“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, to discover that I had not lived.”
Most people will recognize this as a quotation from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. It’s also used in the movie Dead Poets’ Society to open the meetings of the society that lends the film its name. This quotation is a call to experience life to the fullest, a call that, unfortunately, frequently goes unanswered.
There are plenty of excuses for ignoring life. I can’t afford that right now, I work too much to be able to do that, I’ll get around to it later. Or even stronger ones, what will happen when I’m gone? Entire industries are built on that question. I’m sure you can supply your own excuses for surviving rather than living. I know I have. Almost all of my excuses, and I’d imagine yours, involve comfort. Once I’m able to live comfortably, I’ll be finished; then I can concentrate on living.
Hear the contradiction inherent in that concept. Once I’m done building a life, I’ll start living it. God has charged us with a verb, and we’ve neutered it and made it a noun.
There’s another story in the Bible, commonly known as the parable of the rich fool. In this parable, the man stores up a great amount of wealth and when he finally starts to enjoy it he is out of time. If we spend all our time filling our barns for a rainy day, we will forget to enjoy the sunny ones.
I’m a young man, I’m building up for my life. I’m a Senior at Presbyterian College, with plans to go on to graduate school afterwards. What’s stopping me from doing what I love now? I certainly don’t love the sleep deprivation, tests, or work that goes along with school.
I know how to deal with school. That’s a comfortable world for me. I know the outcome before it happens. It’s predictable. It’s safe. It’s comfortable.
Nowhere in the Bible does God call us to be comfortable. Nowhere in the Bible does God call us to be safe. Nowhere in the Bible does God do anything that’s predictable. God told Peter to step out of the boat and onto the water. God told Gideon to send most of his army home and let the battle belong to God. God told Abraham to leave his home and go out into the wilderness. God told Moses to give up his sheep and return to Egypt. God told countless lame people to get up and walk. God told us, tells us, calls us, and commands us to trust God. The evidence surrounds us. God feeds the birds of the air and the clothes lilies of the field. How much more will God care for you?
A few years ago I dated a girl who wanted to be a Meteorologist when she grew up. She was scared of storms. This was not out of a mature desire to face her fear, but rather out of an attempt to know when a storm would strike so that she could hide from it.
I can imagine her as a child sitting in front of the television screen waiting for the weather report and furiously scribbling down notes as John Cessarich read from his teleprompter, putting images and ideas together to relieve her own anxiety. Her fear of storms motivated her to put faith into probability and scientific guesswork. As far as I know, she still runs for cover every time she hears thunder.
We’ve all got our equivalent of storms. For some of us it’s the dark, the strange noises we hear at night, for some of us it’s ghosts, the presence of something evil that wants nothing more than to oppose God. For others it’s a terrorist attack or the death of a loved one. People fear layoffs, eviction, debt, rising gas prices, an economy that’s going down the tubes, any storm that rocks our safe little boat. Some people fear that President Bush and his policies will never leave office, others fear what will happen if he does. All of it gives us pause, all of it is legitimate, even the irrational fears are nothing less than real to those who suffer from them.
And so we worry. About everything, the smallest detail or the most universal experience, somebody worries about it. I worry about a lot of things. Will I be able to pay off my student loans? Will I get into the grad school I want? Will I pass this test or that quiz, or will I be able to get all of my credits in on time and graduate with my friends. Will I get a good job, will my current friendships drift apart over the years, will I have a good marriage, will I have healthy kids, will my car keep running, will I be able to afford gas to go see my girlfriend.
Will I answer God’s call for my life?
There’s the biggest one for me. Am I the man God calls me to be? Am I headed in the right direction? And I worry about it. And so do you, maybe not about the same things, maybe you worry about a house and a job and a retirement fund. But still we worry, and sometimes, we don’t sleep.
And it solves nothing.
Verse 27 tells us the truth we already know. “Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to the span of you life?” No, we can’t.
Jesus calls us on it too. “You of little faith,” he says. Oh we of little faith. Every worry is a testament to our lack of trust that God will feed us and clothe us and watch over us lovingly.
That is not to discount the reality of the suffering in this world, or to say that God loves those who suffer less than those who do not. God does love those who suffer. God does love those who lose everything, God sent Christ to the world so that those who feel they have lost everything will not be lost themselves. God keeps us and love us. In spite of all our little rebellions, God is in control. God has the final say.
Indeed our Heavenly Father knows all the things that we need, even when we do not. God knows that we only have a short time in this world, this world that God created and called good. God gave us this world and told us to fill and subdue and have dominion over. God gave us this life and made it worth living. So what’s stopping us? We want our lives to reach our ideals, our goals, and too often we sacrifice the very things we need in order to achieve what we think we want. We want security, we want safety, and we want comfort. But our creator, our redeemer, our God wants us to climb out of our rickety boats built with our own hands out of illusions and worries, and join God out in the middle of the storm.
We may not have Peter’s strength to leave the boat. We may not be able to sell off all we own, give the money to the poor and follow Christ. We may not do everything, or even most things right. But we can strive to take little steps to leave the demands of this troubled world behind and seek first the Kingdom of God. The rest, as scripture tells us, will take care of itself.
We don’t all end up in the woods in order to live deliberately. God doesn’t call us to a specific place or a specific method or political ideology. God call is simple: Love God, and love one another. Live a life abundant, today’s trouble is enough for today, tomorrow will bring it’s own trouble. Don’t let it pile up before it even arrives. Choose to live, rather than build a life. Choose God. Seek God’s will.
The most optimistic point in the human experience came when God freed us from sin and death. Our redemption through Christ’s faithfulness guaranteed to all of creation, that God is in control, that God loves us, and that God has already taken care of us. God has taken care of us. Give up your comfortable spot and rejoice. Go out into the world that God has given us all and be with God in it.
Seek God’s kingdom, answer God’s call, and not only will we seize the day in a way more meaningful than the authors of that phase could have imagined, but we will go with God.