We live in a time of troubles.
The world feels like it is broken. No money and no prospects make us feel like we might be broken too. We want to be fixed. Not just fixed but for everything to be restored to being the way it was before, when times were good.
Feeling broken leads to a deep existential denial. Things aren’t supposed to go wrong, I’m not supposed to be treated badly or to be a statistic. No one told us it would be like this and we want it to stop. We falsely believe that life, like the economy, should be one steady upwards curve. When it doesn’t, despair is the result. Despair is easy when you are not equipped for bad news. Despair deepens when your life sustaining fantasy about the way of the world is fractured beyond repair.
Richard Rohr, the Franciscan contemplative, has an exercise involving five pieces of advice he would give to young men as they embarked on adult life. These are foundation stones on which to build a life that understands both the lies and the truths about living in a world that is less than perfect.
Life is hard
You are not important.
Your life is not about you.
You are not in control.
You are going to die
At first this looks like a grim list. However, on deeper analysis this is a guide to how to prepare for a life that discovers lasting joy and peace and purpose rather than a continual helpless cry that “it wasn’t supposed to be like this”.
Ash Wednesday reminds us that real life happens in a mess and in the context of real people and relationships and economics. Last night when my colleague preached on these as a list for Lent he reminded us that we cannot fix the world with a technique or draw up a policy that will make everything all right. We can only be free when we understand Jesus’ phrase “dying to the world”. Only when we let go of the false promises will we find the truth and learn to thrive.
Reading that list also reminds me that I cannot live without others. If life is hard, it must be made easier with people who laugh and cry with me. If I’m not in control, then neither are you which means maybe we should work together. Not being important means you and I can have a mutual relationship. The fact I am going to die one day provokes me to have a life worth being mourned by you.
If my life is not about me then maybe it is about you. If it’s good for you, maybe you will make it good for me.