What if all I want is a mediocre life?

I posted a link to this blog post by Krista O’Reilly Davi-Digui some time ago on Facebook but want to link to it here because I think it expresses well how I often feel myself about the idea of ‘getting ahead’ or ‘success’. Read the whole post, it’s worth it.

What if All I Want is a Mediocre Life?

What if all I want is a small, slow, simple life? What if I am most happy in the space of in between? Where calm lives. What if I am mediocre and choose to be at peace with that?

What if all the striving for excellence leaves me sad, worn out, depleted? Drained of joy. Am I simply not enough?

24 to 30 July 2017

leith
Photos of the Leith as a raging brown torrent in flood at the top and at its normal ankle-deep flow in the bottom photo

Something I’m wanting to do is to keep an online journal as part of the function of this website. Obviously it is public so some things would not be appropriate to publish here, but considering how much of what is posted to social media networks can easily become public this is probably not too different.

Downpour

A significant event for our region was the recent deluge of rain and associated flooding last Friday and Saturday. Fortunately our house was not affected in any major way beyond some leaky spouting and a very muddy back yard. We did bring one of the rabbits (Cloud) inside overnight on Friday as his hutch was leaking and he had become a bit wet. He got a dry cardboard box of hay in the pet playpen for the night and once the rain eased on Saturday I moved all three of the rabbit hutches onto the concrete driveway to get them out of the mud.

(The image shows the Leith Stream on Saturday 22 July above, then at it normal flow two weeks later below)

Blog housekeeping

Despite the lack of new writing on the blog, I have been busy cleaning up all the old posts that I imported a few weeks ago. This involves fixing broken links, editing for obvious errors, adding images back, fixing fussy things that annoy me such as correct hyphens and ellipses. I’ve also tried to clean up the categories and tags to enable some of the older stuff to be found by association, though there may not be many people who actually navigate website by following tags and categories like I do myself.

Other website work has included tightening up security of the site and trying to speed up the loading time of the site. Slow site loading is one of the prices to be paid for the convenience of using WordPress and bringing that time down to something acceptable takes a surprising amount of work. So far I’ve managed to get it to something I’m satisfied with, and while there is still room for improvement what remains to fix would take a lot of time and expertise that I don’t currently have.

Trampoline

Last summer our 5+ year-old trampoline got a small hole in it, which steadily became bigger and bigger until it could no longer be used. We promised the kids that we would get another trampoline for next summer. Heather recently won an auction on TradeMe for one at a good price so we picked it up a couple of weekends ago and despite the cold weather it was an instant hit. For our kids the trampoline is a great way to get them moving and active after crouching over computers watching Youtube for hours.

Work

The second semester teaching has been underway for several weeks now, though I would not say we are run off our feet setting up labs as yet. That will come in a few more weeks.

A personal blog

Blogging is dead, why blog? From my perspective, the short answer is, ‘because I want to’. As a longer answer I will give some backstory and explain why I am starting a personal blog.

Over the years since the end of 2009, I’ve had a number of blogs on various platforms (WordPress.com, WordPress.org, Squarespace and Ghost) in combination with half a dozen hosting providers.

My enthusiasm for blogging and frequency of posting has waxed and waned over the years. For a while I published new posts three times a week, more recently it has been less than once in six months. Four months ago I made a deliberate choice to take a complete break from blogging or even thinking about blogging for at least three months, with no expectation of returning to it. The idea behind this was to give myself a break from the blogging mindset in order to assess whether it was truly something I wanted to do or if I was just feeling obligated to maintain the blog I already had.

During that time I also managed to change jobs from one that was exacting a heavy toll on both me and my family to one that is much less stressful and has better working hours. Now that my head has had a chance to reboot I’m finding a rekindled desire to express myself in writing and so the motivation to keep a blog has returned.

Several significant mental shifts have occurred for me during the time I stepped away from blogging. I’ve recovered from a severe and prolonged period of depression, and I’m no longer actively job seeking. Both of these had a large impact on what I thought and what I was willing to publish. Now I’m thinking more positively and am not worried about what a prospective employer might read on my blog so I can feel free to write about any weird oddball topics I want to. One of my ambitions in life is to be an eccentric old man so I need to start practising!

Having had time to consider what I want to write about and whether to simply pick up one of my two existing sites to move forward with, I’ve decided to make a clean start. This will be a blog with no niche, posts will be about whatever I feel like writing or is taking up my brain space at the time. This is a personal blog, the connecting theme is stuff I am personally interested in, no other criteria needs to be met. And because I am entering a new phase of life myself it seems appropriate to start fresh here and let the rest of the story emerge as we go.

