Jesus said, in Luke 12:57, “Why don’t you decide for yourselves what is right?” And, he said, in Luke 9:20, “Who do YOU say that I am?” Jesus puts us in the driver’s seat. Which, of course, is exactly where we belong. And which, of course, is exactly where we do not want to be. With the wheel comes the responsibility for the trip, and we have to have someone to blame. We can’t handle the truth of being wrong. Better to let someone else tell us what to do. Better to follow someone else’s directions to a life of the living dead than to make our own choices and be wrong. And be laughed at. And fail. Oh, the shame of it!
“Why don’t you decide for yourselves what is right?” “Because we might be wrong!” “What’s wrong with being wrong?” “Oh, we might go to hell if we are wrong!” “You are wrong about being wrong and you are creating hell by trying to avoid it.” “No, no! YOU are wrong to say we are wrong! And we are going to have to nail you to a cross for your transgression!”
You can’t challenge people’s deeply held convictions without paying a heavy price. They can’t allow themselves to be wrong, and that’s that. They will do what someone else tells them to do until that person tells them to think for themselves. They cannot think for themselves. They cannot live their own lives. They cannot find their own way to what has meaning and purpose for them. They have to be told what to do!
But, there is no way around it: The disciples must become like the Master in following no master. The secret, and we all know it, but are afraid of it, so we tell ourselves it is lost, and forgotten, and far away, beyond deep seas, across high mountains, and through heavy forests and dark jungles, and is terribly ancient, and written in an unknown script, and has to be translated by those who have been initiated in the ways of the secret and have been taught the code, and they can tell us what to do, so we must listen to them. But all of that is nonsense. The secret is known to us all. It comes down to this: Listen to yourself.
Who knows better the way of your heart than you? Who knows better the way of your life than you? Of course, you protest, deny, denounce, because you don’t trust yourself. You don’t know what you know, or how you know it. You can’t explain it, articulate it, say it, map it, define it, time-line it, write it up and put it in your pocket for handy reference. That’s what knowing means to us. It means knowing ahead of time. It means announcing, declaring, proclaiming, expositioning. It means knowing well in advance, from afar, all the steps in sequence and regular gradations from here to there. That’s knowing. Anything less than that is not having a clue.
Well. You got here, didn’t you? How did that happen? How do you know this is the place to be? What knew to bring you here? To bring you back here? How do you know when it’s time to go to bed? To get out of bed? What to wear? When to eat lunch and dinner, and what to eat for lunch and dinner? How do you know were to go on vacation? How do you know when enough is enough? How do you know when you have reached the end of your rope? How do you know what’s next?
How do you know what’s next? This is the heart of the matter. Knowing what’s next is knowing at its best. And, we don’t know how we know. But, we cannot deny that we know. We may not know what is good, what is right, in terms of being able to articulate it, define it, explain it, declare it, say it. But, we know a good apple when we eat one, and a rotten banana when we see one. And, we know when it is time for an apple, or a banana, or a cup of coffee. And, we know when we have had enough. We know what’s next, and what’s not. And, it doesn’t matter how we know. We just know.
Knowing what’s next, and what’s not, is enough to know. We could live the rest of our lives knowing no more than that. But, to know that much is to know more than that. Knowing what’s next, and what’s not, over time will create its own theme, its own direction, its own momentum. Looking back it will appear as though a great plan is working its way out in our lives. All we were doing was the next thing, but things fit together in a way that could not possibly be coincidental. Our knowing is part of a larger knowing that is omniscient, omnipotent, compassionate and wise. It is God’s will that is being worked out in our lives! And, we will develop a religion replete with theology and doctrines based on our experience of God’s Plan being worked out in our lives. We have moved from not knowing anything to knowing Everything About God and God’s Will for Our Lives in one short segment of a lifetime. Amazing, don’t you think, for people who were only intent on doing the next thing? For people who don’t give themselves credit for knowing anything?
