Well, let me tell you how this goes: I always have some things to say until I sit down in front of my computer to write them, and then: woosh! they vanish into thin air. It’s as if all of the thoughts that are always going through my head get together and have little meetings - like a committee of tricksters that agree to convince me it is a good time to get some of them out on paper, and then scurry away into their cracks and recesses just after I put my fingers on the keyboard. Those mutinous traitors!
It is kind of a new year for me, as I just turned 22, and well, I suppose it’s only really another second for me, and for you, too, but I guess this morning I woke up with the sorts of thoughts that one has on the first of January: with determined resolve to change some things. Or just to be some things. So, I suppose that I’ll start off by saying what I am, now.
What I am now is retrospective. I don’t feel any older, so I’m tempted to pretend that I’m not.
I spent so many birthdays ecstatic about my grandma telling me what a grown up boy I’ve become, but now I get sad that my Gawa is getting older, and my Boppa isn’t doing too well, and I can’t help but picture myself as a child in the middle of their think-carpeted TV room in the house on Hanstead, willing the memory not to jump for joy at growing older.
Were my grandparents really excited with me? Or did they mask their sadness with smiles, knowing there was nothing they could do to stop the cyclical, universally generational longing for age whose end would never satisfy the means?
But I don’t want to live a life of vain regret, and I’m not so naive so as not to believe one of the times under the sun is a time for happiness, too.
I’ve read a couple of books recently by authors and theologians whom I respect that say life gets better with age.
They say it gets sweeter.
That sounds beautiful to me. Despite all of the pain that I have struggled through, especially this year, life has a depth that it didn’t used to. I told a friend back home that life has been like growing up on fast forward. Even though maybe this is what becoming a man is, I sometimes feel more confused and lost than the little boy in his grandparent’s house.
I’m changing. I hope that means I’m being transformed from one degree of glory to another. I imagine that it would be very true, indeed, to talk about life getting better and sweeter with age if the end and most prized possession is Christ, and the pain is a means of sanctification into a depth of intimacy only possible beyond the flames of refinement.
Perhaps that’s a bit of insight into “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.”
I spent a whole lot of childhood wishing I was older. Yesterday, I was talking to Brandi and Veronica, and they were talking about their favorite years. Brandi was saying how much she loved eighth grade, and I was trying to remember a single thing about it. She was saying how she never really wished that she were somewhere else, or a year older, or wishing that she could do more or be more than what she was. If there is ever a thing that I envy…
I would say that God has graced Brandi with the ability to be who she is, unabashedly. Unashamedly. Sometimes, that manifests itself in pride which is in need of redemption, but I think that a lot of times, over the years, I have misconceived her passion, conviction and confidence as a sinful unwillingness to grow when, in reality, it has been a character trait that I never understood, because it is something that I never acted out of.
Don’t get me wrong, I am passionate. I have convictions that I cling to, especially as I age, but I’ve spent many a conversation with my wife trying to explain to her that I’m not sure who I am because I was always wishing I was someone else, or somewhere else, or wishing I was doing something else. I was always the tolerant one for the sake of avoiding conflict. I was always the excuser of sin at the expense of Christ’s grace. A lot of that was unintentional and simply had to do with growth and understanding and developing a moral compass and heeding conscience and the conviction of the Holy Spirit, but a lot of it was in the name of a liberal and relativistic “Christianity” that wanted only part of the whole. I love that the psalms model repentant prayer for both intentional and unintentional offense (“Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults. Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.” -Psalm 19:12-13 ESV).
In varying degrees, this idea of living in the present tense and being content with it remains my greatest struggle. White Collar, Brandi & I have been rotating through bible studies every Monday and Thursday, and a couple of weeks ago, Phillip played us one of Rob Bell’s Nooma videos about Jesus’ teaching on anxiety - the one where a bunch of people get out of their cars and run to the shoreline to watch the sun coming up over the horizon. I kind of tread lightly with Mr. Bell nowadays, but a good amount of things that he has to say are insightful, and I left that small meeting with the conviction that I either live in the past, or in the future, but I absolutely do not live in the present: the perfect recipe not only for discontentment, but for resent.
And, frankly, arrogance.
Where Christ says not to worry about the days that are not promised me, I say I know better and I’ll spend the time you’ve given me making false prophecies about my (surely) devastating future.
And so I suppose my prayer for the seconds and minutes and hours and days and months to come this year is to be a frugal, shrewd, faithful and competent steward of the time, energy, money, etc, that God has given me, and to do it in the present. After all, none of those things are mine, anyway. They’re just gifts that I’ve been allowed to borrow. To live a life whose seconds are defined by regret seems, to me, a very wasteful time. May Christ increase as I decrease, because what could I possibly regret in him?
Somewhere in the latest issue of Juxtapose magazine, there is an interview with an artist who said something that resonated within me. I wish I could tell you who the artist was, or even what the exact quote was, but I merely happened past it flipping through the magazine a few days ago. He was talking about being focused, and said something to the extent of no one knowing what it is to be focused anymore, because people are so scatterbrained with the options the world offers them. He said it didn’t used to be that way, because there didn’t used to be limitless potential for everyone, and the world didn’t used to be everyone’s oyster, and there weren’t fifty million different career paths to choose from. You just did what you did, and you were an expert at what you did and you did it well.
Along with wanting to live a life of conviction, with beliefs and foundations that I stand on in confidence, I want to have interests that I love, because another underdeveloped bit of my character is simply this: what do I like? What do I care about? What kind of art do I like enough to invest in it? What candy bar do I like enough to not have to worry about missing out on eating a different one? What cause am I so passionate about that I don’t feel guilty about not having stood for another one of equal significance? What friend can I sit in conversation with and be content enough to relax as opposed to condemning myself for not being in conversation for a different one, somewhere else? What tattoo do I like enough to put on my arm when there is limitless potential for a different one to be put there? What do I invest my all into, when I could invest it into something else? I think that we spend a lot of time thinking we’ll be more content with a scatterbrained, decent hand in everything than a focused hand in a developed expertise.
My prayer is that the Holy Spirit would teach me patience and contentment in him. That he’d remind me that life doesn’t happen overnight. That he’d make me okay with growth into whatever a man is, and that he’d make me into a confident man. A decision-making man that does things that he does as unto the Lord. A man that seeks to develop, refine, and become an expert at his craft to the glory of Christ’s name, as opposed to a nervous false prophet who does too many things because he’s afraid to dedicate himself to one of them. I pray that I would be a good husband to my wife and that I would be faithful in the little things, and that the Lord would continue to be gracious to me in allowing me to borrow his resources as provision for her. I pray that I would experience the sweetness of a life that’s continuing, and that Christ would truly be my prize, and that he would allow me to love life, and not to regret it: to view the days as more than a succession of tasks to be accomplished before I press repeat.
I have known dissatisfaction in a lot of things, but never in Jesus Christ. May I exist for you, by whom and through whom and for whom all things exist.