Depravity: How the book of Romans reads me

A few weeks ago, I sat down with my mentor and caught him up to speed on where I’ve been spiritually and the stuff I’ve been wrestling with. He helped me identify what I was dealing with, which is the depravity of man. The reality that, though I’ve given my life to Christ and believe in everything He’s done for me and is doing for me, that I still sin. Even though I know what’s wrong and what’s right, I still do things I know are wrong. Even when I don’t want to do things, I still do them. In his explanation of this, he mentioned the book of Romans several times and Paul’s own experience wrestling with this reality. So, on Sunday morning two weeks ago, instead of going to church anywhere, I decided to just spend time with God and sat down and read through the entire book of Romans. Though, in all honesty, I didn’t really read the book of Romans. The book of Romans read me.

If you’ve read the book of Romans before, you probably know that it’s chock full of promises from God. Romans 8 is (in my opinion) one of the most uplifting, encouraging, inspirational chapters in the entire Bible:

Romans 8:1

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.

Romans 8:10-11

And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God. The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.

Romans 8:15-18

So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later.

Romans 8:28

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.

Romans 8:31

What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us?

Romans 8:38-39

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

*All passages in this blog are from the New Living Translation of the Bible.

These promises are incredibly encouraging for everyone living under the abundant grace and promises that God has given us. But, if you’ve read some of my recent blogs (namely “Blogging Again” and “I Can’t”) you’ll know that, quite frankly, I’ve heard these things my entire life. I’ve been taught them since before I can remember and, in twenty-one years of life, have gotten kind of desensitized to them. So I was reading through Romans, not for the promises and encouragement, but for the explanation of where I’m at. For the harsh reality that is the depravity of man and the way that Jesus has saved us from our inability to do what we know is right and to stop doing what we know is wrong. I’ve read through Romans multiple times, but I’ve never read it the way I did today. And the way I read it today has more meaning for my life than anything else I’ve read before.

Before I continue, I want to make it clear that I am not a theologian. Well, maybe I am in a sense, but not really. What’s important is that I will be the first one to admit that I don’t have the answers. It’s entirely possible I may have gotten something wrong in here. And the way I think about things now could change entirely from the way I think about things at some point in the future. But this is kind of how faith works. It’s a journey. God doesn’t give you everything all at once, He gives it to you in pieces, leads you from point A to point B to point C. So if there’s something I’ve posted in here that you disagree with completely, great. If there’s something I’ve gotten wrong in here, cool. That’s fine. This just happens to be where my brain is at right now and this is one of the main ways that I organize my thoughts. Don’t send me angry hate emails or something. If you want to leave a comment, maybe explaining something I’ve misunderstood and trying to help me understand it better, that would be much preferred. I want to understand this, not be yelled at it for my misunderstanding. So thank you. Anyway, moving on.

Starting in the second chapter, Paul’s words to the Roman church started to strike really close to the heart:

Romans 2:28-29

For you are not a true Jew just because you were born of Jewish parents or because you have gone through the ceremony of circumcision. No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by the Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people.

What may be somewhat confusing here is Paul’s description of a “true Jew.” What’s important to remember is the context of Paul’s writing. This was in a time a few years after the death and resurrection of Christ, when Christianity as a religion was still young, but was spreading throughout Israel, Asia, and the Mediterranean. At this time, Christians were divided into two categories: Jews and Gentiles. The Jews were the people who had been raised being taught the law and may have known the Scriptures inside and out since they were taught basically from birth. These people had been raised following the law since before they even really knew what the law was. In the past two thousand years, the distinction of Jew and Gentile has all but disappeared, as most Christians nowadays are, in fact, Gentiles. We’re all just Christians at this point, and the title of “Jew” generally doesn’t apply to the Christian faith any more. At this point, I would argue that the “true Jews” Paul is talking about apply to a different group nowadays. I believe that it applies to, simply, “true Christians.” Try reading the passage this way:

For you are not a true Christian just because you were born of Christian parents or because you have gone through the ceremony of baptism. No, a true Christian is one whose heart is right with God.

Obviously, this change to the verse doesn’t translate for the entire passage since circumcision is not 100% equivalent with baptism. Regardless, do you see my point here? The American church at large is filled with people who consider themselves “true Christians” because they were born of Christian parents and were baptized. But Paul makes it clear that’s not the case, saying that “a true [Christian] is one whose heart is right with God.” This deceptive reality is one that I and many of my peers who I grew up in the church with grew up in. And I would argue it’s the reality many young Christians my age grew up in. And I also believe that many of them are probably starting to realize this lie for what it is.

Paul continues his explanation of the purpose of the law in chapter 3.

Romans 3:19-28

Obviously, the law applies to those to whom it was given, for its purpose is to keep people from having excuses, and to show that the entire world is guilty before God. For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are.

But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God freely and graciously declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.

Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on obeying the law. It is based on faith. So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law.

There are a couple verses in this passage that stood out the most to me. Verses 19-20 make it clear that the law exists so that we would see how sinful we are, so that we would have a clear understanding that we can’t do everything right. But Jesus, full of unfailing love and faithfulness, came to give us a way to be made right with God without fulfilling the requirements of the law because, quite simply, we can’t. We are completely incapable of fulfilling the law. The fact that Jesus came to die and save us means that, as Paul explains in verses 27 and 28, that we can never be proud of ourselves for obeying the law. We cannot boast to other people about our obeying and fulfilling the law because we already broke it. And Jesus came and died so that we wouldn’t have to try to fulfill the law because, again, we can’t. So we have no reason to be proud of ourselves for our obedience. Ever. It’s by faith we’ve been saved, not by anything we’ve done or tried to do.

Being human, many people would obviously take this the wrong way. Paul attempts to address this soon afterward in verse 31 of chapter 3, “Well then, if we emphasize faith, does this mean that we can forget about the law? Of course not! In fact, only when we have faith do we truly fulfill the law.”

Just because we can’t fulfill the law doesn’t mean we ignore the law. It’s still important. Paul makes it clear that taking on faith and believing in Jesus is, in fact, the only way to fulfill the law. If you don’t believe in Jesus and don’t have faith, you aren’t fulfilling the law. Jesus came and lived a perfect life and gave His life as a sacrifice to fulfill the law for us; our fulfillment of the law comes in accepting the gift He offered and having faith in Him.

This seems to have strayed a bit from the total depravity of man, but in reality it hasn’t. The law and man’s attempt to fulfill it is, in and of itself, the focal point of man’s depravity. The fact that we have a sin nature and have sin in our hearts is where man’s attempt to fulfill the law comes into play, and the depravity of man is made known. But there is still plenty of truth Paul writes in this book that continue to address all of these issues.

