the young and the restless

"This world demands the qualities of youth: not a time of life, but a state of mind, a temper of the will; a quality of imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the life of ease." -R Kennedy

“When the Greeks said, ‘Whom the Gods love, die young’ they probably meant, as Lord Sankey suggested, that those favored by the gods, stay young until the day they die; young and playful."

I was recently referred to a site called realage where you're asked a series of questions about your health history, lifestyle, and behavioral patterns in order to ascertain your real age. And I'm happy to report that I clocked in at 16.7- about 8 years shy of my chronological age, as registered by the state and by my Mom.

There's something about youthfulness, isn't there? There's some mysterious and alluring quality about it. And while we may be accustomed to feeling its effect on us, or only reminiscence of it- it nonetheless remains on our radar. We talk about how this or that experience brought out what we call our "inner-child" or how someone or something made us feel young again. But what does the propensity toward such stirrings suggest? And why are our fondest memories of youth?

What is it about adult development that quietly, creeps in and systematically begins chipping away at our sense of awe, wonder, freedom, or the joy that was once so readily available to us? Youthful perspectives are referenced throughout the Gospels. We're told that we must be like a little child to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus shows preference to kids and asks that the little ones be allowed near Him. The idea of re-birth is used time and time again to signal entrance into eternal life. And come to mention it, even that idea, eternity, has a kind of agelessness to it.

It would seem that in many ways our culture agrees with God's mandate as well. "Oh, to be young again" we lament, reminding our kids that undoubtedly, "these are the best years of your life" and to "never grow old".

So what is this mysterious quality?

What is it about youthfulness that God decides is absolutely requisite to unending life with Him? What does it mean to be young at heart? Could it be that there are parts of the soul, only known to us when our cynical and hardened old hearts are returned at last to their wonderfully imaginative abilities?

I think the late G.K. Chesterton, the "prince of paradox", has an illuminating take on the subject:

"...It might be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life. The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in
Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical ENCORE. Heaven may ENCORE the bird who laid an egg. If the human being conceives and brings forth a human child instead of bringing forth a fish, or a bat, or a griffin, the reason may not be that we are fixed in an animal fate without life or purpose. It may be that our little tragedy has touched the gods, that they admire it from their starry galleries, and that at the end of every human drama man is called again and again before the curtain. Repetition may go on for millions of years, by mere choice, and at any instant it may stop. Man may stand on the earth generation after generation, and yet each birth be his positively last appearance.

This was my first conviction; made by the shock of my childish emotions meeting the modern creed in mid-career. I had always vaguely felt facts to be miracles in the sense that they are wonderful: now I began to think them miracles in the stricter sense that they were WILFUL. I mean that they were, or might be, repeated exercises of some will. In short, I had
always believed that the world involved magic: now I thought that perhaps it involved a magician. And this pointed a profound emotion always present and sub-conscious; that this world of ours has some purpose; and if there is a purpose, there is a person. I had always felt life first as a story: and if there is a story there is a story-teller."

a long look in the mirror

I came to understand boundaries and limits at a young age.

ositioned between my childhood home and our neighbor’s house was a tiny, knee-high fence, separating our yards. The fence ran from the sidewalk, through the front, along the side yard, where it eventually connected with a larger red fence in back behind our homes.

I was used to the little fence, comforted by the familiarity of it, and questioned its purpose only once. But my curiosities were satisfied when my father told me that the fence had been erected many years prior, in the nineteen-forties, by two old women- former tenants and neighbors- who brought in the fence to settle a feud over a cat that who wouldn’t stick to his side of the yard.

From that day on, I quieted my questions about our little fence, and continued to navigate over and around it. But the inconvenience and ineffectiveness of it was more than obvious, and hardly ignorable. A once practical implementation, now served as nothing more than an obstacle- completely irrelevant to our needs.

Whenever someone new would visit for the first time, they’d stop, pause for a moment and laugh asking, “Why don’t you remove that little fence?” But keeping it seemed like less work than the unearthing necessary to remove it.

Still, I always wished we would.

Our lives are filled with these little fences. We’re used to them. We create and implement them for good reason, but they rarely serve us, in the end. They place limits and imaginary lines on our lives, promising to help us or otherwise protect us, but often end up irrelevant to our true needs and restricting our potential to live fully and freely.

A fence we know well is the ego. You may now find your mind quickly referencing that guy in the weight room, that person on the sports field or in the office; you may think of that individual with an exaggerated sense of his own importance or talent; that dude who exercises an heir of superiority over everyone around him. Go ahead, think of him; but think of yourself as well.

Because undoubtedly, we all have an ego. It helps us see ourselves as distinct from the outside world and other selves. But it is the degree to which our ego has been exaggerated or inflated where we differentiate from one another.

