Inspired by the wind, dad (pop-pop) goes to the hardware store on a whim to buy a tarp and rope to make an impromptu wind-surfing thing. Here is what ensued.
In college I read a book called Don’t Waste Your Life, by John Piper. I want to be clear from the start that this book, as well as several others by him, were pivotal in my development; in learning to be a disciple of Jesus. His ministry as a whole was food for my soul at a time I desperately needed it. But I’ve found over the years that there are two ideas in this book that I’ve ultimately found confusing, unhelpful, and even detrimental to my growth as a human being, and I’ve been trying to unlearn them.
In chapter three Piper gets very specific as to how one might waste his or her life, saying:
I will tell you what a tragedy is. I will show you how to waste your life. Consider a story from the February 1998 edition of Reader’s Digest, which tells about a couple who “took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their 30 foot trawler, play softball and collect shells.” (46)
At the time I read this book, I needed direction. I had just come back from college. A second year drop-out. Completely confused as to what the next step might be. I had just lost my love for playing the piano. The very thing I saw so interconnected with my future in every way.
Part of finding direction involved needing someone to tell me what wasn’t important in life. What not to live for. What not to do. Because there are so many options.
But I didn’t just need to know what not to do. Looking back, I’m realizing, reading Don’t Waste Your Life was helpful, but sort of in the way it’s helpful when someone tells you not to eat sugar. Okay, so what do I eat?
The second idea that most stuck with me was in chapter eight, “Making much of Christ from 8 to 5”. This chapter essentially made me feel like the greater purpose of my job, whatever I was doing, was to “spread the aroma of Christ” in my workplace. To put it more simply, to share the gospel with my co-workers. And if I wasn’t, I was wasting my job, and ultimately my life.
Waste, waste, waste. A lot of emphasis on not wasting.
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When Rachel or I are depressed, we will try and phrase things as positively as possible. We don’t just say, “Honey, you shouldn’t be depressed. Look at how much you have to be thankful for,” as though throwing dry leaves on a fire might extinguish it. Instead we’ll enter into one another’s misery, and try to re-direct thoughts from, “I don’t want to do this,” to “It’s okay if you don’t want to do this life-thing today. Let’s make some coffee.” And we’ll talk it through. Not just tell each other what we shouldn’t do. I used to scoff at this idea, but we’ve literally started saying, especially at the start of each day, “Today is going to be a great day!” And it actually has been helping. I don’t think it’s just wishing positivity into existence, or saying that bad things won’t happen. Because they do. Everyday. But rather, it’s a way of – in those especially vulnerable moments of the morning – shutting out the negative thoughts that rush in, and filling the mind with good things. “…whatever is true… whatever is pure, whatever is lovely… if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Phil. 4:8)
So where was I going with that? Oh, yes. I appreciate Piper’s desire to help lost and misguided people from wasting this good life. (Because it is so good!) But I find that the negative focus – don’t waste – tends to lead me to a spirit of thrift rather than overabundant generosity. Because there will be waste when one is overabundantly generous. You cannot both be calculated and wastefully generous, because you cannot calculate waste. And when I try, I simply get lost in the weeds. Maybe it’s just me.
So how can waste ever be good? At the simplest level, there are two kinds of physical waste, for example. Bad waste, which does not break down or decompose easily (trash in the garbage). And good waste, which does (such as compostable materials).
In the larger context of creation and nature, waste is good and necessary. Waste is what makes the world go ’round. For millennia, human and animal waste, for example, went back into the earth and decomposed. It became a part of the soil. The foundation, a rich soil bed for new life to germinate and grow.
Obviously, this is not what Piper is talking about. He is talking about wasting one’s life. But the reason I bring it up, and perhaps why I found it confusing is that I interpreted his book to imply that any kind of waste was, well, a waste. And that one should simply not waste. Waste, bad. Not waste, good. Simple math.
I think I’ve been so conditioned culturally to be thrifty. To not waste time, energy or money – because time is money, and conserved energy is saved time, and time is money – everything goes back to money. This has caused me, I think, to lose a sense of adventure when it comes to wasteful generosity. It’s easy to think in such a calculated way about the use of our resources, that we forget that all of creation and nature are always giving, never holding back, always ‘wasting’.
Flowers put out thousands of seeds, and only a small percentage germinate. Men put out millions of sperm, but only one gets the prize.
In other words, waste happens in such massive amounts in nature. And we are part of nature. So is it possible that waste in our lives can also be good?
