“Nerves are God’s gift to you, reminding you that your life is not passing you by. Make friends with the butterflies. Welcome them when they come, revel in them, enjoy them, and if they go away, do whatever it takes to put yourself in a position where they return. Better to have a stomach full of butterflies than to feel like your life is passing you by.”
-Rob Bell, How To Be Here
Newton’s First Law of Motion: A body at rest will remain at rest unless an outside force acts on it, and a body in motion at a constant velocity will remain in motion in a straight line unless acted on by an outside force.
Inertia: A tendency to do nothing, or remain unchanged.
I knew I was on a trajectory that I didn’t like. This wasn’t me, wasn’t what I had ever really wanted for my life. To be fair, nothing was really BAD. I had alot of good things going. I had security. I was comfortable. I had things to keep me busy. But deep down in my soul, I felt like I was suffocating. I was on a bullet train speeding in a direction I did not want to go.
With the help of six months of therapy to finally move past my ambivalence about whether or not I could change things for myself, I made a hard stop. I thought of that analogy about the grass seeming greener on the other side of the fence. I realized that I could be making the absolute worst decision of my entire life….or I could be making the absolute BEST decision of my entire life. And I was finally willing to accept either outcome.
I stopped walking, turned around, and went the other direction.
In the Bible, Jesus tells people to repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand. Properly translated, repent means to change one’s mind about something, or stop and go the other direction. This is exactly what I needed to do because the direction I was going wasn’t bringing me life. When I read about the Kingdom of God, I don’t think of heaven awaiting me in the future, and I don’t completely hold to the already and not yet theology that I once did. I think the Kingdom of God is the Divine Present – not God in the future, not God in the past, but the abundance of life right now in us and around us…the only reality that is true and accessible and livable. So, Jesus tells us, essentially, to stop just being carried on by the inertia of our lives and pursue what is really life-giving, because the energy, power, and creativity for that is available to us right here, right now.
I’ve seen quite a few posts on social media lately about the validity of living a mediocre life. Nothing fancy, just calm and peaceful without notoriety or fuss. I totally get the appeal of this. As Pico Ayer wrote in his wonderful book, The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere:
“One could even, as [Leonard] Cohen was doing, try to find a life in which stage sets and performances disappear and one is reminded, at a level deeper than all words, how making a living and making a life sometimes point in opposite directions.”
In our fast-paced world, we certainly need this reminder – that the point shouldn’t always be outward success or the pursuit of ridiculously difficult goals. Sometimes simple and quiet is exactly what we need. But I wonder if we might at times cling to the idea of a mediocre, average, “normal” life because it feels safe and doesn’t cause us to have to veer too far from the paths that have become so familiar to us.
I’m personally fantastic at self-sabotage; I’ve been practicing it all of my life. Typically, it feels easier to aim for just shy of what I really want, because then I can say I accomplished something, yet still didn’t risk the shame of all-out failure. I’ve always kept security in my back pocket as well. I like making choices that appear risky externally (so my ego can be garnished with a bit of applause from onlookers) but are actually unlikely to do me much harm in the long run. However, these behaviors of mine in the past have never served me well because I always end up on a ship sailing away from the destination I desperately wanted to be.
It’s way too convenient and easy to maintain the status quo, travel on our merry ways, and not rock our personal little boats. Many of us could find ourselves on our deathbeds having completed all ten billion levels of Candy Crush without having done anything else that really required the focus and passionate energy of our hearts and souls. We could easily follow society’s rules, tow party lines, and be who everyone else thinks we should be.
Sometimes it takes something big to knock us out of our stupors, wake us up, and make us change directions. Carving a new path, often alone, in what seems like a wilderness can be terrifying. But we each get one life – there are no do-overs. Will we reincarnate? I don’t know, maybe – but we will never have this one, exact same life again unless there’s some identical alternate universe that I don’t yet know about.
Remember that great Julia Roberts/Steel Magnolias quote (that movie has a quote for everything in life)?:
“I would rather have 30 minutes of “wonderful” than a lifetime of nothing special.”
How many of us settle for whatever appears in front of us, instead of digging deep to find what we really desire and pursuing it with abandon? How many of us remain in stifling and stagnant life situations because it’s the civil or polite thing to do? The socially acceptable thing to do?
In the Old Testament, there is a great story about a man named Jacob who wrestled all night with an angel, or God, as it were. Even when his hip was pulled out of joint, Jacob refused to let go until God gave him a blessing. The God/angel blessed Jacob and changed his name to Israel, because he had struggled with both God and humans, and had prevailed.
I love this story because of the bigger message behind it that I’ve heard from a Jewish teacher, I just can’t remember exactly who – probably Lawrence Kushner. Jacob didn’t just accept what came his way. He didn’t lay down in the face of adversity. Rather, he wrestled with the hard things that came to him, and didn’t give up even when it cost him. And God blessed him for it.
Somehow, it seems, wrestling with life, asking hard questions, and doing the difficult things is the main point. God (or whatever term you prefer) is delighted when we engage him. It is a good thing, what we were designed to do as humans. The whole point of life is not to succumb to inertia or take the easy path. Jesus echoes this in the book of Matthew when he speaks of the broad and narrow gates. He teaches that the broad way, that is easy to find and easy to take, is not the one that leads to real life. We must search and struggle and wrestle with the Divine Present and refuse self-sabotage to find the narrow way because this is where real life, the kind of life free of deathbed regrets, exists.
I’m not really interested any longer in staying on a straight line from here to the grave, trucking along at a set pace. Safe and comfortable aren’t so appealing anymore. I want to wrestle with God, pursue hard things, stop and change directions when necessary, and all the while be completely, wildly, insanely drunk on life.