But that goal, still unreached, was not the end-all be-all to life. If I never attain that particular career, what of it? I still have to live. I still have to work. I still have to love and care and worship and think properly and respect others and cherish family members and seek justice for the oppressed and feed the hungry and volunteer. A career is not a life-goal. Who we become, though part of the journey of the life of each one of us, is the goal. We chase the material and ignore the immaterial. We work for money and neglect the inner character of our hearts, minds, and souls.
At some point we need to befriend the life we have. Now, understand me, I am not including the horrors of life for some who are being abused, mistreated, or who are suffering injustice or illness or any other circumstance that can be mended. What I mean is this: if you find yourself working at Burger King, and you are content in your life and in that position, then be happy and befriend your life. I love Burger King and I need you there to serve me. I work at a local mom-and-pop motel and I love it. When tourists visit the Island, they need a good and clean motel at a wonderful price, and they need my smiling face to serve them. I also need the Waste Management team every Wednesday to pick up my trash, the grocery clerks to stock shelves with food, and the check-out personnel to help me at the register. We all need each other no matter our livelihood.
Henri Nouwen helps us on this issue. He learned how to embrace the life he was living -- not clamoring for more, or better, but fully embracing the reality into which he was existing:
We have to live our life, not someone else's. We have to hold our own cup [of sorrow and joy and pleasure and pain]. We have to dare to say: "This is my, the life that is given to me, and it is this life that I have to live, as well as I can. My life is unique. Nobody else will ever live it. I have my own history, my own family, my own body, my own character, my own friends, my own way of thinking, speaking, and acting -- yes, I have my own life to live. No one else has the same challenge. I am alone, because I am unique. Many people can help me to live my life, but after all is said and done, I have to make my own choices about how to live.1
I am still learning how to live these truths out in my daily existence. I read Nouwen's book for the first time in 2012 and I am still learning how to live out these truths. The hardest lesson I had to learn was not allowing myself to think and feel and live as others expected me to think and feel and live. If I tried to think and feel and live the way others wanted, I would increasingly go insane, because people are so very different; and they all differ in how they want me to think and feel and live. But I cannot live their life. I have to live out my own life in my unique way. So do you.
You cannot be me. I will never try to make you me. You can agree with me on issues or you can disagree with me on issues. I will not abandon you for disagreeing with me. What matters is not that you disagree with me but how you disagree with me. Still, if everyone thought and felt and lived as do I, the world would be too familiar, and far too predictable. I need you to be you as much as you need me to be me. May each one of us encourage others instead of trying to change others to think and to feel and to live like each one of us thinks and feels and lives.
Again, Nouwen suggests that living this unique life of each one of us should help us to confess not only "This is my life," but "I want this to be my life."2 I fought against that notion for years. But all I was really accomplishing was denying reality. Nouwen understands this fear: "It is not easy to do this. For a long time we might not feel capable of accepting our own life; we might keep fighting for a better or at least a different life."3 The end result, though, is defeat. No one ever wins the battle against reality. You may not like your body shape, or your face, or your economic status, or your extended family, or the car you drive (or not having transportation), or where you live, or whatever. But even some people who appear to "have it all" are completely miserable. Why? Because inner peace is not obtained by good looks, opportunity, or wealth.
What benefit will you reap by embracing your life? Nouwen writes: "But as we gradually come to befriend our own reality, to look with compassion at our own sorrows and joys, and as we are able to discover the unique potential of our way of being in the world, we can move beyond our protest, put the cup of our life to our lips and drink it, slowly, carefully, but fully."4 Befriending your life brings inner contentment. What does St Paul teach? "Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these." (1 Tim. 6:6, 7, 8, emphases added) Inner contentment will satisfy the anxious state of your soul.
The only way you will truly possess inner contentment is by embracing the life you have, making it your own unique presence in the world, and living in an authentic and transparent manner. In this way you will be a blessing not only to others but also to God and to yourself. "Spiritual greatness has nothing to do with being greater than others. It has everything to do with being as great as each of us can be."5 Learn to embrace and love not only your life but yourself.
1 Henri J.M. Nouwen, Can You Drink the Cup? Tenth Anniversary Edition (Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 2008), 31-32.
2 Ibid., 86.
3 Ibid., 87.
5 Ibid., 89.
This post was written by William Birch. You can find his blog here: http://www.williambirch.net