We have aspirations for our lives that our lives don’t share. And, we don’t know where to draw the line. We don’t know what we have a right to expect. We don’t know when to stop trying to change the way our lives are and adjust ourselves to how they are. When do we recognize the futility of resistance and give up, get over it, and get used to it? I don’t know. Neither do you.
We would still be in the caves if someone hadn’t decided we could do better. We are still fighting wars because we will not accommodate ourselves to the fact of significant differences among us. There is a point beyond which we cannot change the world to suit ourselves. There is a point at which we have to let things be as they are because that is how they are. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” We have lost sight of the difference.
We think everything can be changed, which is crazy enough, but the worst part is that we think that when it is changed we will be happy. Let me explain something to you. Happiness is an inside job. Happiness is perspective all the way. Happiness has nothing whatsoever to do with the way things are (which isn’t quite true, by the way, but it’s close enough). Happiness has everything to do with what we tell ourselves about the way things are, with how we think about the way things are, with what we say about the way things are.
Think of the most unhappy people you know. I’d bet you twenty dollars, if I still did that kind of thing, that they are always wanting to change something about their lives. If only this were different, or that were, then they would be happy. But nothing is ever different enough. Now, think of the happiest people you know. I’d bet you another twenty dollars, if I still did that kind of thing, that they have lives that are just fine exactly as they are. Now, make them swap. Give the unhappy people the lives of the happy people, and give the happy people the lives of the unhappy people. Guess what. Nothing changes. The happy people are still happy, and the unhappy people are still unhappy. Happiness is about attitude. Not about acquirement and acquisition. If you want to be happy, well, be happy!
We are back to the deal. There is life, and there is what you think about life. And, there is no necessary, or logical, connection between the two. I don’t care how life is, your thinking can make it all right or unbearable. Nothing can happen to you that you can’t make worse by how you respond to it. Or better. We hold the power of better or worse over our lives. Shakespeare has it: “Nothing is good or bad, only thinking makes it so” (Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2).
That being the case, why leave the caves? Why not just accommodate ourselves to our lives? “Let be what is”? Practice mind over matter—“if you don’t mind, it don’t matter”? What are we trying to do, anyway? Here’s what I think: I think it comes down to doing what we care about, and, during those down times when we don’t care about anything, doing what we ought to care about, what needs to be cared about, and waiting until something stirs within and we find ourselves caring, about something, again. We certainly ought to care about what needs to be cared about—children, for instance, and the environment, and one another—and we certainly ought to care for the things that need to be cared about, whether we actually care about them or not. We ought to pretend that we care, and treat the things that need to be cared about the way we would treat them if we did care about them. We ought to care for the right things whether we actually care about them or not. And, we ought to also do the things we actually care about doing. That’s my total prescription for life. “A bargain at twice the price,” as Ron Williams says. I can’t give it away.
We have this fascination with “authenticity,” and think we shouldn’t do anything we don’t “feel like doing” because it wouldn’t be “genuine.” Look. If the baby has a dirty diaper, change it. I don’t care how you feel. We think children have to be “true to themselves” and shouldn’t be made to share their toys if they “don’t want to.” Look. Everything hangs on our children learning to do what needs to be done whether they want to or not.
No one just wakes up one morning feeling like doing something he, she, doesn’t feel like doing. Feeling like living within limits. Feeling like imposing restrictions on her, or his, boundless desires. Feeling like a little self-discipline. Feeling like forcing himself, herself, into doing what needs to be done regardless of how much resistance he, she, generates in doing it. We don’t just suddenly one day decide to spend the rest of our life doing the things that need to be done no matter how we feel about it.
Of course, there is the other side to consider. Some of us have never done anything we wanted to do all our lives long. Some of us, though we are getting older now, and there aren’t as many of us as there used to be, have only done what needed to be done because it needed to be done, when what really needed to be done was left undone because we were told it was selfish and unconscionable to do what we wanted to do. What we want to do—what we care about doing—needs to be done as much as any of the other things that need to be done.
The trick with authenticity and genuineness is this: We have to be true to ourselves within the context and circumstances of our lives. We cannot say yes to ourselves always at the expense of the context and circumstances of our lives, and we cannot say yes to the context and circumstances of our lives always at the expense of ourselves. Sometimes I say yes to me and no to you, and sometimes I say no to me and yes to you. And I am in charge of, responsible for, deciding how much for me and how much for you. I am in charge of, responsible for, deciding what needs to be done. And, my needs are on the table along with all the other needs. And, all the other needs are on the table along with my needs.
We live our lives in the service of what needs to be done, and our needs need to be served as much as any need. But, other needs also need us. And we choose, in each moment, whose needs will be served.
Congregations seem to think they pay me to make them happy. To meet their needs. To take care of them. I think congregations pay me to wake them up. But, you can’t wake anyone up AND make them happy. I’m sure you see the problem. In order to make, and keep, congregations happy, I have to put myself to sleep—in the veterinary science sense of the term. I have to euthanize myself. Well. If I’m dead, we are all dead. But, it is only right that I pay a price for waking up and being alive. There is a price to be paid. It is the hardest thing in the world, waking up and being alive. When we wake up, we wake up to the fact of competing needs and the necessity of decision and choice. When your needs are on the table with all the things that need you, whose needs are you going to attend now? You have to decide. To choose. But, it is like dying to decide. To choose. It is better to be asleep, and “happy.”
It comes down to doing what we care about and what needs to be cared about whether we care about it or not. To do that is to be authentic, and genuine, and awake, and alive. To do that is to live successfully, regardless of the outcome, in spite of the results, of our living.
To do what we care about and what needs to be cared about whether we care about it or not has nothing to do with achievement, and accomplishment, and attainment, and acquirement, and acquisition—the Five A’s which typically are used to gauge the degree of one’s “success” at life. Every person society considers “successful” has been successful in these five areas. When we “do something” with our lives, we do it in these five areas. When we “make a difference,” we make it in one or more of these five areas. No one ever “made a difference” just changing a baby’s dirty diaper, unless, of course, you take the baby into account.
All this changes when we spend our lives doing what we care about and what needs to be cared about whether we care about it or not. Then we don’t look to see what good we are going, or what difference we are making, or what results we are amassing. We are just doing what needs to be done. We are just doing what we care about and what needs to be cared about. No matter what. That is my sure-fire, never-fail, prescription for life. And, I can’t give it away.