Ego operates from a defensive, fearful frame of mind. Fearing that we become someone we dislike, disdain or disapprove of, or someone we are threatened by or jealous of, we simply seek ourselves to become better than, bigger than, or more beautiful than- rather than being and becoming who we each actually exist to be (and already are, for that matter).

A counselor once told me, “Some of the most confident people we know are also the most insecure.” How ironic. We mistakenly consider our ego to be helpful or impressive, a self-serving quality in ourselves, while it anything but serves us.

Ego tells us that we are our acquisitions, our accomplishments, and our reputation. The cost of such logic is that our lives become charted along a route of self-definition, rather than creative individualism. We therefore spend our energy misdirected- constantly searching for an identity through comparing ourselves to others.

Thus, the ego misleads and betrays us. Rather than being who we uniquely are, our strongest suit, we end up instead to be nothing more than a driven salesman, a strong physique or an unyielding competitor- never wrong, never outdone, always a winner. The ego is almost always inarticulate and commonplace. The opposite of what we hope it to be.

But, like the little fence, keeping our ego (and living with the consequences, however misleading) seems like less work than the personal unearthing necessary to remove it. So we accept its misdirection.

Afterall, who am I if I’m not… these things?

In the Church we love to say things like, “we are all children of God” or, “my identity is found in Christ.” But do we understand what we’re saying? We’re told over and over again that this is how God sees us and how dearly He regards us- like family; But do we understand how this shapes the way we too can see ourselves?

In the book of Genesis God says, “Let us create man in our image.”

Now there is certainly ample debate here over which of us looks like God. But luckily artistic renderings have silenced the debate, making it more than clear to us that He must be some sort of hybrid between Tom Selleck and Scott Stapp- both of whom have fought for years over the title.

But more than a debate about looks, bearing the image of God may be about sharing a piece of his character, his personal imprint. And if that is so, if that's how things went down, then the limitless, eternal, creative, imaginative God that spoke us into existence, put a part of himself in us.

So yes we’ve been given the power to choose things (free will)- But even more so, along with that, the power to create.

Think of it- With every word we utter in conversation; every act acted upon or alongside another person; with every smile; every nod; every kind or ill word offered; ever verbal and non-verbal utterance and the glances in-between; we provoke a response. we create new circumstances and situations.

With the woman at the toll booth, with a friend or at work, in line at the grocery store... We create new realities.

Maybe Neuton was onto something much bigger when he discovered that, "every action has an equal and opposite reaction."

Weather you think yourself to be artistic or not- God made us each creative. He made us able to create things; to bring new realities into existence; imagine, speak out, and see through new courses of actions. The Creator created us to continue creating, like Him.

When we exert kindness, humility, forgiveness- a response is provoked and a new reality is birthed into the world around us. You, your words and actions, your effect on others, are responsible for an absolutely unique creation.

What have you been creating in your daily interactions?
What has God given you the ability to create for others?
Think of all you're capable of...

For thousands of years, astronomers have wrestled with questions about the size and the age of our universe. Even the ancient Greeks struggled with the question, “What might an infinite universe look like? Does it go on forever, or does it somewhere have an ending edge?” It wasn’t until the early 20th Century that scientists discovered that, from the moment of its conception, the universe has been expanding and has remained in a constant state of change.

God is still creating.
Have you forgotten that you are as well?

Have you muted your creative voice in the universe and opted instead to erect a series of small fences to protect youself, or an ego to define yourself? Have you drawn imaginary lines around your life and blurred the image of the limitless, eternal, creative, and mysterious God we mirror?

God is more than the Creator. He’s a creator. And it seems He continues to do what He loves. He continues creating. And with every bit of our being we imitate our Father in heaven and his creative ways.

With each breath in the opening chorus of Genesis, the opening act of our play, God looks at His creation and says, “It’s good.”

Looking at your own, would you say the same?

"From this hour I ordain myself loos'd of limits and imaginary lines. Going where I list... Listening to others, considering well what they say, pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating, gently but with undeniable will divesting myself of the holds that would hold me." -Whitman

someone else's god

“It was a curious thing. Robert had filled the bathtub and put the fish in the tub, so he could clean their tank. After he’d scrubbed the film from the small walls of their make-believe deep, he went to retrieve them. He was astonished to find that, though they had the entire tub to swim in, they were huddled in a small area the size of their tank. There was nothing containing them, nothing holding them back. Why wouldn’t they dart about freely? What had life in the tank done to their natural ability to swim?" He goes on to ask, “In what ways are we like them? In what ways do we shrink our world so as not to feel the press of our own self-imposed captivity? Our own self-imposed sense of who we are." -Mark Nepo

I was at a bookstore recently, and perusing the Christian religious section, became absolutely overwhelmed by the number of volumes available. Seriously, there is a book for everything:

There are the books for relationships, for his and her needs; books on work, finding your passion, and fulfilling your purpose in life; books for grieving and for loss; books geared to children and teenage readers, and for parenting children and teenagers; books on men and women of the Bible; books about sports stories and spirituality; books on films and spirituality; the classic 6-steps to God; or 10-steps to the life you've always wanted...

