I have decided to confess a most terrible vice. I have this… erm… problem. With Barnes and Noble. Nothing against the store or anything – in fact, it’s probably one of my favorite places in the continental U.S. But sometimes, I get into these horrible and awful cycles of book-buying. Ok, who am I kidding. Really, it’s quite fun. I get an idea in my head, and decide to rush off to B&N to become an expert on the topic. While I am there, I discover a dozen more pressing interests that must be sated by the purchase of a germane title. Then I leave, a little guilty, with three or four books and an absurdly long list of works which I really wanted to buy but decided (ever so maturely) to deny myself. But what is really awful is when I let the rate of my book purchases far exceed the rate of my reading speed, which is quite decidedly average. You’d think I was trying to build my own Bodleian Library by 2020!
So there we have it. I am a compulsive book buyer, and sometimes, I think more about the possibility of reading than actually reading. Therefore, I am on a book fast. And not in a spiritual sense (or else I wouldn’t be telling you), though I must say, I have been much more focused on studying my Bible since limiting my book consumption.
What on earth does this have to do with finding purpose in the everyday? Well, I believe that we tend to fill our lives with a lot of activities and “stuff,” maybe to fill a void, maybe to channel excess energy, maybe because we can’t say no to other people or to our very own whims. I tend to fill my life with a lot of unread books because I see a great potential in each of them, whether it be the knowledge to start a new project or just the benefit of knowing about a new topic, and I often get caught up in things before I ask myself, why bother?
“Everything is permissible for me,”says Paul, “but not everything is beneficial.” In Christ we have great liberty from sin and existential fear, but the fact that we are not enslaved to the obviously evil does not mean we are not bound to the seemingly innocuous cares of this world. The things that we fill our lives with say a lot about our priorities, and I think that to find purpose in the everyday, we must rid our lives of “fillers.”
God is not going to step in and give us some grand purpose in life when we are too focused on consuming endless media or pursuing our empty projects to even hear Him speak. If we are feeling devoid of purpose, the first thing to do is go to God’s Word, and pray. If we don’t even have time for that, then the problem is pretty obvious, to me at least.
Thoreau says, “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, discover that I had not lived.”
I can’t say I identify with Thoreau in every way, but I completely understand his fear of getting to the end of his life and finding that he had not lived. I consider his philosophy a secular echo of Christ’s paradoxical warning:
“For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” – Mark 8:35-36
Great and lasting purpose can be found in losing our lives for Christ. As Americans, this probably doesn’t mean death, but it might take a painfully deliberate effort to root out the “fillers” to make room for such self-denial. What greater cause is there than the glorious Gospel, which offers redemption to the lost and healing to the broken-hearted? And what greater master of our lives than the Lord of Lords, and King of Kings? Are we just too distracted by our own pursuits to follow the Lord in the only way that offers purpose – total surrender?
If so, I say, simplify, simplify! Live deliberately for the Kingdom of God. Cut out the nonessentials and throw off everything that hinders, everyday. Lose your life to Christ, and you will live with purpose.