We know what we need to know, but we don’t trust ourselves to know anything, because we have been condemned, chastised, criticized, critiqued, judged, belittled, shamed, ridiculed and made fun of for not being what someone else wanted us to be and we are afraid to be ourselves and can’t risk being wrong. We have to please those who have to be pleased and know best, you know. Never mind if we have to die doing it. That’s a small price to pay to get them off our backs.
We try so hard to be perfect that we are not alive to the moment of our living. We try so hard to please our detractors, satisfy our critics, and make happy those who have never been happy, and cannot be happy, that we fail to notice the things that need doing which no one who counts and must be pleased (and knows best) would want us to do. When we see life through the eyes of those who count and must be pleased (and know best), we do not see life through our own eyes, and have no idea of how to live so as to satisfy our own sense of what needs to be done. If we cannot be pleased with our life until those who count and must be pleased (and know best) are pleased with our life, we will never live our own life, the life that is truly pleasing to us.
The trick is to be truly pleased with our life, with the life we are living. Not because someone else is pleased with it, with us, but because it is deeply satisfying and essentially right just as it is. If that is not the case, what would it take for it to be the case? What would need to happen that is not happening, or not happen that is happening for your life to be deeply satisfying and essentially right just as it is? If you don’t know, what is your best guess? What is right about your life? What are you doing that is deeply satisfying and essentially right? What are you most pleased with about your life?
What do you need more of in your life? Less of? How would that help you toward satisfaction and rightness? What is preventing satisfaction and rightness? What is assisting it? What are the forces of life at work in your life? Of death? Of what do you need to be free in order to live a life that is deeply satisfying and essentially right? What symbolic gesture can you make toward a life that is deeply satisfying and essentially right?
When it comes to being alive in the time left for living, we have to reinvent the wheel. Throw the baby out with the bath. Refuse to carry the pathology of the past into our future. We are the wheel. We are the baby. We are the pathology of our past. How do you leave you behind and carry you forward? Here’s how you do it: Take every step with as much awareness, and presence, and attention as you can muster, and practice mustering more with each step. Here’s how you do it: Be clear about what constitutes life for you, and be clearer about it with each step. Here’s a hint for you: Money is not life, security is not life, stability is not life, safety is not life, but neither is poverty, insecurity, instability, and having no place of refuge and safety to call your own. Do not confuse the things that are life with the things that are not life.
Life is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, generosity, goodness, faithfulness, self-discipline, grace, creativity, insight, vision, clarity, courage, mercy, resiliency, wisdom, caring-presence, laughter, playfulness, awareness, delight, and the like. No one was ever alive who was not present for good in the moment of their living. Who was not a source of life, and light, and peace in the lives of others. Who did not relish, exude, exhibit contradiction, inconsistency, absurdity, nonsense, truth, beauty, compassion, peace and disruption, perfection and imperfection. Who did not live appropriately offering what was called for in each moment of living.
Where do we go from here? What does the situation call for, allow? What needs to happen? What can happen? How do we accommodate ourselves to the needs and possibilities of our situation? Can we separate what needs to happen from what we want to happen?
We have Our Way, the way we wish things were, the way we want things to be. And, there is The Way, the way things are and the way things actually can be. We have to accommodate Our Way with The Way. We work with the way things are to have them become as much like we want them to be as they can be, without interfering with the way anyone else wants them to be. We all have to settle for less than we wish we had. How much less has to be worked out among us.
We have to adjust our ideas (our wishes and wants and dreams) for our lives in order to live well within the possibilities, within the limitations. Our ideas for our lives are always coming up against the limitations. That’s where life is worked out, for better or worse. The nature of that engagement determines the degree to which we live or die. How alive can we be, not getting our way, not having what we want? How well can we accommodate our way, our wants, to the possibilities of our lives? How well can we live within the limitations of life? What does it take to live a full, rich, and happy life? What is a “successful life”? What do we need to be satisfied? To be “really well off”? And to live appropriately offering what is called for in each moment of living?