I say a resounding, “Yes!” And I believe that to encourage people not to waste – while I understand Piper’s point – can perhaps lead to too narrow a view of what it could mean or look like for someone to follow Jesus. Especially someone who doesn’t fit into mainstream, western Christianity. It excludes people on the fringes of life and society, in my opinion.
Rather than saying, “How can I squeeze my life into this Jesus thing?” I’ve found a more helpful question to be, “How does Jesus, the light of the world, shine light onto all of life?” The former question implies a separation between sacred and secular, while the latter (to me, at least) helps me see all of life as sacred. All people as having potential to follow Jesus in their own, unique, God-given way. Because there is nothing hidden from the light.
I find the phrase “Waste your life” more helpful than “Don’t waste your life,” and I think Piper and I are both trying to communicate the same thing. Live for the truth. For what is good.
I believe the phrase “Waste your life” is actually an affirmation of life. That it affirms Jesus’ philosophy, that the only way to really live a full life – the only way to preserve and keep your life – is to not try and hold on to it. To let it go. To waste it. And that only those who waste their life – who lose their life – will find it.
Now to collect some shells.
I started a milk and pencils podcast. Look at that screen shot below from the iTunes store. It’s a beautiful thing.
Everyone has a need to create. Everyone wants to be their true, unfiltered, authentic, God given self. But finding oneself in the midst of the world’s noise is often hard, if not impossible, to go at alone. I create because I need to. And I share – not to gain a following – but to help myself, and possibly others, to see more clearly. To cut through the societal muck, to strip back the layers of cultural monotony in our head and heart, and to find more light and joy – our authentic selves – so that we might give more fully and selflessly to others, in every unique and creative way possible.
I don’t want to tell anyone about it, though, because I’m afraid either 1) no one will listen to it; no one will care, or 2) I’ll say something that gets misconstrued, misunderstood, or taken out of context. But ultimately, number one is not the reason I create, and number two is inevitable and unavoidable in life. And stifling.
I’ve been discovering a deeper and deeper need to create as the years pass. And fewer and fewer excuses not to create, and even less to not share. I do not think art of any kind was meant to stay in the filing cabinet. Even if it is not what we ourselves (or others) would judge as ‘good’.
Several weeks ago I read something in the newspaper in which a mother was expressing concern over her autistic son always telling the brutal and honest truth to others. She said her son is concerned that if he doesn’t tell (for example) an aspiring artist that his artwork is terrible, then he might be deceived into thinking he can go to school for art, and eventually make a career for himself.
I don’t think it’s just autistic children that feel this need to ‘tell the truth’, though. I’ve done it to others, and I’ve received such criticism. In my own life, this has been helpful and unhelpful. Helpful because it forced me to study economics and get a job that could support my family. Unhelpful because I think it stunted further creative growth.
I don’t think it’s just a question of whether or not to let others be deceived about their abilities, because it is not just a question of financial provision or return on our time-investment. To stifle creativity in anyone is a sort of deathblow to that person’s unique and whole self. If someone has a need to create (a need which some feel more strongly), and they are told to not waste their time on it, it’s like indirectly asking them to cut off part of themselves.
Most parents wouldn’t tell their three year old daughter her stick drawing sucks and shouldn’t see the light of day. We give children the freedom to make mistakes, discover their strengths and weaknesses, and grow in both. For those of us who grew up in the formal education system, then went straight to college, we didn’t have nearly the same freedom of time to discover our creative bents, nor cultivate them.
So, how to encourage one another to live creatively and authentically? If I create things from the depths of my heart, will that be okay?
The answer seems obvious, yet I remain fearful. Fearful that if I expose who I really am to people (the inconsiderate jerk, the anxious and despairing existentialist… it’s a long list), then ‘friends’ will split; some will come out of the woodwork to critique and correct (without seeking to understand); others will be turned off, wishing only to see a more polished me.
But I do think there would be others. A very few others who might say, “Wow. You feel like that, too?” It might open up space and opportunity for solidarity. For the kind of empathetic criticism that helps humans to flourish, rather than flounder.
Rachel and I lay in bed while the world watches Clinton and Trump go at each other’s throats. We just finished listening to an interview with Glennon Doyle Melton, and our tired minds are teeming with thoughts in response. Here is a snippet of our conversation.
On self-denial, taking care of oneself, the need to create, scarcity vs. abundance mindset, the deathblow of over-calculating, and the joy of un-calculated giving of our time, resources and energy.