Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Future, Anxiety, and Love

Today I spent some a lot of the afternoon with a group at a restaurant. My friend John is visiting from New York, and the conversation at one point turned to the the open question of his future plans. John is torn between staying at home in Queens with his family, where he is in an LSAT study program, and moving out here to be around other recent grads and people whom he loves. It was difficult for him to talk about because of the tension between the strength of his desire to come back to this area, and the total reasonability of staying with his parents. In part, he feels unable to commit to returning here because he doesn't (yet) have a grand plan or design for his life.
Some days it feels like everyone around us (us = me and my friends, all early 20's and recently graduated) expects us to have our whole futures worked out, down to the minutiae. We're given a lot of mentor-y advice, and hear a lot about discerning the will of God and figuring out one's particular "calling" and "purpose." I am pleased for my friends for whom discerning the will of God for one's life is a reasonable undertaking, but I don't speak for a niche minority in suggesting that purpose and calling and God's will can be tricky things to apprehend, even with a lot of hard spiritual work and the best intentions.
Sometimes all you have to go on is a love or a desire, and sometimes that love or desire is for something that is unmistakably short-term or even imprudent. However, I think it is appropriate to borrow an insight from the German philosopher Martin Heidegger: that care is our most basic, foundational stance towards the world, and what we care about (even in the short term) can go a long way towards telling us who we are and what we should be doing. For some Christians, embracing a love or a desire may be essential for them to be able to develop a less-mediated relationship with their idea of the Good - one that isn't as densely filtered as "I'm going to have to consult with my pastor and check the scriptures to see if it's acceptable for me to work part-time as a performing artist," or a similar theologizing cul-de-sac. Some Christians seem to believe that if God doesn't call them up to give them specific clearance for pursuing something, that thing must not be a part of his perfect over-arching plan for them and therefore ought to be abandoned.
I believe in total depravity; I also believe in God's continually working to redeem and transform desires in the lives of those whom he has redeemed and is transforming. To question desire automatically in every case is a symptom of unfreedom. So, I told my friend John that he should return here, maybe even without a life-plan, in order to get a job, be with friends, and allow himself to pursue, for the time being, one or two of the things that he loves. Who knows, perhaps a big-picture plan could emerge out of the provisional pursuit of a deep-rooted desire.

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