To suggest the notion of becoming non-directional in our results-driven, success-oriented, goal-making, and goal-pursuing society seems almost blasphemous. Yet for this first week of Lent, that’s exactly what I’m suggesting we consider becoming.
What Are We Pursuing?
The way we live life and the way we progress tends to always be forward and always be trending up. If we happen to regress or are unable to climb a ladder of some sort — be it a social, career, or relational ladder — then we tend to buy into the myth that we’re failing. If we aren’t able to earn a promotion, or higher rank, or more money we somehow think that means we aren’t moving in the right direction.
Or let’s take it out of the workplace and into family life. If we hit a time of resistance in our marriage, or deal with a rebellious kid, or aren’t able to take that family trip we thought we could, we shrug and think we are somehow missing the mark.
What if all these ways of viewing our lives are, well, wrong? Put another way, what if our dogged pursuit of some idealized goal, or job status, or station in life, or family situation, or … or … or … What if all that results in us missing some important things in life?
I’ll be blasphemous again, if you’ll allow it. A scriptural text I’ve seen often used near the beginning of the Season of Lent throughout the years is Luke 9.51-62. This is the text that speaks about how Jesus “set his face resolutely toward Jerusalem” as the week of his passion was drawing closer and closer. Or in the king’s English, Jesus “set his face like flint.” Here’s the blasphemous part: that’s a crappy text to use during Lent.
It’s crappy because it’s used as a marker to suggest we should be looking toward Easter already. To use the text in this way is to lessen or outright negate the full impact of the journey through the wilderness that is Lent. We shouldn’t be looking toward the goal already! We shouldn’t even be thinking there’s a way out of the wilderness just yet! We should simply be experiencing the wilderness.
If we’d lean into the Lectionary a bit more, misguided interpretations like this might happen less. The Lectionary doesn’t list Luke 9.51-62 in any Lenten readings.
Look, I get that Jesus was clearly oriented toward a certain direction as his public ministry began. But what about the time before that, the time we may say Jesus was non-directional?
There’s that time he supplied a wedding party with some seriously fine wine. Why was that opportunity available? Because he was just hanging out with his family and friends, celebrating life with others.
And before he ever does anything of real recorded significance, he hops into the Jordan River with his cousin John, and a voice booms from somewhere “out there” saying it was well pleased with Jesus. He was pleasing God before having any followers.
Then the very next thing he heads alone into the wilderness with no clear direction in mind. Just to be in a space and time of quiet so he could know himself. He intends to just be, and not do anything.
My Year of Non-direction
We could stand to spend at least a week being non-directional, and attempt just to be instead of doing any and everything to pursue some goal.
As a matter of fact, I’ve just recently spent about a year being non-directional. After leaving pastoring (again) and beginning my PhD work, I spent most of 2016 as a practically unemployed doctoral candidate who helped homeschool my children.
The first portion of this time I was kind of miserable. Why? Because I did not like feeling non-directional. I had no big career goal I was aiming for, I had no big project I was working on. I felt aimless, and I hated it.
Then I decided to just embrace what was and focus on changing who I am rather than my circumstances. I began to experience joy again. By simply being instead of doing I found ways to deepen my relationships with my wife and kids. I found ways to improve the man I am.
I stopped pursuing goals and just lived. And it was eye-opening.
Even now that I’ve focused again on developing my writing and speaking, if I never become some sought after artistic theologian-philosopher, that’s OK. Who I am isn’t changed by what I do.
For each of these “nons” during Lent, I’ll suggest a few practices to try. You can pick one or two to try for the week, or the entire time of Lent. Or use them in whatever way you’d like. These are simply some suggestions for how to become something different for a while.
So, for becoming non-directional, evaluate what you do on a day-to-day basis that revolves around work, paying the bills, relationships, goals, and so forth.
- If you have a big work goal with no defined deadline, take a break from it this week. It will still be there for you after you just be for a few days. Spend the time you would be laser-focused on the project and instead focus on your co-workers. What can you do for them this week?
- If you have some financial goal you’re working toward — higher salary, vacation fund, saving for the future, paying off debt — take this week to let it slide. Instead use the money you would have applied toward that goal to be lavishly generous on someone else’s behalf. Who around you is in need?
- Whatever you’re pursued or plan direction in life, take this week to write it down on paper or in a note-taking app. And then list all the things you would consider “negative” if you were to change direction. Then list all the “positive” things that you could imagine evolving if you changed direction. What positive things might still be incorporated in your original direction?
- Whenever you share a meal with others this week, whether family members, those you live with, friends, or co-workers, spend less time eating and talking and more time listening. Let the time and space breathe, so you can perceive things about those around you that you normally miss. How you can you be less about yourself and more for them?
If you are trying some of these ways to become non-directional for Lent, let me know how its going. What are you discovering about yourself, your reality, those around you?
And check out all the resources for “Becoming ‘Non’ for Lent” here.