On Sunday, my pastor preached about fear. “What you fear shows what you what you value the most.” He gave some examples. Fear being perceived as poor by your peers? You probably value money, wealth, status. Fear failing at something? You probably value success, confidence, a proven reputation. As my pastor continued with his examples, I asked myself this question: what do I fear?
As I considered that question, my mind wandered to a conversation I had with my dad when I was trying to decide if I would move to Nashville. We weighed the pros and cons of the choice. Together, we came to the conclusion that I would regret not taking this opportunity to move to a new place. And then like that, I decided that I would move to Nashville. I know that this was the right decision, but I think part of it was motivated by a fear I have, a fear that I’ve had to work to dust off from the forgotten and/or (more likely) suppressed recesses of my mind.
The fear I have materializes in an image of myself as an old woman. My days are numbered. My skin is wrinkly. My end is coming. In this series of images, my biggest fear is spoken from the words of my elderly lips uttered to someone who is there at my bedside. I look up at them and say, “I didn’t make the most of this life.”
If what I fear shows what I value the most, then it seems I value experience and accomplishments, that I value having an interesting story to tell. I value feeling that I invested well in my time. I value knowing I did all I could do.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about these ideas, this fear, these images, those words I say — what does it mean to “make the most of life?”
When I decided to move to Nashville, I saw it as an opportunity to soak up new experiences, learn new skills and sharpen old ones, eat at restaurants I’d read about in magazines, and meet people who I otherwise never would cross paths with. In short, I saw moving as an opportunity to make the most of my situation as young, single, financially flexible woman by “living life to the fullest.”
As I was preparing to leave, I told others and myself that I was trying to approach my move to Nashville with few expectations. I didn’t want to have too many ideas in mind or goals set, only to be disappointed by them. As me and my dad arrived at, I would regret not moving.
But three months in, I’ve realized I did have a real goal in the back of head. In moving, I think I was motivated to prevent those images in my mind of myself as an old lady on my death bed of becoming a future reality. My real goal was to make the most of my time in Nashville in order to “live life to the fullest” and “make the most of life.” While those concepts were/are mostly abstract to me, they are also concrete enough that I know/knew what it would look like NOT to “make the most of life” and “live life to the fullest.”
Three months and one sermon later, I have come to realize: I’m failing at preventing my biggest fear.
Lately, I’ve been doing more walking than writing. I’ve been reading about recipes I want to make instead of creating new creative ideas, designs, or essays to write. I have an interview sitting on my computer for my website that I’ve needed to work on for over a month, but I can’t. I haven’t read a book cover to cover since summer. I’ve been to two restaurants in a city of hundreds of establishments that people make literal eating pilgrimages to. This past weekend, I stayed at home, only talking to my family on the phone, cleaning my home and taking my dog for walks.
I’m not living big.
I’m not taking advantage of everything this city has to offer.
I’m not reading all the books.
I don’t have the upper hand.
I don’t know if I’m investing my time well.
But here’s the thing…I’m okay with it.
While I don’t want the time or gifts I have to go to waste or succumb to ignorance, I also don’t want the joys of being alive to become burdens, not blessings. When I live with the pressure of living the fullest life possible, it’s so easy for creativity and learning to become not things that enrich me as person, but things that enrich my “persona,” or how others perceive me. It’s so easy to begin feeling guilty when I chose to go for walk with my dog instead of journaling in the morning because “studies say that people who journal are smarter than those who don’t.”
When I think about these things, I ask myself:
Why do I tend to judge some activities as more life-enriching, more God-glorifying than others? Why did I assume that I was moving to Nashville to soak up new experiences, learn new skills and sharpen old ones, eat at restaurants I’d read about in magazines, and meet people who I otherwise never would cross paths with? What if God sent me to Nashville to learn enjoy his creation at sunrise, to find identity outside of what tasks I accomplished at work, to show me that the friends I already had in my life were enough for a lifetime?
As I share these thoughts and I make you an insider to the reality of my life and how I spend my time, you may look at me and think “Grace, you’re not making the most of it. Wake up and GO! Read! Eat! Learn! NOW!” To that I say: perhaps you’re right. But as I’ve completed these three months in Nashville, I’ve come to believe that this life, this time, this season, isn’t about “making the most of it” in the way the implications of that phrase suggests.
I’m not here for you. I’m not here for my brain. My resume. My whatever.
When I think about life, I believe that I’m here to work towards one goal: to be more like Jesus. Jesus lived his life unhurried, and for many years, quietly, anonymously, humbly, dare I say, unimpressively. He didn’t learn so others would be impressed. He didn’t preach so others would ooo and aaa. To our Bucket List Culture, Jesus didn’t do a lot of things.
But in his short life, Jesus preached profound wisdom, he formed disciples that would start the global church, he died so that every sinful man and woman would have access to grace and truth and love that beats death and brings life everlasting.
So in each day, each week, each month, each year in this stage of young adulthood, I have to remind myself that it’s okay to have unfinished checklists, unwritten essays, even undeveloped talents. I don’t have to be the best. I don’t have to accomplish certain things by 30. I don’t have to buy a house or own a car or have a certain career to be a person who has dignity and is treated with respect. I don’t have to travel, though I’d like to. I don’t have to become the best cook, though I’d enjoy improving my skills. I don’t have to be afraid of missing out or not measuring up. I can accept that it’s okay to fall short.
As I journey forward, I want to work on having a different goal than “living life to the fullest.” I want don’t want to give in to the Bucket List Culture. I want to work on being present, open, tender, willing in the time I have.
And ultimately, to borrow a phrase from my favorite college professor, there is One who will “redeem the time.” He will redeem it all.