The temptation to cultivate a highlight reel of perfection for the internet is one of the many novel afflictions of life that our ancestors didn’t have to deal with, certainly not to the extent that we do. Sure, they felt other pressures to keep up appearances, but with the advent of social media there seems to be an added pressure sometimes referred to as “FOMO” (Fear of Missing Out). We embrace this deep seated fear within ourselves and within each other utilizing social media to compare and contrast our lives with those around us, or at least those that make our news feeds. This results in an unrelenting pressure to do better and be better, leaving us exhausted. What’s worse is that we often utilize these fears, leveraging them as a means of persuading others of certainties that, in the depths of our souls, we aren’t all that certain of.
But thankfully we aren’t alone in this uncertainty, when I read ancient writings of wisdom, like that contained in the Old Testament of the Bible, what I discovered is that none of those folks were certain of very much. Recently I’ve been contemplating the story of Abraham in Genesis. There is that disturbing passage where God tells Abraham to engage in the human sacrifice of his son. This is disturbing for many reasons and still confounds the best scholarship on the subject, and in my estimation this picture of God is completely inconsistent with what we know and understand of God as revealed by Jesus in the New Testament. But I’ll leave those thoughts for another entry. What surprises me is that when God calls out to Abraham in Genesis 22:1 is that Abraham responds, “Here am I.” Abraham was stationary, he wasn’t on the move, he was “Here.” Now I’m not suggesting that Abraham status justified the severity of God’s command, but perhaps Abraham needed a challenge to move him out of his malaise. What is more surprising is that Abraham says nothing, when challenged by God in this weird way, but simply rises the next morning and “saddles his donkey,” or in the language of the KJV “saddles his ass.” In the face of this torturous command of God, Abraham takes action to get out of “Here.”
A traditional reading of this text would suggest that Abraham is blindly obeying the command of God, but a wise reading of the text may suggest that Abraham is taking action to distract himself from the deep emotional conflict he must have experienced. Distraction isn’t a sustainable strategy, but in the throes of deep emotional tumult, it can be helpful to do something to get your mind off of it. Maybe this is what Abraham was doing? Saddling his ass instead of sitting on it.
As I continue to navigate the challenges of midlife, I’m finding solace by attempting to intentionally practice what therapeutic professionals call “mindfulness.” The idea is to attempt to focus purposefully on the moments I’m experiencing rather than living in the regrets of the past or in the hopes of tomorrow. I’m endeavoring to cultivate gratitude for what I have, instead of imposing on others, myself, and experiences, expectations that are unrealistic. Revisiting my analogy from the life of Abraham, I’m now convinced that the reasons I get stuck “Here” be they emotional, mental, physical or relational limitations that I impose on myself, is because I don’t really appreciate what is here in here. I can’t move forward because most of the time I couldn’t tell you sufficiently where I’m at. Without a defined point of origin, it is impossible to know the parameters of the journey forward.
Brené Brown writes in her book The Gifts of Imperfection, “People may call what happens at midlife “a crisis,” but it’s not. It’s an unraveling -a time when you feel a desperate pull to live the life you want to live, not the one you’re supposed to live.” I like that description. I’m working now on figuring out what I was, so that I can accurately move forward to who I’m supposed to be. But as Brown goes on to point out this journey isn’t “like trying to reach a destination. It’s like walking toward a star in the sky. We never really arrive, but we certainly know that we’re heading in the right direction.” Perhaps this is why Abraham felt compelled to get out when faced with what seemed as cruel duplicity from a God who promised “I’ll make your descendants like the stars of the heavens” and then later asked him to kill his beloved son. I’m well versed in the “theological solutions” to this problematic story, but I’d wager that in that moment trekking up the mountain, Abraham wouldn’t have appreciated someone saying to him, “Everything happens for a reason.” Maybe we impose patterns or reasons on events, imbuing them with purpose instead of them having actual purpose?
Sometimes things just happen.
Sometimes shit just happens.
Don’t make it worse by imagining all of its dreadful implications. Instead focus on the feelings, the moment, the details and let them pass over you and through you. Focus on what you can see, touch, taste, smell, hear, everything else doesn’t exist at least not in this moment. There will be plenty of time for contemplating the existential in days to come.
Keep walking toward the stars. Don’t sit on your ass. Saddle it.