And if you still need materials, there are even books created to accompany the books- an endless supply of journals, field manuals and audiotapes designed to guide your way right to God. We live in a place where convenience and self-help rule, so these books quickly become best sellers.

Because for us- results matter. If we’re investing, we want to know what our return is. We want our efforts to be worth something in the end. And we don’t like to wait. In fact, we hate waiting. “What am I getting?” is the question we beg. The books offer a strategy form-fit to our lifestyle. We love to say that they, “meet us right where we are.”

But we’re all over the place.

When we’re young we want to be old. As little girls we dress older than we are. We put on makeup, wear high-heels and revealing out-fits, not fit for our age. Little boys use the harsh language of adults, smoke candy cigarettes, and emulate the behavior of every age but adolescence.

And while adults sit around talking about a generation of innocence lost, they too lose themselves; because once we’re old, we try to be young again. We live in denial of the aging process. We throw our money at any chance of looking, feeling, or acting young again. The advertisements promising skin that looks 10-years younger are endorsed by our payment plans- 3 easy installments of whatever it costs to be where we once were, but no longer are now.

We value quick solutions and easy answers. It’s true. Convenience, for us, is everything.

We eat fast food in the car, speeding our way from work to a massage where we can relax and ease the tension… for twenty-five minutes. Once home we microwave TV dinners, we grab a Go-gurt, or multitask at mealtime so it doesn’t rob us of our minutes. We hammer out some eight-minute abs, shoot some instant messages, and pop a multi-vitamin (with all the essential ingredients) on the way to bed, in case we missed any needed nutrition throughout the day’s duration.

And so we work away our lives in a fast-forward perpetual motion, so that someday we might afford the lifestyle we really want.

We rarely are, where we are.
We speed up just to slow down.

But do we get what we’re after? Do all our efforts lead to the life we long for? Do we have the God-experience we long for, now? Do we deeply connect with others, with ourselves and with our Creator, now?

Do you?

When the answer is no, we’re bombarded with reasons and anecdotes. And we run for the bookshelf. But the next step is not a book or an audio CD. Intimacy with God is not for sale at Borders or the Christian bookstore. There is not a formula. The next step is not guilt, shame, or finger pointing at yourself or your past. The next step is not even an emotion.

The next step is to stop and stand still. It is to be alone with you for a moment; because to be alone with yourself is to be alone with God.

Remove from your mind the suggestion of any approach. This moment is not a “quiet time” and there is no acronym to define an order of operations. This moment does not require that you begin thinking Christian thoughts, saying certain familiar phrases, or repenting in a religious pattern.

When we stand still, we stand before God. We always do. We always are before him- seen and accepted.

Despite whatever disconnection we may believe to exist- it remains more difficult to distance ourselves from God than to live near Him. Because we are and always have been God’s. He has always been nearer to us than we are even to ourselves. Right there. Right here. With and within us.

If it’s cliché, let it be. Immerse yourself with the idea.

The book of Acts says it this way, “In Him we live, move and exist.” Without Him we would not.

How we’ve performed has nothing to do with whom we belong to. Disconnection with God comes only when we come to believe ourselves to be disconnected from Him.

Where are you living?
How are you living?
What experiences have you foregone in the present in hopes of someday enjoying?

Have you been trying to purchase an experience with God or find a shortcut to the connection you already have? Are you taking the long way around a distance that need not be spanned? Or are you imagining a distance with God that does not exist?

Is your heart on an incubator because you’ve let the religious breathing machine double your work. If you’re experiencing an artificial life, hinged on someone Else's encounters with God, you don’t have to continue.

If it’s true that we live our lives in a constant cost/benefit analysis- designed to yield the best results- are we sure that the benefits outweigh the costs we’re enduring, as things stand now?

Are you sure that the experiences you’re missing now, reserving for later, will ever truly be yours?

Stand still for a moment. Stop your thinking, plotting or planning of how to return to God. Stop and realize that God is present now with you- and you with Him. Stop and find that deep experiences await you, if only you remember His nearness.

They say that 90% of an iceberg lies unseen, beneath the surface, with the exposed form only hinting at the greater reality. Dive beneath the surface and see the immensity of the God who you’ve, until now, only seen glimpses of.

No matter what your credentials- no matter your certainty- there is likely far more to life with God than what we’ve felt, thought, or believed.

Slow down and stand still alongside the God who says, “I have come that you may have life, and have it abundantly.”