Most often life’s deepest discoveries are the result of diligent thought, study and effort. Thomas Edison epitomizes that model. His persistence in the laboratory resulting in the invention of the light bulb is highly documented and unparalleled.
Occasionally, however, significant discoveries happen by accident. Perhaps the most famous of that type of discovery was penicillin. As the story goes, in 1928 Alexander Fleming went on vacation without cleaning his workstation and the growths he discovered upon his return transformed the course of medical history.
There may be an element of urban legend surrounding both these accounts but they are nevertheless intriguing.
I anticipate that most of the meaningful changes and growth in my life in 2020 will be the result of the first category. They will emerge out of disciplined and persistent effort. You’ve heard it said ad nauseum that generally it takes 21 days for something to become a habit, six weeks before it’s normal and about six months for it to become a way of life. If those adages are true, it’ll be summertime before I’ll be able to attest to any lasting change.
Acknowledging sustained discipline as a vital element for growth, I continue to be surprised by accidental discoveries. I recently stumbled upon one such learning purely by chance. I was reading a collection of some of the more famous quotes of Frederick Buechner when one paragraph ambushed me. Buechner put it this way, “One of the blunders religious people are particularly fond of making is the attempt to be more spiritual than God.”
Buechner examined the message of Christmas and the fact that in Jesus Christ, God became flesh. To quote the Gospel of John, “He dwelt among us.”
One popular paraphrase says, “He pitched His tent among us.” He came right up close sharing in all the challenges, disappointments, pains and temptations common to human existence. The point Buechner was making is that so often “religious” people attempt to do the opposite. We are fond of denying that all the maladies, temptations and failures common to human existence are manifest in our own experience. Of course that’s a lie, so to make it appear true, we engage in the time-honoured game of pretense. We pretend to be better than we are, better than reality suggests.
What makes it so ironic is that the God we claim to love and follow did the exact opposite. He left all the perfection of heaven in order to come to earth and authentically experience life as we experience it.
Of all the younger generation has taught the church this is perhaps the most significant lesson. Quit pretending. Quit faking. Quit trying to appear more spiritual than you are. If you want to be more like the God you serve, start by being real, like He is real.
That ambush raised several questions for me. What would a new level of authenticity look like in my own life?
For starters I think in 2020 I will need to say, “I don’t know,” more frequently than I have in the past. I will need to resist the temptation to know more than I do. Additionally, I will need to be more honest about my struggles than I often am. When I’m not “fine” I need the humility to say so. I need to ask for help more openly than I have in the past. Part of my independent spirit has me regularly trying to accomplish things on my own, without help from God or man. Finally, if the above are all true, I suspect I’ll need to say, “I’m sorry, I was wrong,” more often than I did last year, particularly to those who live in closest proximity to me.
I’m not yet sure how fully all this will be expressed in my life, perhaps in six months I’ll know.
But, I do know this: the accidental phrase from Buechner’s writing struck perilously close to my heart.
I for one do not want to live 2020 attempting to be more spiritual than God.