Monday, September 20, 2010

A Million Miles: Chapters 13-16

I'm throwing you a bit of a curveball this morning by including chapter 16 in our "three chapters a week" routine. Sorry 'bout that. It just made sense to include that little mini chapter (the conclusion to Part II) in our discussion today. Though I'm going to talk about something that came up in chapter 13...

Right now I'm going through my annual fall make-over. No, this isn't a physical make-over (though I did buy a pair of skinny jeans in a moment of pure insanity this past weekend), it's more of a total life overhaul. I tend to do this every autumn. I don't know why. Maybe it's the back-to-school routine or the obvious changing of the seasons. Either way, September seems to be a bigger "new start" to me than January 1. Everything feels fresh and ready, ripe for resolutions and refinements that I've been putting off for months.

This year my goals have much to do with simplicity. I want to spend more time with my kids, enjoy long conversations with my husband, go for walks in our new neighborhood. I want to eat less packaged foods and feed my family home-baked breads instead of Oreos. I plan to work out more, get my core in shape, and sweat my way through high-impact cardio. I intend to make one personal connection (email, phone call, coffee chat) every day. I want, in short, to be a better me.

Which is exactly where I think Miller is at by this point in the book. He's trying to find a good story, an ambition, anything that will drive his character to do something meaningful with his life. And at the beginning of chapter 13, that translates into "getting up a little earlier," and "going to fewer movies."

Hmmm. It's a start, I guess. Much like my autumn resolutions are little more than scraping the surface of a more "meaningful" life. Is doing extra sit-ups really going to make my life better? Not likely. And yet these sorts of goals give me structure, something to shoot for even if it seems somewhat inane.

So, here's my question. In our search for meaning, do you think there is value in striving for personal betterment? Do resolutions build character that eventually results in the sort of integrity that prods us to change the world? Or does focusing on our own story insulate us and make us individualistic? In looking at my own list, I can't help noticing that most of the things I hope to accomplish this fall don't extend beyond the borders of my home and family. Somehow that doesn't feel right to me...

What do you think? Are you, like me, constantly in the process of "bettering" yourself? If so, what things drive you? Do you think this is healthy? Or is our culture influencing our understanding (or misunderstanding) of God's desire to write our stories?


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  3. I think we should always be striving for personal betterment. We are called to be like God - what better to aim for? In fact, in light of this, I almost think it's wrong to not strive for personal betterment.

    In my experience, the people that have the drive to change themselves already have that drive to change the world, perhaps just focused on the wrong goal or area. And I think as we change and grow, we recognize that what we were striving for before is shallow and meaningless, and we set our sights on something better, something meaningful. This could even mean setting our sights on something smaller, but never something of less value. (I use 'smaller' in terms of how our materialistic culture defines success.)

    Focusing on our own story can insulate us and make us individualistic to a point. But we have to change ourselves and put God first in our lives before we can hope to have an impact on other people, and so it's important to focus on home and family. If those areas are in disarray, how can we hope to change the world? I think you have the right approach, here. It starts with the smaller things, and then the ripple effect grows larger and larger.

    What drives me? I'm ashamed to say that it's only lately that I've been driven by a desire to serve God in all that I do. Less healthy motives for me: my pride, a sense of personal accomplishment, the glorification of knowledge. But putting God first makes all the difference in life, and when that is our main goal (set above changing the world or any other goals that we may have) then I've found that the other aims fall into place anyways, without us obsessing and focusing solely on that. This takes a lot of trust in God, which is easier said than done, but so worth it.

    Our culture definitely distorts this. We're told to aim for a career that pays the most, a spouse that looks the best and has the most charm, and a life that is the most glamourous. And, in chasing these aims, we miss the opportunity to be lights of God in this world.

    I think the best way to sum this up comes from one of my favourite Bible passages, Philippians 2:12-18, which is titled "Shining Like Stars."

    "...for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life..." (v. 13-16)

    P.S. I didn't mean to spam you! It informed me that it couldn't be posted, so I kept trying, and apparently it was lying to me... sorry! :)

  4. You didn't spam me, Heidi. I loved all of your comments. :)

    I agree with you 100% when you say: "Focusing on our own story can insulate us and make us individualistic to a point. But we have to change ourselves and put God first in our lives before we can hope to have an impact on other people, and so it's important to focus on home and family. If those areas are in disarray, how can we hope to change the world? I think you have the right approach, here. It starts with the smaller things, and then the ripple effect grows larger and larger." (Sorry, I ended up quoting the whole paragraph... I was going to just highlight the first two sentences, but it was all too good to pass up.) Anyway, like I said, I agree with you--but I worry that too many of us get stuck focusing on our own story. The longed-for ripple effect gets lost as we get trapped in the web of our own complicated (often over-busy) lives. And then we complain that we'd love to "shine like stars," but really, who has the time?

    Yikes, that sounded cynical. I don't mean to be jaded, nor do I want to accuse anyone. When I say "we," I really mean "me." My days and weeks flow into each other so fast I hardly have time to stop and wonder if the life I'm living is meaningful or not. Hmmm. I might be on to something there... Time to stop and think. Maybe it's as simple as finding the space to savor individual moments and reflect on the ways that God is working (because he always is) in our lives.

    Anyway, thanks for keeping the dialogue going, Heidi. Blessings to you.

  5. I know exactly what you mean - it's easy for me to type out exactly how to go about changing the world, and another thing entirely for me to actually do it. Time does fly by. It's something I've noticed more, especially in the last few years since I've graduated from high school. You're right... we really need to make an effort to stop and think. Even something as simple as turning off the radio on the way to school or unplugging the iPod when I'm cleaning my room. I find that music takes up all the quiet space that used to be filled with our thoughts.

  6. Yes, I am in the constant process of bettering myself. When I say process though I mean the different stages. I have had seasons where I have just thought and thought and thought some more of how I could better myself and discovered that resulted in me feeling even more discouraged about myself and the life I was leading. I have since bettered myself in realizing that there needed to be action with my thoughts of improvement. You hit it right on the head with the word simplicity. As a society we are just so incredibly busy and it really takes effort to live simply and enjoy the sweet pleasures life offers. I have recently made efforts to declutter my house so I feel better when I'm at home (and about having people over), declutter my schedule, and put in that extra effort to just not be so busy. One of the main things that I have learned through recent experiences that in this day and age with internet, mobile phones, etc there is a lack of time taken out to be there for each other through present face to face meaningful connections (internet and phone are very useful though in connecting with others, don't get me wrong). One of my main goals in bettering myself is to really try to be there for people, and really be present when they have heartbreak in their lives. However I have learned I need to have myself together so that it is not a stressor to be there for others as God really wants us to. (Hope that makes sense, as I said this is still a work in progress for me, I'm writing this in the midst of bussyness)