New Years is coming soon, and it is kind of fascinating. We invented a celebration based on how many rounds around the sun we made; in our minds, a new year brings along new hopes: Hope that the next turn around the sun will carry less mistakes, less hurts, less disappointments. That we will find our calling, our ideal career, our soulmate, or the perfect movie story that will entertain us forever until the next one comes out. We make promises and resolutions, we look back at what we accomplished, and we tell ourselves next year will be better. It is quite silly, but it is fun, and it keeps us going.
For many this is a season of decisions, of delineating goals and how to work on them. For most of these people, it also stops there, and life will go on as normal next year… which is ok, at least we can be consoled by thinking that if we wanted to, things would be different.
What is the most important thing to you, when making decisions? Evangelicals are obsessed with this question, some say it is god-defining. There is this verse in prophet Jeremiah’s book that says “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?“, and today it justifies a lot of stoicism among Christians, since the heart has become a synonym for feelings. Kind of like Jedis, many want to believe feelings are not to be trusted (quite the opposite), and that our decisions should all be based on what we believe God’s will to be – a belief most often based on what we can logically conclude to be a good choice, because deep inside we believe God is more like a computer than a child, or a dove, or a father. Among the religious stoics, intuition is only allowed if you make it sound like something more spiritual than your guts (as if the brain was not also made of flesh).
The funny thing is that the Hebrew concept of the heart used in Scriptures includes not only emotions but also the intellect. Emotions, intellect, and our volition. Instead of heart we could call it the “core”. What Jeremiah is really saying is that we are messed up all around, quite hopeless on our own, in all decisions we make. Lately, the more I read the bible, the more I realize that for man to make decisions based on what we think is “God’s Will” is very much presumptuous. Our reveries of God are like fish imagining outer space.
Christians believe Jesus was the incarnate revelation of who God is. The impression I get from the gospels is that if there was anything Jesus cared about, and wanted us to know very clearly, is that God wants us to love. God’s will is that we love.
Love God, love neighbor, love community, love your enemy, love the poor, love the widow, love the orphan – Love everybody, specially the nobodies.
In that perspective, Jeremiah’s statement makes a lot of sense. Our self is at the center of our decisions, and if God wants us to love, it will be hard to make any decision that pleases him, because love almost always includes an abdication of the self. We are self-centered selves, and God wants us to be other-centered selves, a self that is pleased by the other’s pleasure, that rejoices in the other’s joy, and that wants the other’s needs to be satisfied.
Our self-centeredness is most often shown in fear. For us to choose things out of love – which often, from a perspective of fear, means our choices will be illogical – is to have an insane amount of courage. Quite literally.
We make our choices based on logical plans, forgetting that life always surprises us, and that just like our feelings may change tomorrow, our logical plans do as well. We are afraid of losing what we don’t have, we are afraid of never becoming who we never were, and we base our logical decisions on those things. We plan for a tomorrow that never arrives, and we waste our time with people right now. Jeremiah is right, we’re messed up.
Today, I hope to choose a path where I will be happy in making others happy, and to not waste any energy holding tight to things I do not own, all the things that time and death will eventually take away from me, but to humbly appreciate them while they’re here, now.
To let go of fear. To remember that no diamond is more beautiful than an old rugged cross if it embodies love and courage. Most often, the logical conclusion of choosing love is a cross like that.
Forget New Years… What are you choosing now?
Paraphrasing Augustine, whatever you choose, choose love.