Digging for bedrock

Learning to dig for the bedrock of Christ and writing from that foundation about the messy details of life.

When I was a teenager my Dad worked in the tunnels being constructed to stabilise the mountains around the Clyde dam. It was a strange underground world of darkness, dirt, noise, and water. The work of tunnelling through solid rock was arduous and exhausting.

The reason for all the drilling, digging, and blasting was because the rock is not as solid as it seemed. The mountains in that area are riddled with fault lines, underground water and massive, slowly moving landslides. Placing a gigantic concrete dam smack on top of a fault line meant the mountains had to be stabilised to prevent them cascading down into the newly formed lake.

As humans we like to think our work will last. It is demoralising to work hard on something for it to be demolished by someone who doesn’t care. We order our lives to ensure stability of home and income. Education is an attempt to predict what knowledge is worth gaining that will be of lasting value.

Over recent weeks I’ve been wondering what direction I should take with this blog. Writing blog posts can be a significant investment in time, and running a blog that is not crammed with advertising is a reasonable monetary cost. If I’m to continue writing I’d like it to have purpose and meaning, both for me and the few who read my posts.

I’ve asked God to help me determine what my focus should be, and so far the clearest idea I have is to keep digging into bedrock. The rock is Christ and knowing Him. Encompassing more than just blogging, for the time being I need to single-mindedly pursue Jesus. I’m confident that in doing this, other stuff will slip and slide into their rightful places.

I’m not sure how this will affect my writing, hopefully by making it better. My gut feeling is that I’d like to write about the intersection of life and faith. There are thousands of Christian pastors who write blogs. Yet it is oddly difficult to find blogs written by ordinary Christian men about the challenges of living faithfully for God in the messy details of secular work, marriage, and being a dad. This is where most of us live for most of the time.

Good writing, like any good art, needs to confront the most challenging aspects of life. Whether exploring our pain, anger, or fears, writing won’t ring true if it fails to confront these deeper issues or only offers pat solutions to complex issues. (Ed Cyzewski, How The Examen Empowers Us to Pray and Write)

While I don’t consider myself an artist, confronting the challenging aspects of life is a large part of why I write. I also have a deep dislike for pat answers. Life is messy and complex, trite answers don’t help anyone. This is where blogs can offer something useful with thoughtful posts and discussion in the comments to tease out the knotty intricacies of our real lives.

In the meantime, I have some digging to do. Let me leave you with a reminder that Christ is the rock that even incessant ocean waves cannot erode away.


Image 1:Drilling a blast hole with a jackhammer in 1942. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Image 2:Fingal’s Cave, Staffa (Scotland). Courtesy of Gerry Zambonini (flickr)

Live your destiny

live-your-destiny

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them:  (Romans 12:6 ESV)

We are to think of ourselves with humility and with the measure of faith assigned to each of us by God. This is an uncommonly balanced esteem of oneself, not arrogant yet also avoiding despondency or hopelessness. I know I’ve fallen into both extremes and done plenty of stumbling around in between them.

Some folks hate the concept of being assigned a role in life by God, preferring to believe that with enough faith in oneself, ambition, discipline and determination each person can be whatever they want to be. Such ideas are clearly a load of rubbish – take a look around, is everyone really of equal ability and talents? Do we all have the same opportunities?

Oddly, it is often the espousers of ‘you can be anything you want to be’ who also have a nebulous idea of having a ‘destiny’ which they can achieve with determination and belief in themselves.

Well, God does in fact give us a destiny. How detailed the plan is remains unknown, but in Romans 12 Paul clearly promotes the idea that we are not all given the same abilities, and even those with similar abilities have differing levels of faith to use those abilities in service of God’s kingdom. That could cause distress to folks who like the idea of self-made success, the audacity of God to assign a lower level of faith to one person compared with another!

I find it freeing. God expect me to serve according to the measure of faith and abilities that I do have, not according to the abilities of some other very talented person whom I secretly envy. Like Jesus told Peter to mind his own damn business regarding whether John would be martyred or not, He also says to each of us when we whine to God about what some other Christian is achieving rather than us: “What’s that to you? You follow me!”  (John 21:22).

More and less in 2013


Well, a new year – time for resolutions, a fresh start, renewed energy – all that jazz. For me it is just another day at work.

However, despite my own cynicism, the start of a new year does mean something more than ‘just another day’ to me. After the draining rush and stress of Christmas and the ‘end of year’ wind up, there is a sense of needing a fresh start, a chance to get things moving ahead on the right foot. Fortunately for us who live ‘downunder’ we get to start each new year in the middle of summer so there really is a chance to nurture new growth, to get out into nature and unwind a bit, or read that book we were given for Christmas.

