This week's 'thought' comes to you from "The Call -- Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life," by Os Guiness. It's a book that is profoundly insightful, intellectually and spiritually stimulating, and personally encouraging, while also being challenging. If you want to understand postmodern culture -- and especially want to help your older children or other young people find direction and a way through the maddening maze of contemporary life-alternatives -- this book is extremely helpful. Guiness has an uncanny grasp of human need, sees the big picture, and relates it to the smaller details of modern life very well.
I know this quote is long, but ask you not to ignore it for that reason! It was difficult to condense into a short selection, since the whole chapter is so good. It comes from the chapter entitled: "A Focused Life." If you are one who often feels like life is confusing, superficial, too fast-paced and overloaded with too many alternatives, options and choices, you may gain helpful insight and guidance for your dilemma from his words -- words you can share with others. Enjoy.
"Pluralization is the process by which the proliferation of choice and change rapidly multiplies the number of options. This affects modern society at all levels, from consumer goods to relationships to worldviews and faiths... The modern world offers an endless range of choice and change, overwhelming traditional simplicities and cohesion.... Life has become a smorgasbord with an endless array of dishes. And more important still, choice is no longer just a state of mind. Choice has become a value, a priority, a right. To be modern is to be addicted to choice and change. These are the unquestioned essence of modern life.
Some of the effects of pluralization are desvastating... For example, the increase in choice and change leads to decrease in commitment and continuity -- to everyone and everything. Thus, obligation melts into option and choice. Other effects are also terribly obvious -- above all the way in which choice and change lead quickly to a sense of fragmentation, saturation, and overload. In the modern world there are simply too many choices, too many people to relate to, too much to do, too much to see, too much to read, too much to catch up with and follow, too much to buy.
Each choice sprouts with its own questions. Might we? Could we? Should we? Will we? Won't we? What if we had? What if we hadn't? The forest of questions leads deeper and deeper into the dark freedom, then to the ever darker anxiety of seemingly infinite possibility. At some point different to us all, a cut-off switch kicks in. We are overloaded, saturated. There is too much to do and too little time to do it. But life goes on. Neither planning nor juggling can span the gap. But life goes on. At the level of our relationships alone, their sheer number, variety, and intensity become impossible. But life goes on. One minute we feel the vertigo of unlimited possibility and the next the frustration of superficiality. But life goes on.
The result is not only overload but also a profound loss of unity, solidity, and coherence in life. Experience comes to us shredded into fragments and episodes. Each moment stands on its own, with neither roots in any yesterday, not consequences for any tomorrow. Like a sound-bite or a headline, each experience bursts into our attention and quickly fades from our memory. So today's rage is ridiculous tomorrow; today's celebrity is tomorrows bore. Not surprisingly, attention-deficit is a contemporary disorder and genuine tradition is a scarce commodity.
Stone, it is said, was the medium for the ancients and steel for the early moderns; ours is plastic and the name of the game is recycling. 'One-and-only' and 'forever' are obsolete, and 'needing more space' is our most readily given excuse. In our fragmented lives the one thing necessary is to "keep our options open." The art of "identity building" is more a matter of fluidity than fixture. And since the rules of the game change as fast as the games themselves, we are taught to avoid above all else, being 'stuck' with commitments that might 'mortgage' the freedom of tomorrow...
Yet the very character of [our God-given] calling counters the fragmentation and overload at key points and opens up the secret of a focused life in a saturated world: First, calling subverts the deadly modern idolatry of choice... Choice for modern people is a right that overwhelms both responsibility and rationality... But, ultimately, only one thing can conquer choice -- being chosen.
Thus, for followers of Christ, calling neutralizes the fundamental poison of choice in modern life. 'I have chosen you,' Jesus said, 'you have not chosen me.' (John 15:16) 'We are not our own, we were bought with a price.' (I Cor. 6:19-20) We have no rights, only responsibilities. Following Christ is not our initiative, it is merely our response, in obedience. Nothing works better to debunk the pretensions of choice than a conviction of calling. Once we have been called, we literally 'have no choice.'
Second, calling provides the story line for our lives and thus a sense of continuity and coherence in the midst of a fragmented and confusing world. The saturation and overload produced by pluralization, and reinforced by mobility, are a leading cause of modern alienation. If we have lived too many places, had too many jobs, known too many people, and watched too much TV, how do we make sense of it all? Is there a story line to our lives or are they just a jumble of experiences that are, 'sound and fury, signifying nothing'?...
Whenever we feel this dilemma, calling reminds us that there were nomads before modern mobility -- and calling gave them meaning. Thus Abraham left Ur of the Chaldees and followed the call of God without knowing where he was going. The people of Israel crossed a trackless desert following a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. In both cases their sense of direction and meaning came soley from God's call, not from their foresight, their wisdom, or their ability to read their circumstances. They were on their way to a land of promise. They did not always know the way God was leading them, but they always knew why they trusted God: His word was the promise and his call was the way... Follow the call of Christ despite the uncertainty and chaos of modern circumstances, and you have the story line of your life.
Third, calling helps us to be single-minded without being fanatics. Modern choice and change, reinforced by the pace and pressure of modern life, constantly threaten to diffuse our concentration and dissipate our energy... The dangerous notion that 'the need is the call,' is a sure recipe for overload and confusion... The remedy, needless to say, lies in setting wise goals and setting aside everything else. But how? Long ago the writer of Proverbs observed, 'Folly may amuse the empty-headed, but a man of understanding makes straight for his goal.' More recently, Harvard philosopher George Santayana wrote, "in accomplishing anything definite a man renounces everything else' ....
A sense of calling helps because it provides the bull's-eye at the center of the widening concentric circles that are life's possibilities. Modern life assaults us with an infinite range of things we could do, we would love to do, or some people tell us we should do. But we are not God and we are neither infinite nor eternal. We are quite simply finite. We have only so many years, so much energy, and so many bank notes in our wallets... Let God's calling be the ultimate compass in your life... [For] calling is a 'yes' to God that carries with it a 'no' to the chaos of modern demands, and helps us trace and unriddle the meaning of our lives in a chaotic world."
We live in a challenging era, where living out our faith in Christ is difficult (maybe more difficult than ever before), and thus empathy and compassion for struggling and lost souls, and not anger, or an escapist desire for a "return to simpler days," needs to drive us to offer advice such as which Mr. Guiness gives. Advice which is intelligent, coherent, wise, and finds its source in the high calling of God, and not your typical superficial remedies.
That we may all reorient ourselves to the compass point of His call,