The general human failing is to want what is right and important, but at the same time not to commit to the kind of life that will produce the action we know to be right and the condition we want to enjoy. We intend what is right, but we avoid the life that would make it reality. – Dallas Willard
To want what is right and important is what we wished we wanted. Too often what we desire is what we wished we wouldn’t want. And so we are left with a relentless choice: do I learn to accept what is easy to desire, or should I somehow be transformed to effectively want what I wish I wanted?
Stories that inspire us come from either answer. The person who stops battling their unusual desires and embraces them, overcoming the pressure to conform exhilarates us. The range is not limited to what or how the self-acceptance and self-actualization happens. Flashdance and Chariots of Fire seem like radically different stories. But I don’t let surface elements like a pole-dancing welder vs. a religiously devoted Olympian who becomes a missionary distract me. Though different senses are stirred along the way, the stories illustrate the same choice of inner conviction: who I really feel I should be trumps the expectations and pressures of others.
The alternative inspirational story is about resistance to who we seem doomed to be, overcome through adversity and determination, to become the person beyond what we even hope to dream we could be. Rocky to The Thin Red Line: loser becomes a champion; a disinvested loner becomes a sacrificial hero. The virtues involved in the story are not directly the point. What inspires beneath the examples of how a decision is manifest is the fact that a decision has been made.
But few of us live the stories out very well. I know personally that the anguish of which story to go with is a constant struggle. Which aspects of my own identity rightly deserve to be fueled to burst past the barriers to actualization? I am neither a dancer nor an Olympian, but are there aspects of who I am that rightly deserve to thrive? Are there gifts of great value that should not be buried but invested and multiplied? Surely there are, for all of us.
And so I start to live out the dream of being who I am meant to be, and up pops a variety of clamoring aspects of my character. The loser and the loner get in the current of the story of self-actualization. But I don’t want those to flourish. I want those stories to be overcome, not realized. And that is what the Dallas Willard quote reveals. I get dizzy trying to sort out that which “ought” to rise up and be telos-ed, matured, perfected, completed, satisfied vs. that which should be overthrown, mortified, exchanged, transformed.
Treasuring wisely is the hope. My life is not one story, or the other. We love stories which clarify distinct aspects of the struggles in life as relief from the fog. Isolation is important in learning something well; in making meaningful progress. We see what should be, we see how it actually can be, we then choose to make it so, and then we celebrate that we have done it. But that isolated aspect of who we are also needs to be integrated into all else that we are. That is where confusion and despair undermine the hope of progress. But what if…?
What if I could treasure a well-integrated life such that I was able to move between motifs adroitly? What if I knew what needs to be defeated and replaced from what needs to be enlivened to overcome and be manifest fully? What if the vision was not a one time story but an ongoing cycle? What if I treasured wisely such that I actively put away (eradicated, neutralized, mortified, terminated, overcome) what is contrary to the vision I treasure? And what if simultaneously I actively put on (added, developed, fostered, encouraged, built up) what corresponds to the hope? And what if I lived out this ongoing montage of stories such that the vision of transformation from as well as maturing toward what matters was the pattern of my life?
There is a script that envisions a rootedness in the sufficiency of my identity in God that lasts. This is what Psalm 1 is describing as a tree planted by a flowing brook. This is a cycle of life that is a system of interaction that fosters freshness, fruitfulness and flourishing hope. This is a story of inner rings being formed in the trunk of the tree as the cycles of seasons pass and the tree becomes deeper and deeper in rootedness, and subsequently better and better positioned to continue the cycle of growth that led it to prosper. This is the story I am seeking to abide in. The inspiring stories, of transformation and of completion are subplots. This a story of righteousness that is healthy in grandeur as well as humility, in cheerfulness as well as sobriety. This is the blessed life Jesus explains we should not simply want to experience. Jesus invites us to commit to him, in his provision, paths and empathetic presence, to live out the life story that is worth retelling.