In Romans 4, Paul writes:

Romans 4:14-16

If God’s promise is only for those who obey the law, then faith is not necessary and the promise is pointless. For the law always brings punishment on those who try to obey it. (The only way to avoid breaking the law is to have no law to break!)

So the promise is received by faith. It is given as a free gift. And we are all certain to receive it, whether or not we live according to the law of Moses, if we have faith like Abraham’s. For Abraham is the father of all who believe.

 

If God’s promise is only for those who obey the law, there is no promise. God would have made a promise for no reason, knowing that no one was able to obey the law, leaving His promise permanently out of reach and unattainable to anyone who would ever live. Simply because “the law brings punishment on those who try to obey it.” As Paul says in Romans 2:12, “When the Gentiles sin, they will be destroyed, even though they never had God’s written law. And the Jews, who do have God’s law, will be judged by that law when they fail to obey it.” Since we know that we aren’t able to obey the law, we’ll be judged by it and receive the punishment from it. So the promise is received by faith. And when we have faith like Abraham’s, we receive this gift whether or not we live according to the law. Some people will read “And we are all certain to receive it, whether or not we live according to the law of Moses,” and will take that statement without finishing the verse, which makes it clear that we’ll receive it “if we have faith like Abraham’s.” Faith saves, not works. Understanding that we can’t fulfill the law is pointless without the understanding that faith is what saves us. Understanding the former without the latter will just lead to people giving up on their belief. But understanding that accepting Jesus’ free gift and receiving this gift by faith leads to eternal life and being saved through Him. And, as was brought to my attention and realization by close friends of mine through discussion recently, the thing about having faith like Abraham is that, if we believe in Jesus, we already have faith like Abraham. It’s not something we have to work toward. Having faith like Abraham involves having faith that God is for us and has saved us and has a plan. We’ve already been given that gift of faith by the grace of God.

In Romans 5, Paul writes:

Romans 5:7-8

Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.

Before we could even be saved, while we were still living in sin, God sent His son to die for us. God knew we couldn’t fulfill the law and sent His Son to fulfill it for us. He knew that, even after accepting the gift He offers us, that we would still sin. That we still wouldn’t be able to fulfill the law. And yet He came anyway. He came to save us in spite of our depravity.

In Romans 7, Paul addresses exactly what I’ve been feeling. He addresses exactly what I’ve felt and been concerned about.

Romans 7:14-25

So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.

And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.

I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.

This is the primary issue I’ve wrestled with. “I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.” I’ve just been incredibly frustrated by the fact that, although I know what I should and should not do, I do the opposite. This really helped make it clear as to why. “If I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.” I’m still letting this reality sink in. The reality that, though I mess up quite often, I still live and walk in the grace that God has offered me. The fact that I know that what I do is wrong does not mean that I am doing wrong; it is my own sin nature causing me to do so. This is a really confusing point that, honestly, I’m still working through in my head. And this doesn’t mean that sin isn’t bad. Sin is still bad. But I shouldn’t be so hard on myself when I do sin. I shouldn’t beat myself up and sit around wishing I was better. I need to be comfortable with the reality that I will sin sometimes. It’s just the reality of my sin nature. And just because I do sin and will sin also doesn’t mean that I’m unrepentant. In fact, repentance is kind of the glue that makes this possible. Without repentance for what you’ve done wrong, you’re just going on sinning for no reason. It’s the realization that what you’ve done is wrong and your repentance, bringing it before the throne of God, that makes it so you don’t have to live ridden with guilt. This is only available to those who have been saved through faith, and I’m incredibly grateful that it’s available to me.

There’s still more in this book to get to, though. In Romans 9:16, Paul says, “So it is God who decides to show mercy. We can neither choose it nor work for it.” Again, Paul makes it clear that we can’t do it ourselves. There is nothing we can do to attain mercy. We can’t save ourselves. We can’t work for it. We can’t choose to receive it. But we can choose Jesus. And God, in turn, will turn around and pour grace and mercy out in abundance over our lives.

This whole living by faith and not by works thing is a lot easier said than done. I’ve realized that more and more for myself in recent times. The Jews of Paul’s time also struggled with this concept:

Romans 9:30-32

What does all this mean? Even though the Gentiles were not trying to follow God’s standards, they were made right with God. And it was by faith that this took place. But the people of Israel, who tried so hard to get right with God by keeping the law, never succeeded. Why not? Because they were trying to get right with God by keeping the law instead of by trusting in him. They stumbled over the great rock in their path. God warned them of this in the Scriptures when he said,

“I am placing a stone in Jerusalem that makes people stumble,

   a rock that makes them fall.

But anyone who trusts in him

   will never be disgraced.”

Working to be saved is a great rock in the path of faith. The law is a difficult thing. It’s good, and we should follow it, but trying to live up to the letter of the law will, in and of itself, result in condemnation, because we’ll be judged by the standard of the law and we will, inevitably, break one of its rules. Trying hard to follow the law, striving to follow the law, without the assistance or power of Jesus and the Spirit of God living within you, just leads to death. And you’ll never be satisfied with your own performance at following the law. Because that’s what an attempt to follow the letter of the law is about: Performance. The idea that all eyes are on you and you need to do everything right for yourself and the people around you to see. But Jesus isn’t about performance. Jesus is about faith. In Colossians 3:23, Paul writes, “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.” Striving to fulfill the letter of the law is working for man, putting on a display that is right in man’s eyes. But God doesn’t want us to work for man and try to prove ourselves to the people around us. God wants us to become more like Jesus. And He wants us to become more like Jesus by relying on His power and His Spirit to continually work in us and through us. To change our hearts and the hearts of those around us. It’s a difference between working hard and living a life of faith. And God wants us to live a life of faith, falling into Him and pursuing Him deeper and deeper each day.

This is a difficult concept for people to wrap their brain around. I still struggle with it, if I’m being honest. We’re supposed to become more like Jesus by trusting in Him to do a work in us. Being more like Jesus involves loving more, loving better, and, because of who He is, sinning less. But sinning less involves following the law. But we aren’t supposed to try hard to follow the law because that in and of itself is going against the grace that’s been lavished upon us. It comes back to the issue of trying to keep the law instead of trusting in Jesus. Trying to keep the law based on Jesus’ working in your heart is the key. And this conclusion can take people a long time to realize. In Romans 10, Paul writes:

Romans 10:1-10

Dear brothers and sisters, the longing of my heart and my prayer to God is for the people of Israel to be saved. I know what enthusiasm they have for God, but it is misdirected zeal. For they don’t understand God’s way of making people right with himself. Refusing to accept God’s way, they cling to their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the law. For Christ has already accomplished the purpose for which the law was given. As a result, all who believe in him are made right with God.

For Moses writes that the law’s way of making a person right with God requires obedience to all of its commands. But faith’s way of getting right with God says, “Don’t say in your heart, ‘Who will go up to heaven?’ (to bring Christ down to earth). And don’t say, ‘Who will go down to the place of the dead?’ (to bring Christ back to life again).” In fact, it says,

“The message is very close at hand;

   it is on your lips and in your heart.”

