Becoming or believing? Transcending the self-improvement obsession.
It’s the time for resolutions. Time to evaluate our progress over the last year and fix our wills on some S.M.A.R.T goals for the next year. Which is all well and good. May you find success in your goals!
Here, however, I invite you to pause with me and consider a few deep questions: “how am I evaluating progress in life? What final goal am I seeking to achieve?”
These are not easy questions to answer for myself. I rarely pause long enough to articulate what I think counts as success. To do so would take more than a passing thought—I need to sit down, think hard about how I’ve been living, and write out what I feel are my core values. (A practice I sincerely invite you to do!)
But the moment I pause with those questions, an even deeper one appears: what should I be doing with my life? This is a scary question! But one well worth considering. Let me share my own meditations with you.
Leaving behind the obviously wrong answers such as amassing pleasure, wealth, fame, power, etc. I think there are really only two candidates as good answers.
First, I should strive to become a better person—someone who is good, generous, and useful. Many wise people have answered: “Life is full of suffering, and there is nothing you can do about that on a universal scale, so strive to live in such a way that you leave your small part of the world better than how you found it.”
This answer is quite good. It’s even the right answer so long as I limit the scope of my analysis to this life-before-death alone. And this is often what well-meaning folks mean when they say I “should” be striving to be like Jesus. But I do not think this is Jesus’ answer.
The second, and better answer to the question, “What should I be doing with my life?” is that I should “strive” to rely more on—trust more in—God.
I put “strive” in quotes because this is a tricky word. Relying more on God means relying less on everything else. I am trying harder to not try so hard. Striving to cease striving. I think what I should be doing with my life is increasingly trusting that God has already “given me everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called me by his own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:3).
As John Kleinig puts it in Grace Upon Grace, “Christian spirituality presupposes that we have been given the gift of eternal life and enjoy it now here on earth… we have no need to climb up to heaven on our own.”
This is what life is about—growing in trusting God. In practical terms this means to “cast all my cares upon him” firmly believing that “he cares about me.” (1 Peter 4:7) And to let go of my worry and anxiety about everything, because “the Lord is near,” and to learn to pray, ask, and thank God in every circumstance. (Philippians 4:5-6).
The point of life is to trust that God loves me. That he has already secured my eternal future with him, and that he is present and active for my good in every circumstance of life. All that needs to be done is already done, and God has done it for me. Amen!
P.s. We’re not quite done with that first answer. God does want to free me from the sin that holds me back. He wants to make me into a good, generous, and useful person! However, the deep mystery is that I cannot have that as my first goal. Instead, I must let go of every shred of self reliance—I must die to myself—in order to find myself.
Seek to trust God, which is to be in the kingdom of God, says Jesus, and the rest will given.
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