Thoroughly Alive

We must hunger after the beautiful and the good...



I'm irritated with the general state of the world today. And for once, I think it's logical. I have big decisions to make right now and this has plunked me into an analysis of how to choose one course over the other. I question why I choose certain things, and how, in the end, to make the sort of choice that sits well with my heart. I have realized, abruptly, that just about anything is possible to me. In this day and age, with travel and internet and no societal constraint, I could go anywhere, do anything, and study any subject. One choice seems as good as the next. And while, for a few seconds, the intuitive in me glories in the sky-high freedom of it, my heart speaks wiser.

Never before in history have people had the ability or social permission to choose a course in life based purely on their own desire. Before now, choices were shaped by personal desire, yes, but also by family, history, the ties of the home you were born to and the people who watched you grow. There were ties of land, of the earth that fed you and the community that knew you. There were ties of integrity, ties that bound you to bless and nourish the people that grew you. You were part of a story that had a beginning long before you were born. Your life was told, in part, by the characters that came before you, and you understood that your life would inform future generations. Your choices were your own, of course, and you could cut all ties with the places and people that gave you life. Yet, I think the knots were thick and the cords strong and there was an understanding that your choices really weren't your own because they would shape the story of everyone else too.

Things have changed. Our modern culture is largely disconnected from land, community, and family. We are mobile, which means we can whiz wherever we want and are independent of our neighbors. We have a largely "postmodern" view of the world which means we believe that you make your own reality, you create fulfillment by being loyal to your desires and yourself. Our concepts of home and family have been fractured by social revolutions that leave us disconnected from the most basic of relationships, and challenged to form them. We live in what Neil Postman calls the world's first "technopoly," where technology forms our lives, relationships, and decisions. Even in our culture of art and music, we are disconnected from locality, driven by electronic, impersonal media. Our values are increasingly formed by the mass tastes of a generation that lives largely in a virtual world instead of the real one. Relationships are formed on mutual interests, not mutual history. What it all comes down to is that we moderns choose our loves and work purely on what feels best.

In this atmosphere, I find it excruciatingly hard to make life decisions. Because as a lover of God, I don't believe my decisions belong to me alone. I think the old ways of people tied to teach other, to serve, to love, to give, is the real way were were supposed to live. I think God is the shaper of my days, and I think loving his people and building his beautiful kingdom ought to be my work. But how in the world I am supposed to determine which of the million and one ways I could do this in the midst endless, self-driven possibility is beyond me. How do I hear God's will above the cacophony of cultural voices and my own confused heart?

What bugs me is that no matter which choice I make, I feel it is just me determining my own life. Any action I make right now is my own, driven by whatever need most moves me at the moment. When I'm in a Wendell Berryish mood and am convinced of the need to root and nurture local relationships and homes, I think I'll stay here and build my Rivendell and love people in the home I have always dreamed of making. When I am tired by the demands of ministry and feel stymied as to how to connect and make friendships, the allure of new countries and a nomad's existence of writing and study and wind wildness, well, it looks pretty good. In either life, I could serve God, I could write stories to picture redemption, I could love people heartily and well, I could teach, I could comfort. Does God care what I choose? Amidst the many voices and choices, the pull of loneliness, ideals, desire, it's hard to be sure.

Yet he has to. I just can't bring myself to believe that God doesn't care which choice I make. In a wonderful Sunday School class yesterday, I heard a gentle, wise man explain that God always has a plan. He does not change, his purposes are firm, his heart to bless and to build the kingdom of heaven is ever the same. Spurred by some of the Scripture I had heard in yesterday's talk, I read back through some of my most beloved passages in Isaiah this morning. There, the ringing affirmation of God's power and purpose sounded out like clamorous, beautiful bells of promise and I knew in the rock bottom of my heart that somehow, God will lead me. I do not follow a cloudy deity riding a star far above me. I follow Jesus, heart of my heart, who knew my days when not one had yet been told.

So gloriously did this surety renew my heart, I pounded downstairs and pontificated to my mom and sister on the glories of such a God, my yogurt bottle in hand as I gulped breakfast on the way out the door to an appointment. I probably looked a little hysterical. But I definitely looked happy, and here I am pontificating again because o' friends of mine, God cares what we do. The times we live in are so strange, and I think modern life tempts us to see God as random, impersonal, disconnected from the small decisions that shape the whole thrust of our existence. But he is not. He is the one who "knew our days when as yet there was not one of them," whose plans "cannot be changed, and will not be moved," whose purposes to bless and redeem are "firm throughout each generation." I have come close to losing my grip on this Father God of mine, but I will not allow a crazy world to undo me. He leads and we follow. I don't know how I will figure out where, but heaven help me I will. God will not abandon me to myself. So there.