There’s a point when we grow up, leave childhood, and find ourselves wandering in the desert. We open our eyes and look around. We really see this big world for the first time. It’s full of beauty and goodness, but also ugliness and danger. Some people may be shocked when they first realize their companions in this wandering are capable of the greatest generosity and love, but also the most horrific selfishness and cruelty. Humanity is a living, breathing contradiction. As we grow up and mature, we realize this near schizophrenic capacity for tremendous good and terrible evil is also in our own heart.
We find ourselves dropped in the middle of this mess, trying to make our way, but we don’t start from zero. By the time we become conscious of this wandering in the desert, we already have a history, a family, somewhat of a direction that life is already taking. By the time we become responsible for our own life, so much of it has been decided for us already: where we live, where we went to school, who our friends were, good and bad experiences that marked our personality. And a lot of it isn’t fair! We didn’t get to decide how the deck of cards would be stacked, but now we find ourselves in a game we didn’t ask to join, being forced to play the hand we’re dealt. Our life, our talents, our personality are all given to us as a challenge, as if to say: “here, make something out of this.”
Paths in the Wilderness
And still, life opens up before us with an almost limitless amount of paths to choose from. Every step we take, every decision, moves us forward. But it also begins to limit the options we have available. Find a job, earn a degree, get married, buy a house, have kids… each of these big life moments (and even the small ones) move us forward and reduce our ability to choose. Every decision FOR something is a decision AGAINST something else. Marrying one person means not marrying everyone else. Moving to a new city means leaving and giving up so much of what we already have.
A fear of renouncing some of the limitless possibilities of life may paralyze us, so we never end up freely, consciously committing to a way forward. New paths and adventures open up, but we throw them away—not because we don’t feel it’s the right path for us to take, but because we are afraid to renounce what we already have or some of our future possibilities.
But the one inevitability of life is that it does move forward. There is no stopping the cold, cruel march of time. What seems like postponing or refusing to make decisions in order to keep us as free as possible, is actually one of the greatest threats to our freedom. This choice not to decide is still a decision. It is a choice that’s disguised as prudence or simply “not yet.” We opt to continue walking on our current path, even though we may know we were made for something better, or even hate the path we’re on. It’s the one we know, and staying there gives a sense of security.
But it’s not change for its own sake that should be the goal, and the problem isn’t necessarily the place we spontaneously find ourselves. It’s that we haven’t intentionally decided to be there. So many people find themselves in this situation, and just keep on walking forward. They never fully decide to live the path they are on, nor do they decide to take a different direction.
Instead of being the masters of their life, they just passively react to whatever is thrown at them. There’s no real thought or plan for anything other than accepting the random circumstances of life. Chance becomes their master. Sure, they may make a life for themselves, checking off all the boxes—family, house, job, financial security—but they have never fully accepted the work of directing their lives. Of course, truly taking on that responsibility for our life can be terrifying, because then we have no one to blame for our misery and bad decisions.
A Risky Enterprise
For those who do fully accept the challenge of life, it can become a tremendous adventure. Decisively embracing the direction our life takes is a risky enterprise! There’s no other adventure sport so challenging as living life intentionally. Of course, that’s nearly impossible if we don’t clearly know our final destination. How can we determine if a left turn is best right now without knowing where we are eventually trying to go?
It’s easy to just “say” the final destination is heaven. But saying it isn’t enough; each person has to individually come to accept it as the practical orientation of the project that is their life. First, we have to first see that it’s true—perhaps in an academic or intellectual way—but then we have to bring our heart to believe. If the heart doesn’t believe it, then our concrete decisions won’t really be directed toward that end.
Even more mysterious is the fact that God Himself cares what we do with our lives and seems to have an opinion about that! The key to everything is to discover who we are and what we were made for. Once we realize the person we are matters, the decisions we make matter, and the final destination matters, then everything about life changes, because embracing that responsibility is the necessary first step to holiness.