In a recent post, “Point Your Life in the Right Direction,” I wrote about the importance of orienting one’s life towards (rather than against) the moral grain of the universe. I argued that there seems to be a certain groove in life in which the human condition flourishes and that which runs counter ends up getting one all splintery (splintered by brokenness, addiction, divorce, gluttony, incarceration, etc.). I used the hiker metaphor to suggest that even a slight deviation off course, over time, can lead to major setbacks, pitfalls, ruin, regret, damage, decay, and even death. That is why it is important to think through what the end goal is…what is the target towards which you wish your life to tend? I suggested that there are ways of life that end in blessing and there are ways of life that end in curse, and the wise person points his/her life towards blessing rather than curse.
To that end, I offer a second set of thoughts on this topic: Determining what your destination, goal, or True North might be. I believe that if you do not live intentionally and mindfully towards such a determination, the current of culture will take you far away from blessing.
Here, then, is my thought on this: The writer of the letter to the community of Colossians gives this advice: “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” Whatever your religious persuasion (or lack thereof), I think these words (and the words that come after them) offer a point towards which life should tend.
What does it mean to set your mind on things not “earthly”? Well, to get at that, let’s think about what “earthly” things might be. Paul gives us a good list to start off with: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, anger, rage, malice, selfish ambition, slander and greed. Again, you don’t have to be a Jew or a Christian to believe that these things are not healthy either for an individual or for a community. Individuals driven by lust create communities where pornography, human trafficking, child abuse, and the like thrive. Communities consumed with greed create cultures where everything is for sale, including and especially our most vulnerable members. Individuals full of rage and malice foster generational cycles of violence that lead to overcrowded prisons, dangerous gang cultures, and corporate boardrooms that believe might should equal right. These “earthly” things have not seemed to prove beneficial either for the human condition or for fostering healthy communities (by the way, Plato, Aristotle, Buddha and Confucius would agree with Paul on this list). Setting our minds on such things does not seem to be pointing it in the right direction.
What, then, does it mean to set our eyes on “things above”? Again, Paul gives us a good list from which we may at least start the conversation: He says, “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another. And over all these virtues put on love.” Once more, you need not be a Jew or a Christian to see that individuals shaped by compassion, humility, and love tend more towards lives of blessing than those who are not. These have a transcendent quality to them, do they not? Wouldn’t you rather hang out with someone clothed with gentleness than with rage? Someone clothed with humility than preening with pride? Do we want communities steeped in compassion or in consumption?
The times when I have landed in the most ruin and regret have been when my focus has been on earthly things, things that have a temporal quality to them, rather than an eternal.
This, to me, is what it means to point your life in the right direction: to set your mind on things above, to transcend the earthly desires for power, pleasure, and profit and pursue those timeless things that have stirred prophets and philosophers since the dawn of time.
Thoughts? Use the comments section below!!