I have to confess I am really enjoying Rob Bell’s series on the Bible at the moment. His latest entry got me thinking.
Recently, I have been doing a lot of thinking about what I want to do with the next ‘stage’ of my life. Or indeed my life in general. My overactive mind can often wander off into the dangerous territory of needing to build some sort of story arc for my time here on earth, hoping to contribute something significant, worthwhile, of note, that sort of thing.
Bell talks about how the idea that we don’t know when/how Jesus will return should spur us into a better way of being. He says that if we did know when it was going to happen:
“It wouldn’t change a thing, would it? You would live exactly as you are living. Or…maybe it would, maybe it would spur you to take risks, be more generous, stand up for injustice, enjoy each day more. In that case, what’s the problem? Why aren’t you doing those things and living like that now?”
Well, that knocked me for six! When you look at it like that, the question ‘what if I died tomorrow?’ becomes less of a source of existential angst hoping for some shred of meaning in an ever confusing, ever complicated world; and more of a recognition that whatever I am doing here and now I should be doing with and out of love for others.
The balance on the other side of the scales is that it is worth thinking about our story. It is worth planning ahead and thinking about what’s next, where we are going and what we are doing – being strategic. However, it can be all to tempting to lead these important things into grandiose thoughts about our place in the universe, whilst ignoring our neighbour, being rude to the bus driver, not working very hard, and so on. Just because these things are not our “calling” or our “purpose” doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do them well, and do them out of love.
Here’s the clincher: when we focus on being kind or generous or compassionate or any other aspect of agape (unconditional) love, we find our purpose.
I look back on past romances that I have had and I can see this clearly. Instead of worrying about my place in the universe, I was more bothered about how the other person felt about their life. Without that focus, I suddenly find myself questioning everything I am doing with myself. Instead of focusing on the present moment, my mind veers back and forth between the past and the future. This happens to me time and time again. Yet Jesus calls me back and says this:
I could be back tomorrow. What if that happens? What if you don’t get to become this great person you have dreamed up the future you to be? What if you find yourself stood before me, disappointed that you’ve missed your own mark?
I say all of this knowing that God is a God of grace and that I need to do nothing to earn his love. It is in showing this love to others that we lose sight of all of the ‘big’ questions and learn to focus in on the detail. The stuff that really matters – not to us – but to others.
Ultimately, why aim to be a certain way, do certain things, achieve certain goals, when sometimes it is the small acts of love that help to transform people’s lives? Sure, there’s a place for the big stuff. But let’s not forget the beauty that is found in the simplicity of choosing to be present in the moment and to simply try to love others. Then, if I died tomorrow, I would know that I did my best to be the best I could be. And that? well, that’s a purpose worth pursuing.