Thursday, September 13, 2012

No GPS for "Life"

I've come to the conclusion that most of life is managed by "muddling through".

I've made plans, gone to school to prepare, predicted the future based on data, prayed about it, felt the "Spirit" move, saw the "hand of God" in events and coincidences, made educated guesses, worked my ass off for a goal or a dream and rolled with the punches.  In the end, I can't say that any of it really mattered in the end.  But, the reality is I hadn't done any of that I wouldn't be where I am (for better or worse). 

The "will of God for my life" and the "providence of God" are mostly either delusions that I've poured my efforts into or amounts to spiritualized retrospectively revisionist history.  But that said, I still believe I am where I am by some kind of grace of God that accommodates my virtues and sins (regardless of my awareness of the difference) even as I write this sentence.  The fact of my faith (however small or great in anyone's estimation, including my own) is evidence of that grace.

I think most things in life are motivated by some tinge of virtue and compromised by some tinge of sin.  But, yes, sometimes sin becomes the motive and virtue is vestigial.  I'm not a "new age" Romanticist, I've looked long and hard into my mirror too many mornings to think I've always been evolving in a spiritual journey upwards.

At sixty I'm finding that I don't have any more clue about what I'm doing or where I'm headed than when I was six or sixteen.  In fact I think I had more of a clue back then, or at least thought I did. Of course the realization of that in itself gives me pause to pronounce that "where I am now" is all that good of a place either. 

For good or bad, the difference between six, sixteen and sixty is I have more history now.  The other difference is, because of history, I find that I don't NEED to have a clue now, nor do I really want to have a clue.  I'm perfectly OK with letting life play out and just being in the present moment. Uncertainty, unknowability, unpreparedness... they aren't tigers and dragons lurking under my bed ready to eat my arm dangling from the bedside.  I sleep comfortably with them.

So, for today I do what the day demands (to some degree of competency and with some degree of passion and commitment) and I go to bed tired.  I don't get too concerned about "big pictures" of things, predicting the future, spiritualizing the past, aggrandizing the present.  The only important thing to me is the word I speak to the person I'm talking to, the kindness I show to the person I encounter, the peace I bring into a room of people, the fulfillment of my duty to the person who pays for my time and talent so I can eat. Yes, even that is "spiritual".

I may not have "it" down, whatever "it" is.  I just know I'm not as concerned with making a difference as much as I am with just making it through the present moment with some kind of integrity and a sense of what is really before me rather than what is ahead of me.

17 comments:

Anam Cara said...

I know at 61 I sometimes think of what I would like to be when I grow up - think of getting an advanced degree in something like medieval ecclesiastical architecture, and then wonder "why?" I look back and know that the choices to do those things were never really there for me - so perhaps they weren't meant to be. I just, as you say, muddle through with what I've got praying all along that "the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart will be acceptable" to God.

intellectualoid said...

Life only makes sense backwards, but you've got to live it forward. And when God told Abraham "Get up into a land I will show you," he didn't give him a map and a 10-year business plan.
At almost-64, I find myself living not exactly one day at a time, but in need, within the next 16 days, of making a making a pretty major decision based, in part, on facts I don't yet know.

James the Thickheaded said...

The only difference I've ever made has been unintentional... a la Monty Python's "And now for something COMPLETELY different." That's generally when I enter the room look around at the gaping jaws, and "What? What'd I do?"

Yeah. The tiger's still under the bed. It's just now it's like the Coyote and Dawg in Looney Tunes. Life is a Looney Tune... doncha know? Kind of a come down from that great adventure we'd hoped for, but hey... at least it entertains someone (else).

Margaret said...

I so needed to read these words, thank you!

s-p said...

Anam, Yep. I tell my kids I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up so they shouldn't worry too much about it... enjoy where you are and what you are doing, or if you don't, change... or don't change because sometimes "enjoyment" isn't the measure of life and its nuances and necessities. Sometimes it is more grown up to stay put and man your post even if it's not what you wanted to do when you grew up.

Anna Bee said...

This is exactly how I feel. Although I'm just 35 now, we've been on a roller coaster ride of "discerning God's Will for our lives." I've gotten to the point of letting go of needing to know, or at least seeing God's Will differently - as in, it's his Will for me to be transformed into the likeness of Christ...and my circumstances are just the backdrop in this drama.

David Dickens said...

I've never understood the "God's plan for my life talk". If Gabriel shows up and tells you to do something, well then, get to it (with the full knowledge that you're likely to get martyred for whatever it is).

Otherwise, God's plan is that you go to services, say your prayers and try not to sin too much. That's the plan. Careers, addresses, finding your soul-mate (as opposed to perhaps learning to be one), all that is a delusion.

Just remember, God meant for me to post this. :)

Grace said...

>>I may not have "it" down, whatever "it" is ...

