction but does nothing to help us grow up and become more fully ourselves.
Maybe it would be easier for us to slow down if we realized that God’s not in a hurry. The arc of history is long, and though our actions matter, they aren’t going to prevent God from accomplishing what God wants to accomplish.
I like the way Pierre Teilhard de Chardin puts it: “Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We would like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet, it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability—and that it may take a very long time. Above all, trust in the slow work of God, our loving vine-dresser.”
Slowing down and recognizing God’s not in hurry may help us stick with the commitments we’ve made, but if nothing else it will provide us with a clearer picture of what the world is actually like, something most of us try to ignore, consciously if not subconsciously.
It’s easier to live with an illusion when you spend little to no time reflecting on the world around you, but when you take a long, honest look at things, it’s impossible to live with a lie, at least not comfortably. Living with the truth that things aren’t as they should be in my life, your life, and the world at large may be one of the most difficult things we do as human beings, and I’m convinced it plays some role in our aversion to commitment and intense desire to avoid the pain, fear, frustration and angst that comes with disillusionment.
And so we must remember the kingdom of God is “already, but not yet.” We can’t escape this tension. The kingdom of God is not fully realized right now, but at the same time it’s not merely a future reality. In the midst of chaos, suffering, confusion, loss, and despair, we still have hope, and our efforts to restore the broken places of our world are not in vain.
So hang in there and remain with it even when things get messy and difficult, especially when things get messy and difficult. The next thing, whatever it is, doesn’t posses enough power to deliver on the promises it makes, unless that thing is God, and God is perfectly fine moving slow and doing so in the midst of less than ideal circumstances, as if there is such thing as an ideal circumstance anyway.
Of course there are perfectly good reasons for not making a decision or commitment, and there are perfectly good reasons for making a different decision or commitment. But sometimes deciding to remain is what you really need to do; matter of fact, to dig deeper and establish yourself with a person, a people, a place, or a belief system could be the most transformative thing you’ve ever done.
All that to say, encouraging people to slow down and drop an anchor may be the first step towards addressing the pervasive discontent in our culture, but in slowing down we will undoubtedly discover something even more critical—many of us don’t have an anchor.
Maybe what we need most is a renewed commitment to participating in, or maybe even establishing, a community that gathers for the expressed purpose of asking difficult questions and wrestling with things of ultimate concern. And imagine if this community was also committed to accepting all persons and happily invited them to join in with everyone else as they wrestle together towards a more refined understanding of selfhood, God, the “other,” and the whole cosmos.
I have high hopes for the Body of Christ and what it can be, because when you don’t know what to do, or what to decide, I’d like to believe church is a place where you can go and admit you don’t have all the answers. And if your plans have gone awry, I’d like to believe church is a place where you unload your frustrations. More than anything I’d like to believe church is a place of transformation and not merely information, a place where you can slow down and uncover the deeper self that is you—because ultimately, it is this deeper self, or true self, to which you must be faithful in a culture of choices.
Thus if we hope to have anything of value to offer the world, it is of paramount concern that we find this center, our soul, God in us, and live from it. Not to mention, living from this center provides us with a remedy to the restlessness, discontent and disillusionment some believe is a mainstay in their lives.
But the ramifications are even more far reaching. Loyalty, or what we might also term “steadfast faithfulness,” to the journey of self-discovery profoundly affects all of our other loyalties. If we don’t know who we are, who we really are, then we are more likely to give our attention and time to persons, places, and things that provide us with the most return or personal benefit rather than giving ourselves more fully to God and God’s work in the world.
And so we need a place where we are both known by others and can come to know our-self more fully, a place where other human beings can look us in the eye, see us, hear us, hug us, and in doing so, ground us.
We need a community that is connected to a tradition, shaped by rituals, and possessive of a narrative or collection of narratives with enough power to shape our imagination such that we are compelled to live in and move through the world in a different way. In short, we need a shared way of life that is tried and true in order that we might settle down and find a home in it.
I recognize I’m about to restate myself, but what we commit to and whether we commit to anything at all matters. So if nothing else, hopefully you’ve grasped that we are surrounded by innumerable choices that stifle fidelity and result in little to no depth, little to no awareness of the peace that bubbles up from one’s center; therefore, we run the risk of experiencing and affecting little to no transformation, namely because transformation results from a decision to faithfully show up and give up, to sit both in silence and in community when it would be easier to submit to the noise and move from one community to the next.
So if you’re tired of wandering around and wondering what God wants you to do, stop doing and commit yourself to a community that is committed to God. Learn to be with some people who are interested in things of ultimate concern, and you might just discover that everything you ever wanted is right in front of you and all around you—it always has been, always will be, and is even now.