As yet I haven’t made any resolutions or specific goals for 2013, but I did drag out my old notebook in which I’ve written goals for years already gone by and noticed a few interesting patterns:

  • Some big goals that initially appeared out of reach have been achieved, particularly ones regarding jobs and income.
  • My goals of eating and spending less are the ones I put least effort into reaching!
  • Personal challenges that God has allowed into my life have forced me to work harder on some ‘personal development’ goals that had been on my list but slightly neglected – should have done that work sooner!
  • External pressure is a huge motivator for me to work on my goals; for example, I had a goal of studying the psalms more deeply which was neglected for several years. Then our church began preaching on the psalms and so that year my goal was more than fulfilled.
  • Spiritual growth/disciplines such as Bible reading and prayer are super important, hard to measure, never ‘complete’, and difficult to sustain without external motivation.
  • Small daily steps working on personal values can get me a long way, conversely – neglect of daily discipline can lead to wasted years.

So, goals for 2013?

I’m still not sure what my goals are for this year. There are a few ideas rattling around in my head but I’m suspicious that their origin is more from my own heart than anything God is wanting me to aim for. Last year was pretty tough so there is an obvious desire to try to make this year better, whatever form ‘better’ might take.

An idea which may be worth pursuing is of making 2013 to be a year of ‘less’. Less incoming clutter into my heart, mind, inbox, and hard drives. I’m a compulsive gatherer of information, to the point of becoming overwhelmed by too much to read, listen to, think about, process. I also eat too much and spend too much so aiming for less in 2013 seems like a good plan.

To immediately contradict myself, I also have a goal of more blogging here on Words of Eternal Life. Having not posted anything here for weeks means that ‘more’ should be easy to achieve! Over the last few months I’ve considered a couple of web projects that have diverted my attention from this blog but my focus is now back here and I’m keen to infuse some more life into this site. I’ve got a few plans of what I like to blog about this year but will keep these to myself until the writing has been done!

 

Image: iStock

Making the best of my time

Why do I give my time to that low-priority stuff which could easily wait at the expense what is immediate and important?


How many hours have I wasted catching up on blogs, social media and whatever else is new on the internet? Then I find it is very late, my sermon is not yet finished and I’ve not done the dishes either. Why is it that low-priority stuff which could easily wait is given my time at the expense of the immediate and important?

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (Ephesians 5:15–17 ESV)

The section of Ephesians this sentence is taken from discusses the works of darkness in which we should not participate in as Christians. Such things as foolish talk, crude jokes, impurity, coveting, getting drunk, and general unfruitful pursuits. Often in the New Testament the idea of  fruitfulness comes up – our lives are expected to bear fruit for God.

Great, so I’m expected to be fruitful on top of working full time, being a father, a husband, and trying to maintain our house. Where am I supposed to find time to be fruitful?

Godly, organic time management

God’s time-management principles are simple: stop doing pointless and destructive things, replacing them with fruitful pursuits. This is an organic model which fits our humanity better than trying to cram every minute with action and scheduling life in a manner more appropriate to a robot than a person. Jesus talks of pruning unfruitful branches to make the tree as a whole bear more fruit, a principle we can apply to our own lives. Not just adding more stuff to do but cutting away all that is unfruitful so what remains will grow better.

Fruitfulness is also a lifetime assessment – no tree bears any useful fruit in its first few years – in fact God commanded Israel to not eat the fruit of a newly planted tree for 5 years (Leviticus 19:23-25). Similarly, a tree cannot control the seasons or growing conditions around it.

Sometimes life is hard and our focus has to be on survival. Then seasons change and the roots which that down deep seeking living water in order to survive a drought enable great fruitfulness which could have come no other way.


Image: iStock

Pray for your kids – willing to work

Pray your children grow into understanding a Biblical perspective on work which enables them to accept it will not be easy but that there is a purpose in all work. Ask Jesus to help them see that as our Father is working, so too it is good for us to work.

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.(Ecclesiastes 9:10 ESV)

I guess most parents struggle when their kids are flatly unwilling to pitch in and do a fair share of work around the home. The exact expectations may vary from family to family and between cultures, but part of our task as parents is to train our children in how to work.

God values work, He set Adam the task of tending the garden even before the fall:

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. (Genesis 2:15 ESV)

When we work we glorify God by doing what He created us to do. After Adam and Eve sinned work became harder, but it is still part of our purpose and so does not have to be a demeaning burden. By teaching our children that work is an expression of what is good about being human and that it glorifies God, we help them to become willing to work hard.