Ay. I thought I was the only one who thought that way. I thought It -- also known as The Thing -- was what I was waiting for. It would fit onto life like a lens on a camera and snap everything into focus. "Oh, so THAT'S why I've always had an interest in botany. It all had to do with IT."

My problem with just getting that maybe nothing is It after all is that I grieve for the loss. I think that's stupid of me, but I'm sorry to see it go before it even arrived.

s-p said...

Grace and David, Yup, "It", in most Christian parlance, is "faith" which is supposed to reveal your destiny, purpose and parking spaces... Unfortunately, as David says, "faith" is more often self delusion than God revealing something important to us. Living with uncertainty pointed toward becoming a human being rather than being "someone" is a greater act of faith.

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Ikonophile said...

I hate this.

What the hell am I supposed to do then. I am 26 and don't have a clue. I cannot even take the present moment to try to do what you say you try to do. The harder I look, the less I see. I suppose in the vast world of people I am not the only one willing to admit I have no freaking clue what is going on... Then, now, or in the next 5 min.

J.

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

I once asked my spiritual father what might be God's Plan for My Life. He said, "Taking good care of your husband."

Concern yoursef, he said, with mastering that before you think what else there might be. But there probably wouldn't be anything else because after all, most of us are ordinary Christians called to very ordinary things.

Alec Haapala said...

Steve, you must stop reading my mind and posting my thoughts online. Like others have said, I, too, often wonder what I want to be when I grow up. I know a woman who asked God, "What do you want me to do?" Her answer? "Do your dishes." What a let down! But isn't that really the answer for all of us? "Do what is in front of you, and then the next right thing."

We all start with grandiose dreams, and even if we achieve some of them, we still live them in our mundane world.

Go to church and worship God, pray, serve others. This is the law and the prophets.

Thanks, Steve, for doing your dishes. You've helped me tremendously, though we have never met.

God richly bless you.

Anonymous said...

Ain't that the truth, Patty. But really, we have a grand job ahead of us - to work synergistically with God to become - not wha we want to be when we grow up - but what HE wants us to be right now. A child of God, who cries Our Father, who are in heaven hallowed be Thy Name! We do what you do - pray, and love. And work. Lather, rinse, repeat. But how many other jobs in life have the perks we have? No unemployment, predictable work schedule, single deliverable, telecommuting and great benefits. :) we just have to start a pittance of our investment, be as good at it as we can, and God provides the most robust maching plan we have ever seen. There's even on the job training, and the best part is you don't have to even be very good as long as you're trying and giving it 100%.

Drewster2000 said...

I'll make a suggestion here:

We've been told from birth that we are The Stuff. Behind the scenes the evil one is whispering in our ears that we too can be like God.

When we reach a certain point in life, those who have woken up suddenly discover what a lie that was. This realization takes time and feels like going through a detox center.

And then we justifiably look around and say, "So NOW what the hell am I supposed to do?"

The answer: be a servant of God, a child of God. Not with the grandiose vision we use to look at those terms with, but giving up all dreams AND responsibilities of being great. Simply starting from scratch at learning what that means.

One of my favorite quotes in from the movie "Gladiator". General Maximus asks his personal servant if he finds it hard to do his duty. Cicero responds, "Sometimes I do what I want to do; the rest of the time I do what I have to."

This attitude is much closer to the truth. Most of us say the opposite with our lives.

That's the answer. Simply be God's servant, with no further expectations than what He has already done for us.

John said...

Steve,

I loved this post, and passed it on to a couple friends (including my wife). We are all in our late twenties, and have each been wrestling with the question of "what we are to do with our lives" for some time, each in different ways, but each with the confusion of trying to discern "God's will". I'm slowly coming round to the points you (and your commentators) make here - that God's will is simply to conform to the image of Christ, and that trying to discern anything extra on the basis of "warm feelings during prayer time" is fairly bogus.

BUT - my question then is, how does the Orthodox Christian then decide what to do when a decision regarding a life path does come up? Simply pray for God's blessing and then make the choice as best as I can, without having to see the "hand of God" in it? I'd appreciate your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

So timely to read this plus all the comments attached. After 10 years of a very noble endeavor, I most likely have to quit without reaping the benefits I, and the team that worked with me, dreamed of. Adding to the pressure, others who have chosen more conservative avenues in life have been living vicariously through my walk of faith. At least I have felt this to be the case.

Growing up evangelical, I hung my hat and heart on "God has a wonderful plan for life." This attitude often tempted me to feel God owed me reasons and spiritual reciprocity for all hardship I endured. If I had not discovered the Orthodox path out of desperation a few years ago, I would be mired in depression as I face finding a "regular job" to pay "regular bills" and debts incurred by the noble dream. Very much at peace. Thanks again. Arlyn