And that message is the very message about faith that we preach: If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved.

Our declaration of faith and our belief in Jesus in our heart makes us right with God. So at this point, no good thing that we do can make us more right with God. And no bad thing we do can make us less right with God. We just believe in Him and become more like Him every day. We don’t want to have an enthusiasm for God that’s simply misdirected zeal. We don’t want to be excited about God and then wander around as slaves to the law, striving our hardest to fulfill everything that’s asked of us to do. We want to press into the Spirit and fall deeper into the love, grace, and mercy that Jesus has in abundance for us. There is only one way to get right with God; we don’t want to cling to another way that will get us nowhere.

There are other things that go along with this, though. Paul writes in Romans 12:3, “Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.” There is a lot that goes into this statement. This is an issue of pride, something that everyone deals with at some point in some way or another. We aren’t meant to think of ourselves higher than we really are. On the flipside of that coin, we also shouldn’t think of ourselves as less than we really are. Either one is wrong. If you think you’re better than you really are, odds are you’ll end up being disappointed when you mess up. You’ll get down on yourself and beat yourself up, feeling guilty for not living up to whatever standard you may have in your mind. If you think of yourself as less than you really are, that edges into the territory of believing that what Jesus did on the cross wasn’t enough for you. Which, honestly, is more dangerous than thinking more of yourself. If you think “I’m not worth anything, I just mess up all the time, I can’t do anything right,” that is thinking of yourself as less than a son or daughter of God. Less than a co-heir to the throne of God. Less than royalty. Less than saved. This is wrong. Very wrong. Thinking of yourself as less than saved by grace through faith, that Jesus’ sacrifice wasn’t enough to save you, reveals an unbelief in God that needs to be sorted out. So the key here is to not think more of yourself, not think less of yourself, but be real with where you really are. Be comfortable with your flaws. Not saying that you don’t want them to not be there, because we should always be wanting to become more like Jesus. But be comfortable with the fact that you’re going to mess up sometimes. And it isn’t exactly “okay,” but it is, in fact, okay. Because it’s going to happen. It’s bound to happen inevitably because of our sin nature. Sin is bad, but understanding that you are going to sin is good. We need to be comfortable with that reality. We need to be comfortable with our own depravity.

This doesn’t mean that we should just sin whenever we feel like it. We should still be working every day to become more like Jesus. There’s a difference between sinning (because we’re going to) and sinning because we know we’re going to. The moment you think to yourself, “Well, I’m going to sin anyway, so I might as well just do x, y, or z,” is the moment you’ve edged out of faith and into licentiousness. Licentiousness is when people think that, because they’re saved, they have license to sin knowing that God will forgive them later. Yes, God will forgive you. No, that doesn’t mean that you should sin because of that fact. Moments of temptation should lead to prayer, not some sort of illogical reasoning that says, “If I do x, God will still forgive me, so I’ll do it anyway.” NO. BAD. WRONG. Don’t do that. And I’ll be the first to admit that I have thought this at times. And, looking back on it, I just feel gross about it. Being comfortable with our own depravity involves knowing that we are going to sin, but still trying to be like Jesus and not beating ourselves up horrendously when we do sin. That isn’t what God would do. When God sees us sin, He says, “I still love you. Nothing can change that.” When we bring our sin before Him in repentance, He says, “I know. And I still love you. Nothing can change that.” On a side note, the moment we start to think that God is surprised when we bring our sin before Him in repentance is another moment when you should realize you got confused about something somewhere. He knows already. He just wants to hear it from you.

The last thing I want to get to that stuck out to me in this book comes from Romans 13.

Romans 13:13-14

Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see. Don’t participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires.

We’re supposed to live in the light. We’re supposed to live in such a way so that people can see everything we stand for and the reality of radical forgiveness and grace that we live in. So, that does imply that something should be done about the things Paul mentions in these verses: wild parties and drunkenness, sexual promiscuity and immoral living, quarreling and jealousy. The fact that Paul mentions these things specifically implies that there’s something that needs to be done with them. If you’re living a life in Christ, and any of these things exist in your life, GET RID OF THEM. No, seriously, it’s not okay. These are things you need to get sorted out. Get help if you need it. These are the things of the world, and we are meant to be in the world and not of it. How can people tell that your life is different from theirs if you engage in all of the same crap that they do? So, get it sorted out. Then, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. Live your life in the light. Be real with people about what you believe, in whom you place your hope, where you find your joy. Live life in the light.

So this has been a long post. I had a lot of thoughts about this book. And, suffice it to say, I have a lot of stuff to work on. Just in general. This is something that I’m becoming more comfortable with and that I’m working on improving day by day. Just because I came to these realizations doesn’t mean that they set in right away. It’ll take time. But I have faith that things will work out all right and I’m hopeful, looking forward to the way God will work all of this out in my heart in the (hopefully near) future. Depravity is something many people, especially those in the modern American church, don’t entirely understand. It’s been a place of confusion for me for a long time, and in some ways it still kind of is. But I know that God illuminated this in my heart for a reason, and I know that He’ll give me further clarity in the days to come. But for now, all I know is that I’m going to sin today. And tomorrow. And every day after that. But that doesn’t change who I am or who God is.

Nothing’s Original: A plea for the revival of imagination

Recently, I took a short little quiz that tested whether I was primarily left or right brained and the percentage of each. I knew basically what the results were going to be, and this ended up being the result of my test:

Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 9.32.16 PM

The result didn’t surprise me one bit. I know that I’m very right brain inclined. What caught me off guard was the primary word at the top of that right brain list.

Imagination.

This surprised me, quite frankly. From my perspective, I feel that my imagination died years ago. I grew up without many friends, there weren’t any kids in the neighborhood I lived in, and I never really played with my siblings, so I grew up primarily watching TV and playing video games to pass the time. I owned tons of toys and action figures and, honestly, I can’t for the life of me remember the last time I played with any of those toys and used my imagination. I made this thought clear when I posted my results on Facebook, stating that I honestly believed that my imagination died when I was around eight years old. It was then that an old school friend of mine reminded me that I wrote my own fictional stories all the way up until I was in middle school. I shared a lot of these stories with my friends as I wrote them. And I honestly forgot about them. Then I remembered that, even early on in high school, whenever we had any sort of creative writing prompts, my wheels usually started turning pretty rapidly. I remember one prompt in particular based on a short story called “The Scarlatti Tilt.” Although I suppose “short story” is an overstatement. The story, written by Richard Brautigan, is as follows:

“It’s very hard to live in a studio apartment in San Jose with a man who’s learning to play the violin.” That’s what she told the police when she handed them the empty revolver.

