Permit me to make an introduction.
I’d like you to meet a young Southerner of privileged upbringing, transplanted in New York City and unfortunately, not quite right in the head. His name is Will Barrett. And here is Walker Percy’s profile of Will as he notices what becomes a life-changing event:
“He was an unusual young man. But perhaps nowadays it is not so unusual. What distinguished him anyhow was this: He had to know everything before he could do anything….
For until this moment he had lived in a state of pure possibility, not knowing what sort of man he was or what he must do, and supposing therefore that he must be all men and do everything.
But after this morning’s incident his life took a turn in a particular direction. Thereafter he came to see that he was not destined to do everything but one or two things. Lucky is the man who does not secretly believe that every possibility is open to him.”
A Cancer on Contentment
An evasion of the actual is often a major detriment. Stated differently, living in a state of pure possibility, in imaginary places and times, can be cancerous on contentment, immobilizing to action, and a suspension destroying speed bump to embodying the image of God which is our calling.
As one ages, it gets increasingly tantalizing to linger in worlds which no longer exist, not as a way to embolden present faithfulness or to encourage future hardiness, but rather as a way to nurse self-pity. Or to lament a memory, whether accurate or no, of what once was, but now is not.
This imaginary sort of living can be dangerous for it often fertilizes an unmanageable kudzu growth of dissatisfaction. Nothing is as it should be, because nothing is as it used to be. Before we know it, joy and expectation are choked out of the forest floor of our hearts beneath a canopy of discontent. The present is just so black and white compared to the brilliant, HD Technicolor of our past.
As one enters though into the wide open space of adulthood, there is often a different sort of tendency. The imaginary world in which we live is one of envisioning with full sincerity, because we don’t yet know any better, that every option and possibility is open to us. And like a novice playing Dance Dance Revolution, our feet get horribly entangled and we become immobilized by the complexity of the APPEARANCE of all the different directions we presume to be able to run in all at once.
“Perhaps I’ll be a doctor, a missionary, a teacher, a business woman…” Before we know it, the thought of living in either Minnesota or Tampa, San Antonio or Portland, paralyzes us or else keeps us in an unsettled spin-cycle of second-guessing where every place we are is worse than every place we could be.
Because we naively suppose that every option is open to us, suddenly working as a teacher in Georgia seems stifling compared to living in DC, working on Capitol Hill. And it never crosses our mind that should we get to DC, after a while, the sneaking suspicion that we should actually be in Boston working with the inner-city poor could just perennially linger in our minds.
Whether geographic, vocational, or relational, the tyranny of choice combined with our confused, malcontented hearts often results in a deadly mixture of toxic dissatisfaction and severe allergies to commitment of every sort. Hence, perpetual adolescence and frequent divorce.
Thinking that all roads are open we either (a) don’t take a step, (b) eternally second-guess the road we are on, or (c) we simply post-pone traveling down any of the roads presented to us for dread of getting trapped on one where there are too many potholes and not enough glistening sunsets.
But there is another way to live.
Especially for those who believe that God is in an eternal present. And will be there, for those who trust him, in all their tomorrows. For those who adopt the truism that “God not only rules, but also overrules.” For those who receive regular shots of sturdiness by banking their lives on divine reassurances like, “in his heart a man makes his plans, but the Lord directs his steps.”
Why else would God-in-skin, Jesus, urge us not to worry about the future but to live non-nervously today? Why else would we be urged to count it joy when we suffer maladies of varying caliber and force?
Such advice makes no sense unless we have an active Lord who is choreographing our moments, even the rotten ones, into a dazzling symphony that’ll one day flood us with more hair-raised wonder than Beethoven’s “5th Symphony” and more elated awe than Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.”
God knows the business of living is disorienting, and not a little maddening. Without some assurance that he is superintending what we do, and in charge of all the aspects of how we experience time, we’d be a wreck.
Lucky is the One....
Once the apostle Paul addressed a distinguished gathering of philosophers in Greece, the chattering class of philosophical pundits. He does judo on their vapid belief system which made gods of everything...and even hedged its bets with a tribute idol to an “unknown god” as well.
He says, that “unknown God” with whom they were hedging, actually made us and our environs, needs nothing from us, is truly ubiquitous, and donates life and lungs to you and me...This God determined “the times set” for us and “the exact places where we should live.” He did this, “so we might seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us....”
Lucky is the man who doesn’t live in pure possibility but instead discovers the unknown God, made present in the face of Jesus, who has him in that cubicle, her in that marriage, us in that job, and you in that distressed and agitated state so that we all might reach out to find him.
Lucky is the woman who ceases defining herself by herself, and the man who sorrowfully stops living as if he’s the center of it all, and discovers instead the One who welcomes any who will stop evading him to an actual, un-ending life better than anything we can conjure in the pasts we imagine we had or the futures we presume we’ll determine. Lucky is the one who regularly moves in active trust and coordinated movement with the God who has stationed us, right where we are, right now....for these are the moments where mercy may be shown and had.
Lucky is the one who discovers that.
Contact Eric Youngblood, pastor of Rock Creek Fellowship on Lookout Mountain, at firstname.lastname@example.org