Tuesday, March 4, 2014

I want an epic life.

As propane flames began to dance across the outdoor fireplace and cigar cutters harmonized into a symphony of blades threshing tobacco, I rubbed my hands together like a praying mantis. It was time for another edition of Thursday night Pints and Pipes, and I was giddy about the discussion topic I had prepared for the evening. Friends new and old lit up their stogies and filled their pint glasses to the brim, ready to settle in for a raucous round of healthy discourse, and looked at me in anticipation. I proceeded to tell them how I had read in one of my favorite business books of all time, Built to Last, how companies with a clear, lived-out mission statement (not just fancy business words hanging on the wall) tend to outperform those without one by massive margins. The author's research found purpose drove results. I asked the friends huddled around my patio if they thought the same principle applied to our lives, and their heads nodded with near unanimous agreement - our lives need mission in order to thrive. "Well, in that case, what is your life's mission statement?" I retorted. A hush fell over the crowd.

It was clear no one had a pre-established mission statement off the top of their head, so we began to brainstorm on the spot. What were the elements of a strong mission statement? How could you keep it from being pure fluff? Ideas were tossed up in hopeful anticipation like the hats of graduates on commencement day - no one remembering which idea was theirs once it had hit the ground. Yet slowly a consensus began to build: "I want an epic life" became the unison chant of the crowd. People began to compose mission statements based on this idea of "epic-ness," claiming "my mission is to travel the world!" and "my mission is to go sky-diving and climb Mt. Kilimanjaro!" and the like. Meanwhile, I could see my friend Robbie sitting in the corner and boiling up with frustration.
Great conversations around a fire on our porch

Robbie is a kind, soft spoken, gentle man. He's the kind of friend who constantly encourages you, pats you on the back, and is always quick with a lighthearted joke. Seeing him silent and disconcerted was certainly out of character for him, so I halted the group discussion and asked him what he was thinking. His voice was throttled with just enough anger to communicate his seriousness as he said: "You're not describing an epic life, you're just talking about a wealthy one." We all fell silent - we knew Robbie was right, and we didn't know how to offer him a rebuttal. All too often, what we think is an epic narrative is nothing more than a bright flash in the flambe pan. We deceive ourselves on the definition of epic, like a naive sorority girl who screams "YOLO!" after numerous shots of cheap tequila, thinking she's taking the "you only live once" adage to heart.
I still want to hike Mt. Kilimanjaro

Most of the time when you have sparks of discontentment in your life, your friends will try to encourage you by stomping them out. My friend Joe does the opposite. Whenever I come to him with a glimmer of discontent, he throws in some kindling and stokes the flames - he wants it to become a raging fire. He sees our discontent as a good, holy thing - it is our heart's admission of living in a fallen world, an acknowledgement of how our willful separation from God has made creation run amok. If our lives have no discontentment, then we must be suffocatingly sheltered, and if our only discontentment stems from the size of our bank accounts, then we must be debilitatingly shallow. Yet when we look into the world and see the pain of others, a holy discontent will tell us "this is not right, this is not the way it's meant to be." This spark of discontentment, when stoked, can shatter the inner cavities of our hearts, calling us into epic action. After Robbie's words convicted me on how I defined epic, I realized every epic narrative, every story worth reading, every movie worth watching, and every mission worth supporting, has begun with a broken heart.

In my adult life, I've seen God get hijacked by opportunists looking for cash, egomaniacs yearning for power, influence, and control over others, and perhaps worst of all, ignorant optimists desperately seeking a false sense of safety and comfort. Through these perversions of the truth, I've seen people I love discredit God altogether, and I've seen Christians live astonishingly boring lives - hellbent on hiding from the world rather than engaging it. This tears my heart to pieces. I want people to experience the wonder of the true God we find in the Scriptures, and I want to help Christians see the implications of Grace on how we should live.

This holy discontent, this heart brokenness, has helped me form my mission statement for this season of my life: "To help people see the glory of God and lead people in living greater stories." Since this is my mission at this time, I filter my actions through this lens. I ask myself if the money I'm spending will help people connect with God - if it's not, then I know I'm off track. I ask myself if how I'm spending my time will point people to a bigger story worth living - if it's not, then I know I'm wasting it. This way of life has been very costly to me. Being a braggart about self-sacrifice kinda seems to defeat the purpose of it, but I only mention the cost to stress it's not easy. I have the scars and bills to prove it. Yet that's what makes it epic - the mission is worthy of the sacrifice.
Ben & Dylan with their scholars in Nicaragua

Every week, I ask my friends about their holy discontent, and I love seeing the diversity of ways God is breaking our hearts for His kingdom. My friends Dylan and Ben had their hearts broken by children living on the streets in Managua, and now their mission has led those kids to graduating from school and even going on to college. My friend Mike had his heart broken by entire nationalities who have never heard the Good News of God's redemption and restoration through Christ, and now he's sending missionaries to countries so dangerous few missionaries have dared to go there before. Their missions are frustrating and costly, but their lives personify the true meaning of epic, and their journeys began with brokenness.
What I'm listening to during this post:

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