That’s it. Two sentences. Our prompt was to write a story based off this story. As soon as I read this story, my brain started to kick into gear. What I eventually ended up with was a story of a man who lost his job as principal violinist of the orchestra, who, driven by sorrow after losing everything he’d worked for, ended up murdering his roommate and jumping out the window. The short story above ended up being the final line of my story, delivered by a police officer at the scene. Super dark and grim, I know, but it was unique. It was something different than what most other people would think of. I used my imagination to come up with an intriguing story. This was early in my high school career. Then, suddenly, my imagination just…Stopped.

My question is why? What happened to me so that I stopped using my imagination? So I stopped writing, dreaming, and creating?

I feel like this is a question that many people in our culture nowadays could and should ask. What happened to us so that we stopped dreaming and stopped using our imagination? Because I would argue that the vast majority of creators, particularly in film, TV, and literature, have lost their imagination. Nothing’s original any more. Nearly every movie that’s in theaters nowadays is based off of something: books, “true stories,” TV shows, or even other movies. There’s nothing original any more. And most things that are considered “original” are incredibly cliché and predictable.

So what happens to people? What happened so that creators and artists stopped imagining and using their own unique creativity and started copying other people’s work and making it their own? Where did the epic stories of valiant heroes and adventures disappear to in our culture? And why did they disappear?

I’ve thought about this a lot recently, and I have a theory. Unfortunately, it’s due to the same reason most people quit most things: they’re afraid of what people will say. Most likely due to the fact that someone probably put down their imagination and creativity at some point in the past. And I believe that part of the reason this has become so widespread throughout our culture is due to the way that American public schools operate. Everything is graded. From attendance to participation, everything is graded. In classes with creative writing, students’ assignments and prompt submissions are picked apart in detail. Their grammar is graded, their spelling and punctuation are graded. And, ultimately, and unfortunately, so is their creativity.

When students write a story that follows the traditional hero’s journey, their writing is praised and celebrated, as they effectively used all of the different parts of the formula they’ve been given. When students stray from this recipe or use different ingredients, they’re criticized for not focusing on addressing all parts of the assignment, being sloppy with their schoolwork, and, overall, just not doing a good job.

Let’s consider a hypothetical scenario. Let’s say that Jamey and Jordan are both working on a creative writing assignment. In this scenario, Jamey has a very original idea for his creative writing, something very unique that captures his personality very effectively. Jamey, though he’s very imaginative, isn’t very good at writing with proper grammar and has trouble with spelling. When talking to his friend Jordan, Jamey talks about his story and everything he plans on writing for this assignment, incredibly excited about his ideas. Jordan, who hasn’t been able to think of something, finds Jamie’s idea incredibly interesting and decides to adapt it and use it for his own creative writing response. Jordan won the school spelling bee in elementary school several years in a row and knows in the ins and outs of proper grammar in the English language. When both of these students’ assignments are turned in, Jordan will, more than likely, get a higher grade than Jordan, and even be praised for his creativity and imagination. Jamey, on the other hand, will be marked down for spelling mistakes and improper grammar, and possibly even be accused of cheating off of his friend Jordan and stealing his idea.

How would Jamey feel in this situation? My guess is pretty crappy. He’s now been told that his original, creative idea is garbage simply because he isn’t as good at conforming to the obscure rules of English grammar that, quite frankly, most people don’t care about. How could he not take this criticism and apply it directly to his own ideas? After imagining this story and being so excited about it, his thought after receiving his grade would soon become “Oh, I guess my ideas weren’t very good. I guess other people don’t think it’s as good as I do. Maybe all of my creative ideas are bad.” Jamey stops using his imagination. He feels like it’s pointless, that his own creativity “isn’t good” and is uninteresting to other people. On the other hand, Jordan, being praised for his effective use of prose, feels incredibly accomplished after stealing his friend’s work and using it as his own.

What’s wrong with this picture? If you don’t see something wrong, I’ll be honest, I think you have a problem. When imagination and creativity is graded, students can easily feel that their own imagination is bad, and the natural response from experiencing this criticism is simply to stop imagining things. Stop dreaming. Stop trying to be creative. Because, obviously, no one else appreciates it.

There’s something I feel I need to say here. This isn’t a blog where I propose a solution to the problem I’ve discovered. This is simply the rambling of someone who has discovered an incredibly disheartening reality and has decided to ramble on about it in the hope that other people will become aware of a major issue. This is a plea for the revival of imagination. Children and students should be encouraged in their imagination and creativity. They should be encouraged to dream. And when they dream, when they create, when they use their imagination, they shouldn’t be put down for it. Adhering to the rules laid out by social constructs shouldn’t be what determines whether or not the art and imagination of a child, or anyone of any age, is good. Creativity should be appreciated what it is: Imagination that reflects the unique individual identity of each person. A look inside the heart and mind of the person who creates it. Imagination, dreams, and creativity need to be encouraged. There are stories to be written, art to be created, songs to be recorded, without fear of the judgment or criticism of the people that may encounter it.

I’m not encouraging the praise of mediocrity (which is a blog post for another time), but creativity and imagination should be encouraged for their own sake. Criticizing imagination based on someone’s adherence to socially constructed rules leads to disappointment and, ultimately, shutting down the imagination and leaving it to die where it got shot down. If stories and original art are meant to progress, imagination needs to be allowed to run wild and flourish. I hope to live in a reality where deviance from what’s normal is encouraged in all forms of art. Until then, I’m going to be trying to find my imagination again.

Note: I kinda wrote this stream-of-consciousness with little to no editing, so if it makes little to no sense or seems like there are jumps in logic or that I’m missing points, well, that’s why.

I Can’t: The lame man and the importance of surrender

Recently, I decided to go through the Gospels one chapter at a time with new eyes and ears to hear what God is speaking through them, as if I’d never heard them before. This is due to a lot of recent realizations and revelations about a lot of things that I may write a blog post about sometime soon. Maybe. I don’t have all of my thoughts on that organized yet. But today, I was reading through John, specifically John 5, which starts with the story of the lame man.

In John 5, Jesus and His disciples come upon the pool of Bethsaida which was surrounded by sick people of all varieties (namely blind, lame, or paralyzed according to the NLT). Not everyone knows the importance of the pool of Bethsaida. Basically what happened at the pool of Bethsaida is that at different times, an angel would come and stir the water of the pool, and the first person who made it into the pool would be healed of any affliction they may have. There’s a lot of controversy and debate about this particular instance in Scripture, but I really don’t care because that’s not what I’m focused on. What I’m giving particular interest to is what happens when Jesus walks by the pool, starting in verse 5 of the New Living Translation:

One of the men lying there had been sick for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, “Would you like to get well?”

“I can’t, sir,” the sick man said, “for I have no one to put me into the pool when the water bubbles up. Someone else always gets there ahead of me.”

