One Flourishing Life
One evening my wife, Nancy, pulled me into our bedroom and said she wanted to talk. She closed the door so that none of the kids could hear, and she took out a list.
I was not happy to see a list. She claims it was an index card, not a list. But it had words written on it, so to me that’s a list.
“You know,” she said, “when our marriage is at its best, I feel we share responsibilities. We divide our work well and our kids see us do that and I feel valued, and I think that’s important for our family. But for some time, because you feel so many demands on your life, this value has been slipping.
“When our marriage is working well, I also feel like we both know each other’s lives. You know details about my life and I know details about yours. And I feel like that’s been slipping too. Lately I know what’s going on with you, but you don’t ask me much about what’s going on with me.” She went on.
“When our marriage is at its best, you also bring a kind of lightness and joy to it.” Then she reminded me of a story.
We were on our second date, in the lobby of the Disneyland Hotel waiting to get something to eat, and she had to use the restroom. When she came out, there were scores of people in the lobby, and I was in a goofy mood, so I said loudly enough for them all to hear, “Woman, I can’t believe you kept me waiting for two hours.”
Her immediate response was, “Well, I wouldn’t have to if you didn’t insist on having your mother live with us so I have to wait on her hand and foot every day.” She yelled that, right across the lobby, on only our second date, and my first thought was, I like this woman.
Nancy told me that story and said, “You know, when our marriage is at its best, you can listen and laugh and be spontaneous. You haven’t been doing that for a while. I love that guy and I miss that guy.”
I knew what she was talking about.
“I miss that guy too,” I told her. “I’d love to feel free like that. But I feel like I’m carrying so many burdens. I have personnel issues and financial challenges at work. I have writing projects and travel commitments. I feel like I’m carrying this weight all the time. I get what you’re saying, but I need you to know, I’m doing the best I can.”
“No, you’re not,” she responded immediately.
That was not the response I had anticipated. Everybody is supposed to nod their head sympathetically when you say, “I’m doing the best I can.” But Nancy loves truth (and me) too much to do that. So she rang my bell. “No, you’re not. You’ve talked about how it would be good to see a counselor, or an executive coach, or maybe a spiritual director. You’ve talked about building friendships, but I haven’t seen you take steps toward any of that. No, you’re not.”
As soon as she said that I knew she was right.
But I didn’t say that to her immediately because my spiritual gift is pouting, which I exercised beautifully over the next few days. As I did, a question emerged in my mind: What is it that you really want?
I began to realize that what I really want isn’t any particular outcome on any particular project. Those are all just means to an end. What I really want is to be fully alive inside. What I really want is the inner freedom to live in love and joy. I want to be that man she described.
I’m a grown man, I thought. I do not know how many years of life are before me. I cannot wait anymore. When I was going to school, I was preoccupied with good grades or getting cute girls to like me. As the years went by, I became preoccupied with work and my circumstances because I thought they would make me feel alive. I can’t wait anymore to be that man, I thought.
I realized this then, and I know it now: I want that life more than I want anything else. Not because I think I’m supposed to, not because it says somewhere that you should. I want it.
There is a me I want to be.
Life is not about any particular achievement or experience. The most important task of your life is not what you do, but who you become.
There is a me you want to be.
Ironically, becoming this person will never happen if my primary focus is on me, just as no one becomes happy if their main goal is to be happy. God made you to flourish, but flourishing never happens by looking out for “number one.” It is tied to a grander and nobler vision. The world badly needs wise and flourishing human beings, and we are called to bring God’s wisdom and glory to the world. The truth is, those who flourish always bring blessing to others — and they can do so in the most unexpected and humble circumstances.
God made you to flourish — to receive life from outside yourself, creating vitality within yourself and producing blessing beyond yourself. Flourishing is God’s gift and plan.
As you do, you glimpse for a moment why God made you. Only God knows your full potential, and he is guiding you toward that best version of yourself all the time. He has many tools and is never in a hurry. That can be frustrating for us, but even in our frustration, God is at work to produce patience in us. He never gets discouraged by how long it takes, and he delights every time you grow. Only God can see the “best version of you,” and he is more concerned with you reaching your full potential than you are.
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10, NIV)
You are not your handiwork; your life is not your project. Your life is God’s project. God thought you up, and he knows what you were intended to be. He has many good works for you to do, but they are not the kind of “to do” lists we give spouses or employees. They are signposts to your true self.
Your “spiritual life” is not limited to certain devotional activities that you engage in. It is receiving power from the Spirit of God to become the person God had in mind when he created you — his handiwork.
“God, you made me, to do the works you prepared for me to do. Get “me” out of the way to allow your work to be done through me.”
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