Wow. Ten weeks since our last check-in. That’s too long, man. I hope you’ve been active with yourself over that time, but if not, that’s okay. We ’bout to hop back on track.
In the last check-in, I asked you guys to think about what it means, for you, to fall and have to get back up so many times. I’ll ask you to remember that idea, as we check-in with the self once again, undoubtedly about to expose several more ‘fallings off the path,’ as it were.
In the first check-in, I asked you guys about the tough, introspective questions that belong to us all: Who am I? Who do I want to become? How do I get from here to there? Am I on that path right now? I’ll ask you to remember these questions as well, as they give us orientation, destination, direction, and the road map that unifies the three.
I’ll ask you, specifically today, to focus on the second question. I read this quote the other day that really harmonized with the message of this post:
The trouble with not having a goal is that you can spend your life running up and down the field and never score.
– Bill Copeland (Tweet this!)
A bit on the nose, no doubt. But give it a context: you wake up just in time to get to your first class, take good notes, work on a paper during your free period, hit up the dining hall with a couple of friends, head to the next class, contribute to discussion, hit the gym, get back home, knock out some homework, call your mom, get some dinner, watch some Netflix, and hit the hay. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Maybe you got prayer in there somewhere–I hope you did. Scriptural reading, too? Solid.
What was the meaning of all of that? You just ran up and down the field for twenty-four hours. What was the goal? What is the actualization, the realization of all of that effort? Because “I did my homework to do well on the test” becomes “I need to do well on the test to get a good grade in the class” and then “I need a good grade to graduate with a good GPA.” and then “I need that GPA to get a good job” and then “I need that good job to make money” and then “I need that money to get a good house and support my family” and then…”I’ll be happy”?
And I don’t mean to reduce that, because everything in there is valid–I’m doing my homework for that reason, striving for good grades for that reason. Those are real scenarios in our life, and we shouldn’t pretend they aren’t. But until I can say, “Part of my lasting, tangible joy in life will come from raising, protecting, and providing for my eventual family,” I can’t say, “I need to do this homework.”
That’s a wild thought, I get that, but it’s true. If you’re just doing your homework out of an obligation to the moment, to the norms of the people around you, it isn’t manifesting anything you truly seek in life. You have become an automaton, fulfilling the function it was programmed to fulfill. Again, I’m not advocating a complete denial of homework–I’m advocating an investigation of what we want, and of what we want truly.
Who do you want to become? There’s an exercise I like that provides perspective. Write down a list of the distinct roles you experience in your life: it doesn’t have to be a comprehensive list by any means, but just jot down a few: my quick one might include Student, Boyfriend, Family Member, Publications Student Leader.
Orthodox Christian, it should be noted, cannot be relegated to a role in our lives. It is the core of our very being–the fiber from which all of our roles branch out, around which those roles wind. For the sake of the exercise, you may want to create a quasi-role of ‘Orthodox Christian’, to give perspective to the goals you’d like to accomplish in your spiritual life. But recognize that Orthodox Christian does not equal the other roles. It transcends and informs them all.
Pick a milestone in each role. Student may be graduation; Family Member may be returning home for break; Publications Student Leader may be May, when the OCF year is up. Envision those temporal, geographic moments in your mind. Picture yourself in the cap and gown, wearing your school colors. Put your school friends next to you, on your left and right. They’re meeting your family members, who all came to see you receive your degree. See your favorite professor, coming through the crowd to meet your folks.
They all–friends, family members, professor–take a moment to congratulate you on the work you did in school. What do they say?
What do they say? Write it down quick, because guess what–that’s the person you want to become.
This isn’t about seeking praise–doing things simply that others may recognize your successes and laud you for them. This is about perspective. Right now, my teachers would call me a “perpetually late student”; my friends, a “procrastination champion”; my family, “oft disillusioned with all things school.”
Is that the student I want to be? The person I want to become? Certainly not. So use caution in this exercise. Don’t have your mind-people shower you with unworthy laurels. They are simply people of value in your life, telling you what you have done. What type of student do you want to be? Do your family members call you a “hard-working and dedicated” student, your classmates “well-prepared and insightful”, your professor “always willing to try new things and take advice?” I don’t know what they say, but whatever they do, make sure they don’t say anything besides the student that, in this wonderful, ideal, magical thought-castle, you are.
This is what must power you to do your homework–and indeed, infuse every moment you spend in the role of student with meaning and vivacity. This is your destination. This is the person you want to become.
Do this with as many roles as you’d like, as far-reaching as you’d like. Being able to step into Ben’s thirty-year-old shoes has done wonders for almost-twenty-year-old Ben. There’s so much added value to my evening prayers, because thirty-year-old Ben might be helping little four-year-old Benjamin Carson Wentz Optimus Attila Ferdinand Solak, Jr. how to pray at night. If I can’t do it now, how will I be ready to do it then?
Again, that’s a wild thought. But if we want that future tomorrow, we have to be responsible for it today. Christ didn’t come, teach and heal for thirty-some years, and then think to himself, “You know what would really shake things up? If I ascended the cross, died, went into Hades, and broke the chains of death all the way down to Adam.” No, the prophets were foretelling of the Messiah for a long time; St. John was telling folks that the Kingdom of Heaven while Herod was still searching for baby Jesus. The future is coming–we can either be ready, or get swept up in the tide.
So check in with your future self today, I suppose. Who would you like to become? What are the words your friends and family will use to describe you, ten years down the road? Twenty? Seventy? Once you know, act. Bring your goal into fruition.
Don’t dilly-dally on this, guys. You never know how much time you have left. In the immortal words of the White Rabbit, “Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be late.”