Even the smallest decisions have a power that often goes unnoticed. In the past year, I’ve given a lot of thought to the decisions I make in my life – what I eat, what I wear, what I purchase, what I believe, what I say.
After much thought, I have established three priorities by which I want to live my life. Essentially, I want each decision I make to positively impact:
the lives of others (at both the societal and individual levels),
the environment (as well as the organisms within it), and
myself (physically, spiritually, and emotionally).
It is my intention that by fulfilling these three goals, I will live in a way that pleases God and improves the world around me. As I have begun to apply these values in my decision-making process, I have realized that all of my values are interrelated and overlapping. For instance, the decisions that I make to support sustainability typically lead to healthier decisions for my body. The choices I make about buying ethical clothing, which essentially means purchasing less clothing overall, improves my life by simplifying it and drawing me away from consumerism.
I recently read this claim in an article: “…you do not have the power or the information to implement your values.” Unfortunately, I think this statement is true in many ways. For example, the processes of the industries we purchase from lack transparency, so that we don’t always have all of the information and background we need to ensure that our decisions are positively affecting the globe. However, I believe that whether or not we can control the outcomes of all of our decisions, we are still responsible for each one that we make.
So I choose not to live by the adage of “ignorance is bliss,” but to research and educate myself so that, to the best of my ability, even my smallest decisions will be informed and positively impact the world. I have included a small collection of resources that have impacted me and my decision making for each of my three values. Each of these resources is, in itself, incomplete and only a part of ongoing conversations about very complex topics.
I leave you with these words… “Be careful. You will be haunted by what you find…, and you won’t be able to wash away what you’ve seen and heard. You will see things and hear things, and then you will be responsible for them, for telling the truth about who you are and who you discover you are not, and for finding a way to make it right.” (“Broken Bottles,” Cold Tangerines, Shauna Niequist)
Last year, my word for the year was give, and I made it a priority to seek opportunities to give my time, energy, and love to others. And I realized that the more I shifted my focus to others, the less I focused on myself. For this reason, as I continue to challenge myself to give continually in 2016, I also want to minimize.
I have embraced the philosophy of minimalism in many areas of my life already – my purchases, my wardrobe, my style. Throughout this process, I discovered how much consumerism and self-centeredness had infiltrated my life, and I have been very humbled.
This year, I will continue to pursue minimalism in my possessions, but more importantly, I will seek to minimize myself so that I may become more like Jesus, and so that God may use me as a vessel to serve others and improve the world around me.
In times of chaos and violence, may we “pursue the things which make for peace” (Romans 14:19). May we make sacrifices, choose compassion, and love wholeheartedly.
In times when everyone seems to be an “extremist” of one sort or another, may we remember the wise words of Martin Luther King Jr. in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail”…
“So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?”
In times of hatred and disagreement, may we be agents of peace in our own world – in our friendships, in our homes, in our words, in our thoughts, and in our hearts. May we become the peacemakers.
Something I heard in a podcast this week deeply resonated with me, as I continually seek to understand who God is and how we can know Him.
“In the book Flatland, there are these characters that are two-dimensional, and I like that idea that we are these limited creatures, dimensionally, scientifically. We are these tiny little specks of dust in the cosmos, and we have a very limited perspective and ability to understand the great mysteries of reality.
If you can, imagine a three-dimensional character coming into the world of Flatland. In other words, imagine sticking your finger through a piece of paper. To a being that lives on the plane of the piece of paper, your finger would look like nothing but a line, and as it got closer or farther away, the line would get longer or shorter. But, there’s no way it could even comprehend what a finger would be in three-dimensional space.
Similarly, we know mathematically that our experience of three-dimensional time and space is not the full comprehensive view of reality. Quantum physics shows us that there are potentially many dimensions, and many perspectives that those dimensions bring to the universe.
So as a “Flatlander,” of sorts, as a race of beings that lives in a very limited perspective of the cosmos and of all things, of reality, who are we to know anything but our dimension?
Here’s what it’s like for me. When you experience this thing that so many of us have attested to experiencing – the experience of what we would want to call God, transcendent, the infinite ground of our being, all the words and the language that we use – let’s talk about, what is that metaphysically? What is that in its essence? I don’t believe we can know.
I think that it’s sort of like encountering the line in Flatland. In Flatland, every time you approach that same line and you experience that line, you don’t have any way to know if it’s just another line of all the lines in your reality. In other words, am I just experiencing some sort of hallucination in my brain? Am I just experiencing some sort of wonder, some sort of emotional chemicals that are flooding my brain? Or is there actually some sort of metaphysical “Other” that is doing this from the outside on some level?
I don’t know that we can know that, because we can’t see outside of the paper. Our senses don’t work outside of the paper. All we can perceive is the line. But what the axioms and a different sort of post-deconstructed faith has become for me is, I notice that every time I approach this line in Flatland, something happens.
