Sometimes (often) I sit at my desk wondering what difference I’m making in the lives of those around me. I mean I’m paid reasonably well for what I do, but let’s be honest activating mobile devices isn’t exactly sucking the marrow out of life. Truthfully, it’s a bit mind-numbing. Unless there’s a problem, it’s fairly rote, pretty binary.
Expectation largely matches outcome. But if there’s an issue at least there’s something to work on. If plays havoc with my metrics, but at least it’s something to sink my (metaphoric) teeth into. I’ve got a problem to solve! Which is a roundabout way of saying that a life of routine–a safe, comfortable, easy life–can be a drab one.
Taking the challenge out of life also largely takes the fun out of it as well. Don’t get me wrong here; I’m most thankful for an indoor job, and the ability to provide for my family it affords me. I’m saying that if we aren’t on guard against it that it’s altogether too easy to wake up one day as Miss Havisham (from Great Expectations), wondering why life seems to be something that happens to someone else (just not, you know, us).
That’s a recipe for bitterness. Cocooning ourselves away in safety, watching the world go by around us from behind glass, isn’t life. That’s spectating. And last I heard life isn’t a spectator sport.
Don’t get me wrong; hurts come to all of us. Goodness knows there’re as many flavors of pain as there are roasts of coffee. And the temptation is to give pain the loudest voice… To bow to it, kow-tow to it, knuckle under, and let pain win. God knows I’ve done that enough in my life.
It’s never lead me anywhere good. Nor has any decision made in fear. No, I’m not talking about running from a ravening animal, or an angry mob here. That’s generally a wise choice.
What I am talking about is knowing when to stand up, shout down the fear, pressing through the pain, to a richer, filler life. Let’s face it; blame is cheap and easy here, but taking responsibility for our own lives is… hard. Probably the hardest thing any of us will ever have to do, because if we excel at anything it’s lying to ourselves. We can all come up with thousands of reasons why we feel the way we do, walking away justified in our own minds. But if at the end of day we’re still bitter, cloistered, emotionally stunted, what have we gained?
We–all of us–generally lack the most perspective about one thing: ourselves. We’re also by and large guilty of self-idealization; meaning that we see ourselves as better than we actually are. The unfortunate corollary here is that, by and large, we do not idealize others, holding them accountable for how we perceive them to behave towards us.
It isn’t malicious; it’s just how it is. We need to work at sympathy, at empathy. To make allowances for the creatureliness of our fellow humans. To experience pain, disappointment, heartache, and yet still find a way forwards and upwards. We need to face facts here: a life cocooned away in self-protection is, if ostensibly safe, a life of stagnation.
Meaning that we don’t grow through ease, through sitting back, from disengaging from difficult situations… and people. A pearl is a thing of great beauty, right? Perfectly formed, buffed to shine, a string of them adorning many a neck. But hardly anyone stops to remind themselves that that pearl was formed via an oyster’s lifetime of pain. A grain of sand, a small stone, a bit of detritus gets into its shell, the oyster produces nacre, and over time the nacre becomes a pearl.
Or consider carbon–charcoal–if enough heat and pressure are applied over a long enough span of time, well, the results have kept DeBeers in business for generations. In case you missed it, I’m taking about diamonds here. The conditions have to be just right over millennia for the beauty of a diamond to be formed.
Now these are but two examples of beauty arising from great pain. Consider also: any work of art, sonnet, play, manuscript, sculpture… All are borne of toil, time, a struggle against entropy. And what of childbirth? Is not the life born into the world more than worth the pain in which it was brought forth?
So why do we do often expect the rest of our lives to be easy, for relationships to be easy, love to be easy? In this life, there is no beauty without struggle, without conflict. If we suppose that God is our Michaelangelo, and we his David, isn’t it reasonable to presume that the sculpting just might hurt a bit? Our knowing this may not lessen the pain, but it may indeed help us to better cooperate with the process, might’nt it?
Which brings me back to the mundane activities I may have to endure during the course of the workday. If I keep in mind that there may be a higher purpose, perhaps, to the rote toil, e.g., that while I can’t necessarily change my circumstances, I can control my attitude regarding them. All of which is to say that I completely lack perspective about the positive influence I may have, the difference I may be making, by faithfully doing what is asked of me. It’s these little choices, day in and day out, which shape our outlook–which shape our lives.
The late Charles Williams put it this way: “Altars must often be built in one place so that the fire of God may fall in another.”