I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. Henry David Thoreau
I want to live deliberately. I don’t want to come to the end of my life only to realize I never ‘lived’.
Sounds easy. ‘Don’t overthink it. Just do it.' Yet for some, making choices or taking action feels impossible. You don’t tell a paralyzed man ‘Just do it! Walk!' Or 'You gotta want it!’ It’s not a motivation issue. His body can’t do what he wants it to. As for me, I can't get my will (my 'chooser’ muscle) to do what my mind tells it to do.
I hate making decisions. So I make excuses instead. My default response is to not respond. The pros and cons both feel equally important. So I vacillate back and forth until I’m paralyzed. Even if I do make a choice, I’ll second guess it for days.
In Larry Crabb’s book ‘The Pressure’s Off’, his friend Al recalls a Little League story. After a few strikeouts, Al would freeze up and not swing. After he got on base with a walk, he stopped swinging altogether. His coach urged him to, but he wouldn’t.
As an adult, Al realized he was still afraid to swing. It became his default response to all life threw at him. As a boy, he wouldn’t swing. As a man, he couldn’t. His habitual avoidance was ruining his life. After a wake-up call, he started swinging away. It was scary. But each swing helped pull him out of the quicksand of inertia.
In his refusal to swing, I saw my own reluctance to act, make choices or take risks.
I too had settled for the occasional walk. Afraid to ‘swing for the fences’. Al’s story has became my wake-up call. For me, it's the fear of failure that makes me freeze up. It sounds easy, but living intentionally is the hardest thing I’ve ever attempted.
Most attempts fail. Partly because it's so hard to even get started. I want to give up on this idea of living deliberately. As if I'll avoid the failure I fear by not trying. But if I put off making decisions, I lose my ability to make them. Don’t ask how I know. Plus there is a fear avoiders can't avoid: a fear that one day I’ll look back in regret.
If I don't live on purpose, life feels like a long slow death. If you can call that living. Either I face the pain of making changes or I live with the pain of never changing.
As for me, I want to change. For me, that means I want to live life deliberately.
Feels noble. But it’s just a wish unless I learn how to be an intentional person. And I’m not. I have good intentions but that's not the same as being intentional. Most people have good intentions. But only a few are truly intentional in how they live.
Intentional people are not content with just having good intentions. They turn intentions into actions. Desires into choices. Dreams into plans. Their initial choices and actions are followed up with more choices and actions. In time, the seed of intention becomes a fruitful tree. The dream becomes reality.
Proverbs 13:4 says a sluggard ‘craves and gets nothing’ while ‘the desires of the diligent (or deliberate) are fully satisfied’. The word ‘diligent’ is from a root word meaning ‘to cut into or dig into’. Also a Hebrew word for plow or threshing sickle.
A farmer cuts into soil to till it. He also cuts into the harvest to thresh out the chaff from the wheat. The lazy man looks at his land and waits for harvest. Content with his big dreams and trusting his good intentions. Fully convinced he’ll have a great harvest simply because he has great intentions. Solomon calls such a man foolish.
He who works his land will have abundant food, but he who chases fantasies lacks judgment. Prov. 12:11
Why do we chase fantasies? Why are we content to have dreams we never act on?
I think it’s because dreaming itself feels good. Even if we don’t achieve our dream. Neuroscientists say that desire by itself triggers the pleasure center in our brains. Even before we get what we want. Or even if we don't. It’s why online browsing is addictive. I see it. I want it. And crave to see more. Why? Desire itself is a pleasure.
To dream up a vacation is easy. But to afford it, plan it and take it is not. To want a close marriage is easy. To build a deep friendship that survives the pressures of life is not. We aren’t just pulled by desires. We like them to come easy and often give up if they don't. I’ll dream up a future I never invest in. Dreaming can become a substitute for action. If life is hard, dreaming gives us far more joy than reality.
For a minute. Until you wake up one day and find you never acted on your dream.
