A Life of Gladness and Responsibility

railroadThere’s more than a little pressure these days to live the grand life, to go full tilt, to know precisely where the world’s deep hunger and your deep gladness collide – and then to live from there. I appreciate the best expression of these reminders. Too many of us exist with a soul-numbing drudgery where we are never asked to exert anything of consequence, nothing that stirs the bones. We are never asked to ponder our true essence or to offer our unique voice. We’re never challenged to risk anything. No one ever pulls us aside to insist how essential it is that we pay attention whenever we believe something with such conviction or imagine some possible future with such clarity that we feel we might go crazy if we do not expend ourselves, even if the foolhardy pursuit likely means our ruin. Too many of us hand away the sturdiest part of ourselves, plug into the machine and acquiesce to the subtle cruelty of imposed expectations. We’re alive, but just barely.

And yet these ideals, divorced from the grit of life, become a harsh taskmaster, if not a privileged fantasy. To live from your place of deep gladness does not mean — can never mean — that we circumvent the pain of bearing a burden others do not bear or the wearisome task of seeing a possibility others do not see. To live your truest life does not mean we get to avoid the responsibilities rightly laid upon us: the responsibilities that accompany our call to love and care for others, to surrender our life, to participate in the flourishing and well-being of those to whom we have committed ourselves.

Many days, our best life means simply putting one foot in front of the other and mustering the energy to stay true for another day, another season. Sometimes the possibilities we envision will never come to fruition for us, like those old saints in Hebrews who were faithful even to death and yet did not experience all the promises. This is a hard pill to swallow, isn’t it?

Any life we might imagine that is devoid of cost, any life that exists only in the realm of euphoric pleasures (rather than pleasures that include toil and disappointment and the persistent need to cling to hope) – that’s a small, immature vision. This kind of untethered pursuit will not endure the long road that stretches before us. It will not yield a life worthy of the vast goodness and strength that resides in you. We were made for things truer, deeper, more solid.

12 Replies to “A Life of Gladness and Responsibility”

  1. Winn, I found your soul-nourishing writing through a friend, and I am so glad I did. This post rang so true for me. I am learning to receive my life with gratitude, letting go of some fantasies of how I hoped things might be. This freedom I crave to create and be in some unhindered way actually cannot be reality if it takes me from the flesh and blood life that anchors my very being. Thanks for the reference to Hebrews 11–so wise, so beautiful, and filled with the promise that one day all in me will be whole and thriving, released with goodness, beauty, and truth in the Kingdom. I will look for you there, brother, or you can find me–near the dessert table!

  2. Words can mean so much when you put them together like you did in this writing…. thank you so much for expressing this wisdom with such truth and grace. Bless you, Winn.

  3. Yes, Winn, yes. Similar thoughts have been rattling around in my mind for a couple of weeks as it seemed every blog proposed a “Hell, Yes” response to life or no response at all. What about the down in the dirty, nitty gritty, because its needed kind of yeses we desperately need to give? Thank you for the encouragement to live it all, even when the living the is difficult.

  4. Absolutely right on target. And yet, NOT antithetical to Buechner’s lovely words, either, do you think? Finding our ‘deep gladness’ does not necessarily imply that we will always feel deeply glad with what we do! Rather, it sets us on the course toward some kind of fulfillment, that feeling that we know who we are, and how we’re gifted. As you know, a whole lot of the pastoral life is routine, somedays even stultifying, right? Yet would you do something else? Do you feel as though what you do is an expression of who you are in some way? I think you must, if I’m reading your bulk of your remarkable writing correctly. Am I reading this particular piece incorrectly in some way? Wouldn’t put it past me, that’s for sure!

    1. I’d like to think that Buchner would smile at what I’ve written. I tried to make clear that I appreciate the best expression of these reminders – and Good Brother Buech gives a good expression indeed. We can often take good ideas, though, and push them and prod them and lay them on like a burden in ways that are not fitting with their original spirit. I think of it as yes, and….

  5. Just shared this with our kids … asked them to each read it when they had some time for thoughtful reflection. I look forward to their perspectives at 24, 21, 18 and 14. Your words are always a gift to me … these, especially dear to my soul. Thank you.

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