And so my decision, as a Flatlander, is, do I approach the line? Or, do I ignore it, in fear that it’s just a line? Do I just stay away from the line, because there might not be a finger poking through the paper; it might just be some sort of internal two-dimensional object that makes me feel a certain way? Or do I just approach it with a humility and acknowledgment of mystery, that I think there’s more than the paper, and that I hope that that line has something to do with that that’s more than the paper?
But at the end of the day, what am I going to do? Am I going to approach the line? Am I going to pray? Am I going to try to follow Jesus’ teachings? And these are all things that I know that when I have approached them, when I have engaged in these disciplines and practices, I know from experience, and there are plenty of studies and evidence in the world to support it, that it’s actually good for the world. Good religion is beautiful. Good religion is taking care of widows and orphans, and keeping oneself from being polluted by the world. And I can attest that it’s good. I’ve seen it, I’ve experienced it.
And so I have a decision. And to me, this is what faith has become, actually. It’s not anymore about a metaphysical certainty. It’s not even a belief in the way that I understood belief to be before. It’s about, what am I going to do with my life? Am I going to approach the line? How am I going to interact with the objects that I see within the page? Because that’s all that I can see. Am I going to get caught up in my own head and ignore the line? Or am I going to live my life in a way that is open, and hopeful, and faithful to the mystery that I believe exists beyond the page?”
Just like Michael Gungor, I myself “notice that every time I approach this line in Flatland, something happens.”
When I pray to God, my life and the lives of others improve. When I study Jesus’ words, I find peace and hope. When I follow Jesus’ teachings, my sense of purpose is clear. When I worship, I feel part of something greater than my own existence.
What experiences have you encountered when you “approach the line” that have inspired you to seek and follow God?
In his book, Dr. Qureshi describes his upbringing in a devout Muslim family in America. He was raised to value integrity and peace, and he grew up learning how to defend his Muslim faith, particularly against Christianity. He was a high-achieving student in school, was a respectful and loving son, and passionately sought to serve Allah in all that he did. Throughout his adolescence, he was constantly seeking to share his faith with his peers and repeatedly engaged in discussions with Christians who had no answers to his criticisms of the Bible’s reliability, Jesus’ deity, and other issues of contention.
This pattern continued until Nabeel reached college and encountered the first Christian who was not rattled by questions and criticisms, but instead encouraged these questions and enjoyed discussing them. Over the next few years, Nabeel and David developed a strong relationship that motivated Nabeel to investigate his own faith in order to prove that Allah is the one true God and that Muhammad was his prophet. The more he researched, the more he discovered that many of his beliefs were formed on misconceptions or traditions that lacked historical evidence. And as he studied, he began to find much more evidence pointing toward the deity of Jesus and the authenticity of the Bible.
The beauty of Dr. Qureshi’s story is that he depicts the intricate relationship between logic and faith. He refused to base his faith merely on emotion and tradition, but pursued evidence and facts to support his decision. However, even once he determined logically that Jesus is the son of God and that he was crucified to bring salvation to humanity, he resisted Christianity. He states, “I knew that accepting Jesus would be like dying and I would have to give up everything, because for Muslims, following the gospel is more than a call to prayer. It is a call to die.” Ultimately, he beseeched God to show him the truth and finally accepted Jesus after God proved himself in an undeniable way.
I loved reading this book to learn more about the Muslim faith, to become informed about controversial issues between Islam and Christianity, and to study historical evidence that confirms the truths of the Bible. Most importantly, I was inspired by a story of a passionate pursuit of God that led to a life of sacrifice and devotion that has impacted the lives of many, including my own.
My word for 2014 was follow, and throughout the year I learned the importance of pursuing God not only in the midst of change, but also when life remains constant.
This year, my word is give.
In the last meal Jesus shared with His disciples before he was killed, He said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” (I Corinthians 11:23-24)
Christians typically interpret this verse to mean to eat bread and drink wine in remembrance of Jesus’s sacrifice. However, Jan Hatmaker provides further insight into Jesus’ words:
“Not only was Communion a symbolic ritual, it was a new prototype of discipleship. ‘Continuously make My sacrifice real by doing this very thing.’ Become broken and poured out for hopeless people. Become a living offering, denying yourself for the salvation and restoration of humanity. Obedience to Jesus’ command is more than looking backward; it’s a present and continuous replication of His sacrifice.” (Interrupted)
Jesus gave the ultimate sacrifice not only in His death, but throughout His entire life filled with generosity and unconditional love. My goal this year is to replicate His sacrifice as much as possible in my own life, through giving my time, giving my love, giving my energy, and giving all that I have, regardless of the sacrifice. And my desire is that through my life of giving, others might be able to receive a glimpse of God’s unfailing love and amazing sacrifice.