Jesus told him, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!”

Instantly, the man was healed! He rolled up his sleeping mat and began walking!

John 5:5-9a, NLT

Something important happens here. Something that I never noticed until reading this passage again today. First off, Jesus asks a question: “Would you like to get well?” Other translations read “Do you want to be healed?” (ESV) or “Do you wish to get well?” (NASB). Wait…Isn’t that obvious? Of course he wants to get well! He’s been in this condition for thirty-eight years! Why would anyone in their right minds want to stay like this? Who wouldn’t want to get well?

All of this seems painfully obvious. So, therefore, the question becomes: Why did Jesus ask this question? If Jesus knew what the obvious answer would be, why would He ask a question like this in the first place? Jesus knew what He was doing, so there has to be a purpose. And that purpose was this: Jesus wasn’t asking if the man wanted to get well. He was testing his heart.

Imagine the scenario here: Jesus, Savior of the world, Son of God, filled with unfailing love and faithfulness, walked up to a man who hadn’t walked for thirty-eight years. This man, who has likely been lying here for an incredibly long time, knows that if he can make it into the pool, he will be healed. By his understanding, this was his only chance to be freed and saved from his current condition. There’s a problem here, though, that Jesus sees immediately. Thus, Jesus asks him, “Would you like to get well? Do you want to be healed?”

And the man’s response?

“I can’t.”

His answer wasn’t “Yes.” His answer wasn’t “No.” The man says “I can’t, sir, for I have no one to put me into the pool when the water bubbles up.” This is the answer Jesus was looking for. Obviously the man wanted to be healed. But what Jesus wanted to see was whether or not he had come to the realization that he couldn’t do it on his own. By his own power and his own strength, he wasn’t capable of receiving the healing that he desired. He couldn’t pick himself up and make it to the pool. He was completely incapable and unable to save himself. In the midst of his hope and desire to be healed and to be made well, he recognized his own problem and his inability to accomplish that dream himself.

And Jesus, filled with unfailing love and faithfulness, met him where he was.

This is where Jesus wants to find us.

Jesus asks every single person, “Do you want to be healed?” Often the answer is no. Other times the answer is yes. But not frequently enough in this day in age is the answer “I can’t do it. I can’t be healed. I’ve tried.”

The answer of “no” is a complete refusal of the gift of God. They see what Jesus has to offer and don’t want it. They’re supposedly satisfied where they’re at and don’t want that drastic of a change, so they decide to remain lying by the pool.

The answer of “yes” is an acceptance of the free gift of eternal life that Jesus offers to every person. It is a decision to take what Jesus has offered, the very thing He died for. But, nowadays, more and more frequently, people say “yes” to Jesus and then wander around as if they haven’t been healed, trying to do things in their own power to save themselves and completely forgetting what they’ve been given. They still think they’re able to do something to save themselves from…Something.

The answer of “I can’t” is surrender. A realization that, no matter how hard you try, you’re unable to achieve what you’re trying to do. You can’t save yourself. You can’t heal yourself. All your best efforts will leave you worse off than you were before. It is complete and total surrender. It’s a cry for help. “I can’t do it, will You do it for me?” This is where a true life in Christ begins. This is where Jesus wants to meet us.

I’ve realized recently that this really isn’t where I was when I first gave my life to Christ. I was originally in the category of people that just said “yes” and then tried to keep doing things myself. I tried to follow all the rules as best as I could, because I felt that was what I needed to do. (Not to say that following rules is a bad thing; in fact, it’s a good thing. But it shouldn’t be something that we try super hard to do, it should be something that results from surrender to Christ. Also not to say that after surrendering your life to Christ you should be perfect, because that isn’t possible. That’s where grace comes into play. Anyway…) Obviously, this didn’t work out well. I tried to make things happen myself, which led to years of looking at the world through the lens of comparison, feeling like I was never able to measure up to the expectations that people had for me, and that I was never going to be as good at x, y, or z as the people around me.

I realized that this is where I was before. And that’s why I’ve been starting over with the Gospels with new eyes, soaking in every word that Jesus has for me. I want every promise, every reality that Jesus says that I live in to be the one that I know I live in. And this started with the realization that I had been trying so hard to do things on my own; that I didn’t surrender all of my expectations, hopes, dreams, and flaws to Him. Trying to live a Christian life any other way is missing out on the life that God has for you. Surrendering everything to Jesus, every hope and fear, every sin and prayer, every single facet of your life, is the only way to truly walk in all of the plans and promises that God has in store.

If you’ve experience a life even remotely similar to mine, having been raised in the church and having this entire concept of complete and total surrender ultimately lost on you, I would encourage you to see yourself as the lame man by the pool of Bethsaida. Reposition yourself and redirect your thinking to realize that you can’t do this yourself. You need help. You need someone to pick you up and bring you to the pool. And then you’ll receive something even better.

If you’ve never given your life to Christ before, maybe you’ve come to the realization that your best efforts have failed you, that you’ve just felt stuck and maybe that life is pointless or meaningless. If that’s you, I would encourage you by saying that Jesus is the answer to whatever problem you may be going through. Not the judgmental Jesus that has been portrayed in the media, but the Jesus who wants nothing more than to have a relationship with you and for you to know Him because He loves you more than anyone ever could. That’s my Jesus.

Regardless of who you are or where you’re at in this regard, I feel like there’s no better time than right now to think about who’s controlling your path and who’s in charge of your destiny. Whether it’s you or Jesus.

Conclusion: I can’t. But Jesus can. And He strengthens me to do things every day that I never thought possible.

My prayer is that, at the end of the day, this would be the heart cry of each and every one of us.

Blogging Again

Well, it’s been a couple years, but I’m going to start blogging again. But this time it’s a little bit different. I’ve gone through a ton of life change in the past two years, and especially in the past three months, that has really changed my perspective on a lot of things. Not like, my core beliefs or anything, so all of the stuff I wrote about two years ago is all still perfectly valid. In fact, I read through my old blogs the other day and laughed about it because I still think all of those things. I’ve discovered a lot about myself in these past couple years. And a lot about God. Like, a lot about God. And so I’ve been doing a lot of thinking again, a lot of reflecting, and, most recently, I’ve been reading through the Gospels with new eyes, as if I’m hearing it all for the first time in my life. Primarily because after all these years of living the Christian life or whatever, I’ve realized that there was something that I completely missed. So I’m going back and soaking in every single word that God has given us so that I can be sure I don’t miss a thing. So that’s been very eye-opening. And as I’ve been reading, I’ve realized a lot of things I haven’t realized before and I’ve been thinking a lot about that kind of stuff.