Those ‘who chase fantasies lack judgment’. Obsessing over a dream can keep us from doing what we must do to realize any dream: Take action. It also distracts me from God’s dream. If I fixate on the life I have, but don’t want or the life I want but don’t have, I'll never discover the life God had in mind for me. Much less live it.
I’ve fought procrastination all my life. I spend more time avoiding life than living it. I spend time imagining a future but not preparing for it. Wanting opportunities yet not taking them. It grieves me to think of God-given dreams I never acted on.
Most people spend their entire lives indefinitely preparing to live. Paul Tournier
I’m tired of making promises to me I don’t keep or having intentions I don’t act on. Intentional people do what they intend to. They make a commitment and keep it. They turn goals into plans and action steps that are realistic. Doable. Energizing. The most important thing they do is so obvious yet easily neglected by most of us.
They take action. Not once but over and over. In spite of fatigue. Setbacks. Failure. Little by little, task by task, project by project, their dream is gradually realized. Yes, God may let detours or setbacks to change or even derail our original dream. But for the most part, those who realize their dreams are people who act on them.
Then there are others like me. I’m not naturally intentional. I don’t live deliberately. My journals are littered with great ideas or dreams that never saw the light of day. Life changing insights I never acted on. And I wonder why my life hasn't changed. Each one was a ‘seed of promise’ that landed on the soil of my optimistic heart.
But by neglect, procrastination and the failure to act, these seeds never took root. There’s little harvest I can point to despite years of dreaming about harvest. Why?
The paralysis of analysis. A life changing truth can’t change my life until I act on it.
It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking, than think your way into a new way of acting. Jerry Sternin
Ideas that blew me away have themselves blown away like leaves in the wind. Yet God will still send new ‘seeds of promise’ that land on my soul, reviving my hopes.
But a passive spirit can harden my heart’s receptivity to truth just like rebellion will. Fueled by doubt, passivity makes it hard to act on the life changing word of God. I can love the experience of hearing God’s word, yet invest no effort to live it out. Israel did this so God warned Ezekiel about the danger of pretense and hypocrisy.
As for you, son of man, your people are talking together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, saying to each other, ‘Come and hear the message that has come from the Lord.’ My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to hear your words, but they do not put them into practice. Their mouths speak of love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed, to them you are no more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice. Ezekiel 33: 30-32
This isn't spoken to those who attend church and enjoy hearing God's Word. But to those who like to hear His word yet don't intend to obey it if it means changing.
For the passive, change is difficult. But not because they're intentionally resistant. They don't change because they’re not deliberate. They're paralyzed by passivity. Like a muscle, the less we use our will, the harder it is to use. It's far easier to stop.
Newton's First Law of Motion says that a body at rest stays at rest until an outside force acts on it. And a body in motion at a constant speed stays in motion in a straight line unless acted on by an outside force. I regret all I've missed by waiting for an outside force (God) to pull me up. He won't. He tells me 'Get up and walk!'.
Jesus said that the truth can set us free. But it only does so if I act upon it. To not live by the truth I know is like a POW having a key to get out and not using it. He sees it daily, dreams of his escape and imagines his future as a free man. Decades later, he's still in a prison cell. Dreaming of freedom and still tinkering with his key.
Great ideas inspire dreams and deep insights stir up hopes for change. But these ‘seeds of promise’ won't grow into their potential unless they’re acted on. Those who live deliberately can turn life changing insights into a life that really changes. I know all this yet I find myself totally unable to do what I most want to do. Get up!
As a Dad wants his lame son to walk, God wants me to live with purpose. I want it too. I don't want to end my days in regret. But to finish my race happily exhausted. Not haunted by dreams I didn't act on or missions I aborted. But 'swinging away'.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on to the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. Philippians 3: 12-15
With all my soul, I want to ‘take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me’. I want to forget the past and reach forward to all God has for me. The question is: how? How do I stop being passive? How do I learn to live life more deliberately?
NEXT POST: Swing away! (Batting practice for the soul) How do I ‘live deliberately’? How do I break free from the 'paralysis of analysis'? (No success stories or formulas. Just some stuff I'm learning by trying and failing.)