On the Road Again

I watched a national tribute to Willie Nelson last night. I think it was a rerun. He ended the event by singing a few songs. The last one was his trademark, “On the Road Again.”  That’s all of our stories – that metaphor works. We are forever on a journey, heading down a road to somewhere.

These days I’m having the hardest time being at the right place at the right time. I’ve got all sorts of calendars, digital “invites” and reminders – but to no avail. I’m still waking up confused at least once or twice a day.

This makes me think about my larger and symbolic journey through life. What kinds of appointments am I missing with my destiny? Did I forget to show up for an important rite of passage? What day of my life is it right now?

“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

As I think about it (while going to get some lunch because I messed up my calendar and ended up with a very disordered day) it seems there are markers in my journey through life. We were on the side of the highway recently, asking for help on the phone and were told we needed to keep driving forward until we reached a mile marker. The help was no use until they knew right where we were.

This same truth applies to all of us. Until YOU know where you are on your journey (what day of your life is it right now?) you’re not going to get very far. Spend some time and be reflective. Start a journal. Talk with someone about things that matter. Take a long walk regularly and talk to yourself. Try and locate the “mile markers” in your present journey. Are you heading forward? Are you moving at the speed limit?  Keeping your eyes on the road? You’re going to always feel that sense of confusion or detachment if you continue to let your life drive on autopilot.

Your relationships all along the journey are essential to understanding where you are, where you’re going and who you are becoming. To end some of the confusion that may be plaguing your day in and day out – maybe you need to reconnect with the people the matter? What about listening instead of talking? How about some honest feedback, from someone who loves you, about where you’re heading? (Most people can’t give us this valuable help because we usually remain too private about our real selves, our hoods too tightly shut).

“Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another.” ― Thomas Merton

What sort of goals have you set for yourself? As you pass each mile marker, you can tell that you’re heading the right direction if your actions are taking you toward specific goals already laid out. Most of us aren’t specific enough with our goals and that leaves us driving around in the dark or lost in the woods. We don’t know the next step because we never really nailed it down in the first place. Make a list of your goals and chart out the course your life should be taking. Big and very specific goals help you to see the markers along your way and which direction you’re heading.

I hope next week is better. I’m going to check my calendar twice to be certain. What I really hope to accomplish is pay better attention to my larger journey, take back the wheel from the autopilot more often and become accustomed to map reading.

“All the world’s a stage and most of us are desperately unrehearsed.”

― Seán O’Casey

 

 

Someone That I Used to Know

Do You Ever Wonder Who You Were Meant To Be?

“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” ― Ernest Hemingway

When we experience hard times in our life, it gets difficult to imagine that we are truly becoming who we are meant to be. I often think with regret about bad decisions I’ve made. Don’t we all? I have friends who can’t seem to move on from terrible events that have struck them off course. Moving on and becoming our real self is a steep mountain to climb at times.

“How should we be able to forget those ancient myths that are at the beginning of all peoples, the myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us.

So you must not be frightened if a sadness rises up before you larger than any you have ever seen; if a restiveness, like light and cloudshadows, passes over your hands and over all you do. You must think that something is happening with you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand; it will not let you fall. Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any miseries, or any depressions? For after all, you do not know what work these conditions are doing inside you.” ― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

I’m a sociologist who studies religion. One of the significant areas of American religion is our booming self-help industry. This ties in to religion because so many of these groups approach self improvement using religious language and spiritualistic methodologies.

Many point to America as the birth place of self improvement. Our early history is filled with stories of people who came here to start over again. As our economy cranked up we got even better at “selling” not just new and innovative products, but even ourselves – selves that were constantly improving.

Since America is a nation of religious choices – it’s not surprising to see a wide variety of religious beliefs lining the shelves like boxes of cereal at the grocery store. There’s almost everything you could imagine when it comes to religion here in our country.

When obstacles or difficulties arise, the positive thinker takes them as creative opportunities. He welcomes the challenge of a tough problem and looks for ways to turn it to advantage. – Norman Vincent Peale

Peale himself is one of the “fathers” of American religious self-improvement with his positive thinking theology. Maybe you’re familiar with his most famous successor, Robert Schuller who arrived just in time to use the television for his Hour of Power weekly worship service filled with positive inspiration from sunny California.

Here in Houston where I live we are home to the largest church in America, Lakewood Church. Its pastor, Joel Osteen, is a world famous speaker and author who is thought of by most as a proponent of the prosperity gospel – another American invention. In a nutshell this very popular Christian belief promotes the idea that if one has enough faith (usually demonstrated in giving donations), one can experience God’s earthly blessings (healing and wealth).

These two phenomenon: (1) a wide variety of religious choice and (2) the eager desire for self-improvement, have created a special slice of culture that is unique but sometimes harmful to genuine, meaningful and lasting growth.

  • Americans are trained to be pragmatic – we tend to want self-improvement now
  • As we work hard at building our own redemption, sometimes we can accidently leave God out of the picture
  • When we don’t find what we are looking for at one religious “shop” it’s often too convenient to move on to the next one, and never really address our real problems
  • As we try and fail on the latest self-improvement fad, we can grow cynical about those aimed at helping us with our spiritual identity

Eternal self improvement, is it something to accomplish, working hard at spirituality or is it someone to know, someone to know even more each day?

Christianity doesn’t teach self-improvement, instead it teaches becoming more like the one we follow, Jesus. It sounds more like a relationship than a list of accomplishments (to earn God’s love).

For it’s by God’s grace that you have been saved. You receive it through faith. It was not our plan or our effort. It is God’s gift, pure and simple. You didn’t earn it, not one of us did, so don’t go around bragging that you must have done something amazing. (Ephesians 2:8-9, The Voice)

The person you were meant to be was a person who is friends with God.

  • It’s difficult to keep a relationship going if you never talk
  • Friendships work best when you’re open and honest, right?
  • Our best of friends make us want to sacrifice and be better people – they challenge us
  • Friendship is a process not an event, it takes time
  • It’s always worth it to keep working at relationships that matter, they do bear fruit if you’ll stick with it and maybe pull some weeds

You were meant to be friends with God who never leaves you, never forgets you, no matter what you do, say or think.

You were meant to walk with God in this kind of personal relationship each day.

You were meant to be a person who reflects to others the transformation that’s taking place in your own life.

 

“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.” 

― Ralph Waldo Emerson