What do I pray?

Pray your children grow into understanding a Biblical perspective on work which enables them to accept it will not be easy but that there is a purpose in all work. Ask Jesus to help them see that as our Father is working, so too it is good for us to work.


Download the prayer prompts:

Image: iStockphoto

Who am I

It is 5 minute Friday in which I write feverishly for five short minutes, find a picture to fit my story and then post without reworking and rewording the entire thing before being brave enough to publish!

This week the topic is identity, Go:

There was a time when I identified myself as a rock climber, not any more.

I was young, not any more.

I used to identify myself by the job I did, after over ten jobs that has worn thin.

I even had the audacity to identify myself as being intelligent… until I went to university!

Now I have many roles: husband, father, Poisons Officer, son, but my identity does not rest in any of these.

Who am I really?

Am I my thoughts, actions, emotions?

Am I what others think or see? Or what I present to the world?

In the end none of these are substantial. They will all crumble. Like earlier this evening when I was putting up gib in our bathroom and felt some identification with my father and brother who are both builders. Then I drilled through a new pipe placed by the plumber only last week and immediately identified myself as a complete idiot!

I want my identity to be in Christ, that I may know Him and be found in Him.

As Paul said, who had so much going for him by some standards yet threw all that away in order to gain Christ:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
(Philippians 3:7–11 ESV)


Image: iStock

What does a man create?

A blog post by Ann Voskamp a few months ago in which she discussed the question of How Christian [women] May Create got me wondering how the process/art/work of creating might look for Christian men? Here are some musings and partly formed thoughts. Feel free to comment and give your own ideas.

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.
(Genesis 2:15 ESV)

Right from the beginning men were given a job to do. It was a nurturing, cultivating job, also a creative task in that to start with there was not so much weeding to be done in God’s garden so presumably Adam had time to implement a few ideas of his own.

As sons of Adam we create by bending creation to our will. Therefore, the results of our creating reflect both our desire and our skill. This creates a tension and often frustrations as the created reality does not match the plans in a man’s head. Perhaps this is why computer programming is a popular choice for men, in a realm created by humans bending machine code to the will of man is achievable even for men without the brawn to bend metal, timber or earth to their will.

Even after the fall Adam’s work remained the same, it just got much harder to achieve:

And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
(Genesis 3:17–19 ESV)

Under the curse (Genesis 3:22), creation refuses to bow to the will of men. Therefore the strength of a man is necessary to tear open the soil, wrestle raw materials and press on against the elements. By applying wisdom a man creates new and innovative works, and at our best as a team there is no limit to what can be achieved (Genesis 11:3–6).

The prime focus of a man’s work is always provision – even if a man is an artist and has nothing to do with cultivating the ground or making food, the overall goal of his work is to generate income in order to put food on the table. We can work for noble causes and labour to create beauty or make a statement, but once our family starts to go hungry none of that holds any importance (see 1 Timothy 5:8). If providing for his family takes up all of a man he is doing a noble task – I would argue more noble than those of us who can do so by working only 40 hours a week.

Yet there is a limit to how worthwhile the works of a man can be:

What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity. There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, (Ecclesiastes 2:22–24 ESV).

For some men perhaps all they seek is to eat, drink and enjoy the fruits of their labours. But we are created for more, much more than this.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10 ESV)

To be satisfied with our own work is to settle far short of the best a man can achieve, to live beneath our purpose in Christ. We yearn for  purpose, to know that our work is for more than simply putting food on the table. The most effective way to grind a man down is to give him meaningless work that has no point to it and in which he has no choices, especially if the work involves no physical exertion but is simply pushing paper across a desk all day. Only the shallowest of men work only for money, we seek to do work that is worthwhile:

Some men know how to solve crimes, others can heal pain, paint pictures, make violins, train dogs, ride a wave, kick a ball, lay cement, design glorious buildings, make new laws. We need them all. You have things inside you to do. These lie dormant waiting to be expressed. (Steve Biddulph in Manhood)

We are created for good works that proclaim and glorify His grace. In order to achieve this the will of a man must be redeemed. For me to to the works prepared for me before I even existed I must bow my will to His will. A little created creator must submit to his own creator and say along with my Brother-redeemer, “Your will be done, not mine”.

His will is not obscure or difficult to find, we are to make disciples:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV)

And we are to labour to make the Kingdom of God manifest on earth:

Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
(Matthew 6:10 ESV)

Image of blacksmith: Hans Splinter