So here’s the main thing: A lot of my blogs now will probably be focused primarily on God, Jesus, Scripture in general, etc. Which, I mean, technically they were always about Jesus before, just in a more roundabout way. There will probably be fewer random rants and more stuff about my own revelations that I’m having, though I still hope to have my long, rambly blog posts about holidays, Valentine’s Day, and stupid people. Those are just fun.

But anyway, if you read my blogs before, thank you! If you didn’t, that’s totally fine! If you want to keep reading them, that’s great! Ultimately, I really don’t care! Do what you want! But if you happen to be reading this and want to read some of my other blogs, I really just hope that you’ll find something encouraging in the midst of all of my rambling. I don’t make much sense, so that’s why I write all my thoughts down in some form. But hey, it makes life interesting.

Grow Up

I don’t try to eavesdrop. Really, I don’t. But on a college campus, people decide to walk right behind you and talk obnoxiously loud. And most of the conversations I hear are so incredibly painful to listen to. I’ll make this clear now, this is more of a rant than anything else. I’ll get to a clear point eventually, but at the moment I’m going to complain about some stuff. There are so many things about the conversations people have on campus that drive me crazy.

First off, why are you having this conversation in public? Seriously, no one really needs to hear about how much you drank this weekend, all the terrible decisions you made, how stupid this guy is being and how he’s not talking to you any more, or any of the other myriad of random crap that people tend to blurt out in public. As just another person walking by, I don’t want to hear all the gory details of your sex life and the party this last weekend. I really couldn’t careless, and you’re pretty much forcing me to listen to it. It’s difficult to not listen to it when you’re screaming in my ear right behind me. Which leads me to my next point.

Why are you so loud? If you were having this conversation in public at a volume that would require someone to actually eavesdrop in order to hear it, that would be one thing. That’s not an issue at all. That’s something normal human beings do. But you’re not doing that. You’re shouting about everything and all the details about all the stuff that no one cares about. There are inside voices and outside voices, but there are some conversations that require an inside voice even when we’re outside. You just need to turn it down a couple notches and chill out. If you could whisper, that would be great, if you could just not talk at all that would be incredible, but if you could just talk at a normal speaking volume for a human being, that alone would be amazing. Seriously, no one wants to listen to the pointless stuff you’re whining about. Which, finally, leads to a legitimate point I’m trying to make.

The things I hear in these conversations that people are subjecting me to usually have a running theme: My life sucks because x, y, z, and it’s all this person’s fault, I’m not to blame. In this equation, we’ll have x equal “I keep drinking every weekend and bad things happen,” we’ll have y equal “my friend is being a terrible person and making my life miserable,” and we’ll have z equal “guys keep breaking my heart.” I’m not trying to be judgmental here, really. I’m taking things directly from conversations I’ve heard. From what I can usually gather, it doesn’t sound like the people complaining about these problems I’ve mentioned are really doing anything about it. It sounds like the people who hate all the things that happen when they drink and party are planning on doing the same thing this coming weekend, the people who have terrible friends either aren’t trying to mend the relationship or are continuing to subject themselves to the treatment they’re receiving, and the people who have had their heart broken numerous times are looking for the next guy after swearing off guys forever and whispering how hot the guy that just passed them was in the same breath. And then, to top all of it off, none of this is their fault. It’s always the fault of the people around them. What seems wrong about this scenario?

Albert Einstein defined insanity as “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Going off of this definition, all of these people I overhear walking across campus are insane. They just keep doing the same thing over and over, thinking to themselves, “This time it’ll be different. This time things won’t turn out the way they always have.” There’s another word I like to use to define this behavior: immaturity. Seriously, people, GROW UP. One of the ways children learn right from wrong is by experiencing consequences for their actions. Eventually they make the connection that said consequences come about when they do certain things, so, logically, they stop doing them to avoid said consequences. People in their teen years to mid-twenties apparently don’t have the logical reasoning of a toddler. Instead of seeing the consequences of their actions and avoiding the problem, they continue to do stupid things.

So here’s my point: If you’re going to complain about the things that happen to you that you’ve been bringing upon yourself, do something about it. If you’re not going to do something about it, shut up, stop complaining, and suck it up. If I become morbidly obese, whining and crying about it is going to make it better, right? I’ll start slimming down, lose weight, and be totally healthy again. Apparently that’s the logic people follow. There’s a lot of healing and recovery that needs to happen in order for things to improve. And the first step is getting away from the choices and lifestyle that are causing the bad things to happen.

If you hate how things turn out every time you drink, here’s a simple solution: STOP DRINKING. If you’re an alcoholic, that’s a different issue that I’m not going to touch. But if you’re one of these people that decides to get completely wasted every weekend, the easiest solution is…Well, to not. It’s not that difficult. Make a conscious decision to not get totally hammered, and you won’t end up with the consequences of getting totally hammered. Logic. If you have really crappy relationships with your “friends” or whatever, one of two things needs to happen: Either you need to put some effort into mending the relationship, because expecting the other person to do all the work is incredibly stupid (and not the definition of a friendship by any means of the imagination) or it may be time to drop the relationship altogether for the time being. It may be a fact that you don’t get along very well and your personalities don’t blend in a way conducive to a friendly relationship. Maybe both of you just have some maturing and growing up to do. And maybe the time comes when you decide you can be friends again. But if not, odds are you’re both better off not inadvertently ruining each others’ lives. And lastly, if you keep getting your heart broken by guys or the other way around, here’s a simple solution: Take a break. Stop searching for the next relationship expecting it to be different. If it’s something that has happened multiple times, there’s a possibility you might be the problem. I probably offended some people just now, but it’s the truth. You probably have some maturing to do before you’re actually ready for a committed relationship. Taking some time off to work on and develop yourself is better than having that same feeling of betrayal and heartbreak over and over again. Plus you’ll be a lot less wounded and broken in the long run.

So here’s my basic conclusion: Talk quieter, stop complaining about stuff that doesn’t matter, and if you’re going to complain, you better be ready to do something about it. Because whining and crying about something you don’t have any intention of changing is incredibly pointless and just leaves people like me that have to listen to you frustrated and annoyed.

Valentine’s Day: “Love,” singleness, and chocolate

Ah, Valentine’s Day. A day where couples celebrate their romantic relationships, single people cry and whine about not having a significant other, and people give out boatloads of candy. A day filled with roses, different aromas, and romantic comedies that make me want to puke a little bit. Either that, or a day filled with loneliness, insecurity, and romance movies that make me want to puke a lotta bit. Regardless of which end of the spectrum you’re on, Valentine’s Day is about relationships, romance, and love. And also chocolate. Lots of chocolate.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Valentine’s Day. It’s easily one of my favorite holidays. However, Valentine’s Day has so much stuff going on that I thought it deserved its own post. (Shameless plug: To see my basic overview of some other holidays, feel free to read my post “Life as Charlie Brown.”) Valentine’s Day is generally approached one of two ways, both of which result in Facebook becoming a wasteland of emotions and sickening garbage. It’s either a day to celebrate, or a day to complain, and people go about it the wrong way all the time. Not that there’s necessarily a right way to go about complaining, but it’s definitely possible to handle the situation better than most people tend to.

In the first Valentine’s Day camp, we have the people in a relationship. This includes  pretty much any couple, whether they’re in a new relationship, in a committed marriage, in high school, college, graduated, anything. For married people, whether they’re newlyweds or have been married for decades, Valentine’s Day is like another wedding anniversary in a way. It’s a day when they celebrate the person they love, and share their gratitude for that relationship. I love seeing the love shared between a husband and wife who have been married for years be celebrated on Valentine’s Day. It’s beautiful, really. When I see these people celebrate on Valentine’s Day, it makes me really happy. It reminds me of why I love Valentine’s Day. But this category is generally restricted to married couples, and a select few who are engaged, or have been in a committed relationship for a long time, or at least one that looks like it’s going to result in marriage in the near future. Then, there’s…Everyone else. This is when things get gross, messy, sometimes super uncomfortable, and leave me feeling sick to my stomach. This is when the obnoxious Facebook posts and such come in. Whether it’s the “I looooooooove my boyfriend so so so so so much and he loves me and will never let me go my heart stops whenever I’m near him and I blah blurgh blechhhhhhh <3” or the “My gurl is the hottest hottie that ever was hot and she’s super hot and I love her hot bod and she’s really hot,” either one makes me die a little inside. These are generally people freaking out about a relationship that is new, or one that’s been broken up and then “restored” just in time for Valentine’s Day, but regardless of the circumstance, it’s usually them freaking out about a relationship that hasn’t withstood any sort of real trial, one that hasn’t been tested and proven to be strong and committed, and one that’s probably going to end sometime in the next few months. These are generally people running on emotions, which, if any sort of relationship with anyone ever has taught us, are fickle. Emotions can change in a second, and these people are generally just throwing up their emotions all over everybody. As always, I’m speaking general trends here. Not everyone with these kinds of posts is in these situations, but for the most part, this is what Valentine’s Day is plagued with. Valentine’s Day is a day to celebrate relationships, specifically romantic ones, so if someone is in one, what do they decide to do? Flaunt it. They decide to rub it in the face of everyone who isn’t so “fortunate” (which isn’t really the word I would use) to be in the kind of incredible, amazing, love-driven relationship they’re in. Which, in turn, causes the second approach to Valentine’s Day.

In the opposing Valentine’s Day camp, we have all the single people. Valentine’s Day has also been called “Singles Awareness Day” by plenty of people. The reason being, after being plagued socially and in the media with an entire day of emotions, relationships being shown off, and a constant battering of “It’s great being in a relationship, too bad you’re not in one,” single people can’t help but feeling, well, singled out. A lot of people end up thinking “Oh, yeah. I’m single. I wish I wasn’t single, because look at how great not being single is.” So, in turn, what do people decide to do? Whine about it. This is when the Facebook posts on the opposite end of the spectrum come into play, the “Forever alone,” “Life is terrible,” and “I’m going to eat chocolate until I die alone hahahahahahahahahahaha *sobbing noises*” posts show up. Honestly, these drive me more crazy than the other ones. People whining and complaining about things can easily drive me up a wall, especially when they’re complaining about anything involving a desire for a romantic relationship. While all the complaining, pessimism, and general depression drives me crazy, single people can’t really help but feel lonely because of the not single people. But, regardless, it’s still an issue because of people approaching it the wrong way.

Here’s my thing about Valentine’s Day: Valentine’s Day all kind of revolves around one thing, but the one thing that Valentine’s Day revolves around is completely misunderstood. That one thing, the misunderstood thing, the thing that in reality has been completely forgotten about because it’s been misinterpreted and misrepresented is something quite simple: love. We live in a culture that portrays love as a special feeling shared between those two special people, something that’s only present and existent between two people with some sort of romantic involvement. And that’s exactly the problem. In our culture, love is considered an emotion. Love is the feeling of butterflies in your stomach when that special someone is near, love is the desire to want to spend time with that specific person, love is that feeling of affection for your significant other. In nearly all aspects, love is presented as an emotion. Generally, when people flaunt their relationship, or crave that feeling you get when you’re in a relationship, people are talking about an emotion. An emotion of affection. Love is not an emotion. It’s a commitment. It’s a choice. You don’t wake up one day and decide you love someone. No, instead, it’s a conscious decision every day to invest in someone, care about that person’s wants and needs, and having a desire to care for and help them when they need it. I could go on and on about this topic specifically, but that’s for another time. All that to say, if people recognized love as that commitment rather than the emotion that comes and goes, Valentine’s Day would be much more pleasant for everyone.

So why do I bring all this up? Why do I even care? Well, as I’ve said, Valentine’s Day is one of my favorite holidays. For me, it’s a celebration of love. Not the emotion people have mistaken it for, but the commitment that it truly is. Love isn’t something shared between romantic couples, it’s shared between friends, family, everyone you come into contact with, really. So, since Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love, for me, Valentine’s Day is a celebration of relationships with my friends and family. Valentine’s Day is a celebration of legitimate love, and it’s a celebration of the commitments others have made to each other. I don’t need that “someone special” in order to celebrate Valentine’s Day. I don’t need to ask anyone if they’ll be my valentine. If you’re a good friend of mine, you are my valentine, whether you like it or not. If people would adopt a different mindset when it comes to love, affection, and commitment, Valentine’s Day would end up being a lot better for everyone. And I’d still get a ton of chocolate.

P.S. – I know this isn’t a letter, but it’s a post-script. I realized there was one thing I forgot to mention, and I also realized it would be difficult to just throw it somewhere in the middle, so I’m just putting it here. The last reason I enjoy Valentine’s Day so much is because it’s another day to remind me to sit back, enjoy my singleness while it lasts, and look forward to something even greater in the future. A wonderful relationship that I’ll get to share with my future spouse. Instead of wishing for it now, I get to look forward to it at some point in the future. (A little confused? Here’s another shameless plug: read my post “Finding Her” for more of my opinions on romance and the dating game.)

The Meaning of Life: No, it’s not 42.

There are three things I know of that are catalysts of deep, meaningful conversations: Late nights, long drives, and dying campfires. Whatever the discussion may end up being about, more often than not, the cliche question of “What’s the meaning of life?” or, “Why are we here?” ends up making its way into discussion. It’s a question that’s been asked since the beginning of time, by people of all ages. Usually, people can’t really seem to come up with the answer. They usually just make some sort of guess as to what it might be and leave it at that. Well, I don’t mean to brag, but I think I have an idea as to what it might be. This isn’t something I just made up, this is a conclusion I’ve come to over lots of time thinking, listening to other peoples’ ideas and all that kind of stuff. It’s not even exclusively my idea. Plenty of other people have come to the same conclusion. So let’s go through how I came to this conclusion. (You didn’t really think I was just going to tell you, did you?) The way I came to this conclusion was by observing peoples’ natural wants, desires, needs, that kind of stuff. Then the conclusion I came to seemed to fit. Whether or not you agree with me is your decision, but for now, I guess you’re just along for the ride.

There are a lot of things people look for in life. One of these things is an outlet to use their talents. Everyone is good at something. Whether you think so or not, you excel at something that other people may not. For some people it’s an artistic talent, for others, it’s more a talent of intelligence in one of many different areas. And even still for others, it can be athletic talent, or talent when it comes to people skills, being outgoing, relating to others people, being a good listener, et cetera. There are so many different things that different people excel at, and finding a good outlet to use those talents in is one of my paths to discovering the meaning of life. When people aren’t able to use their talents, when they don’t get to use the skills they’ve been gifted with and aren’t able to excel at what they’re good at, it can leave them feeling empty, frustrated, and unmotivated. While on the other hand, people who get to use their talents on a regular basis, whether it be at work or in a club or another group, feel more encouraged, excited, and motivated to continue thriving in that area. People who use their talents on a regular basis feel more of a sense of purpose than those who don’t have that outlet to excel in. Feeling a sense of purpose is something that everyone longs for, which is my next point.

People need to feel a sense of purpose in order to find their life’s meaning. People find their sense of purpose in different things. Some find it in supporting their family, friends, or a particular cause. Some find their purpose in aiming toward a specific goal, whether it’s a career, a life-long dream, anything bigger and better than what they’re doing now. When people don’t have those dreams or desires, they can feel hopeless, that they’re forever stuck in the place they’re currently in. And if they have those dreams or desires with no way of working to achieve them, it can have the same effect. Not having a dream or having a dream that seems completely out of reach can cause someone to feel hopeless, worthless, or without purpose. Having people to encourage you along the way and having the motivation to achieve your dreams is one path to discovering purpose in life. However, having dreams and goals usually isn’t much without one key thing, which is something to devote your life to.

Everyone needs something bigger, something to wrap their life around and devote it to. For some people, it’s the American dream, having a wife, two kids, a dog, and a white picket fence with a good job to support it all. For others it can be a particular cause, like saving the environment, helping children in Africa, or seeking justice for people in court. And for some other people, it can be something as simple as money, success, a relationship, wealth, or fame. Everyone searches for a cause outside themselves to devote their life to. The difference between this aspect and a dream is that quite often the dreams and goals a person has are driven by whatever the “something bigger” in their life is. The dream to have an amazing career can be driven by money. They dream to become a rock star or actor on television can be driven by fame. The dream to get an education, a good job, and a great home can be driven by the American dream, the desire to have a family, or one of many other things. Whatever this bigger purpose may be, it’s something that people look for to devote their life to, so that anything and everything they do is trying to achieve that goal and purpose.

So what do we have so far? People need an outlet to use their talents to achieve a goal driven by a bigger cause. Or, to put it a different way, the “something bigger” in a person’s life drives everything they do, and causes them give their talents and abilities back to that “something bigger” to achieve the dream that it created. It may sound confusing at first, but I’d say this is a pretty accurate description of one of peoples’ greatest needs. And, to me, this sounds like something you may not have thought of before. To me, this sounds like worship. This may sound like a stretch to you, because the way most people think of worship is something brutal or animalistic, something involving sacrifices, ancient rituals, and all that jazz. But for me, worship is something completely different. For me, worship is using your talents and abilities for a cause outside yourself to achieve a dream, which is usually driven by the root cause in the first place. So, by my logic, if everyone has those three things (a desire to use their talents and abilities, a bigger, better dream, and a cause outside themselves), it stands to reason that everyone worships something. Some people worship money, fame, and success, some people worship the American dream, some people worship other people or a relationship, some people worship a specific cause such as saving the planet, some people worship the planet itself. Whatever it is that you worship, it’s something that consumes your thoughts, your motivation, your desires, your whole being. And whatever it may be, everyone worships something. Worship is the purpose and meaning of life.

Now, here’s where things get a little complicated. There are a couple more things that every person looks for and needs. The first thing people look for is to be loved, appreciated, to have a feeling that you belong. Anyone who says otherwise is lying. People long for that feeling of belonging, that they’ve found their place, and that they’re loved and appreciated. Some of these things that people worship don’t do that at all, like money and success, while some others may seem to give people what they’re looking for, like a relationship or fame. People look for love and appreciation in a myriad of places and they may think they’ve found it for a while, but a lot of times they end up feeling empty, wondering why they don’t feel happy or content. So they end up looking for more of it. And then it just turns into a never-ending cycle of no satisfaction. Whether they know it or not, people want to worship something that gives back to them, and when they realize they aren’t getting what they want or need, they just end up throwing themselves into it even more, which complicates things even more.

The last thing people want and need in life is a sense of identity. Something that shows who they are, what they do, what they stand for. And, once again, some people find their identity in what they do, where they are in life, or who they’re in a relationship with. The problem here is, jobs and careers come and go, life is never consistent, and people fail. The issue here comes when the thing they find their identity in, the thing they’ve wrapped their lives around and devoted so much time, energy, and hope to, is taken away. When a job is lost, when the market crashes and you lose everything, when your significant other decides it’s time to see new people, where does your identity go? It disappears. People find their identity in what they worship, but when it’s taken away, they’re left broken, without an identity, and starting from square one when it comes to discovering who they are. Thus begins a process of rebuilding, picking up the pieces and trying to reconstruct the shell they once were. Some people don’t even make an attempt to move on, and just end up just accepting that being miserable is the new way of life. Their identity’s gone, and it can’t be found again, so why even try?

This is all where my final point comes in. People need to worship something that never changes, never fails, gives them an identity and shows them who they truly are, what they’re capable of, and how they’re able to use their gifts, talents, and abilities for a greater cause. If worship is the purpose of life, having a purpose that doesn’t suddenly disappear is not only beneficial, but necessary in order to have a constant understanding of where you’re supposed to be and what you’re supposed to be doing. Now, you can probably guess what I would say at this point. You probably know my views and opinions at this point and probably already know what I would say my life’s purpose is because of what (or Who) I worship. But I’ll refrain for the time being. For now, I’ll just hope that some people take the time to analyze who or what they’re worshiping in their life and see what it’s doing for them. See what their apparent purpose is and how they feel about it. I plan on making two more posts in the future: one specifically about identity, and one specifically about worship. I’m hoping they’ll be out there fairly soon. But in the meantime, I hope my basic setup of my idea of the meaning of life has been helpful for someone. That’s all I can really do at this point. Hope and pray.