Am I Content with Who I Am Becoming?

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Dear Shawn,

I liked your question last week but it was so early in the morning. (Why do young men have Bible study before dawn?) Between the breakfast tacos and coffee my mind was not yet focused. But, I’ve been thinking about what you asked, “How do we keep from being conformed to the patterns of this world?” It’s the right question – with many good answers. I have found two disciplines – and they do not come naturally – that have helped. I call them “antidotes to conformity.”

First, Paul taught the personal discipline of seeing ourselves clearly. He calls it “sober judgment,” and it is our responsibility to be honest with ourselves because the pattern of the world is bent toward self-deception, self-promotion, self-aggrandizement and self-fulfillment.

In an article my father wrote on conducting a spiritual audit, the first question he asked was, “Am I content with who I am becoming?” It’s not a question you ask once a year but, I believe, every time you make a decision. The shape of our lives is the result of daily routine choices. Pay attention to those ordinary choices, and do not conform to the pressure to think more highly (or less) of yourself. True humility is what C.S. Lewis wrote, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.”

Second, while part of the antidote to conformity is personal, the next includes – requires – other people. Paul taught that we actually belong to one another. That is more difficult than a personal examination, isn’t it? It means we are not volunteers who have the option of jumping in and out of relationships at will. It means we are constrained in our freedom and we are obligated to others as a necessary part of escaping the relentless drift of being conformed to the patterns of this world.

Without the constant love and challenge of other people in our lives, we will never be transformed. It is the struggle many of us have between taking advantage of opportunities and still being anchored in relationships that limit us. How much do we owe the people who love us? How much of us belongs to them? How much of ourselves are we willing to give up to belong?

I remember a quote from Wendell Berry’s book Jayber Crow: “And so I came to belong to this place. Being here satisfies me. I had laid my claim on the place and had made it answerable to my life. Of course you can’t do that and get away free. You can’t choose it seems without being chosen. For the place in return had laid its claim on me and had made my life answerable to it.”

I didn’t understand the value of belonging when I was younger. My bag was always packed, ready for the next irresistible adventure. I could not appreciate as I do now what it means to belong to a place – or to have a place and people who lay their claim on me. While I don’t think I could have lived my life differently, I am grateful I have been given this opportunity – the opportunity to belong and to be content in being here.

So, Paul moves from conformity to belonging, and they are two different things entirely. Conformity is allowing ourselves to be the same as others. It is deadening to creativity, color, originality and spontaneity. It is finding and holding to the lowest common denominator in everything. Belonging means being who you are and having a distinct role to play in the lives of other people. It means allowing differences that are intentional and finding our individual purpose only as part of a larger picture.

The world desires for you a life that is dulled by conformity. Belonging by way of humility is the truest kind of freedom.

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    Larry Anderson
    Reply

    Thanks Fred. I needed it this morning. With loss of a dear friend this week it helps to remember him in the spirit of this essay,. He was truly a non conformist and found where he belonged.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Larry, you are right about that! He was a non-conformist in the best sense of the word. He was not isolated or alienated. He taught others how to be creative and take chances but he also found a place he belonged. We will miss him.

  • Avatar
    John K.
    Reply

    Thank you for this. I’m at Starbucks doing some work with a cup of coffee and took a break to read your blog. A clear perspective. I’m reminded that in the best communities, belonging flourishes, even when (especially?) I’m challenged.

    And now I want to pull out my copy of Jayber Crow and reread it….

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      John – If you re-read “Jayber Crow” then this blog will not have been in vain. Part of the blog this morning was from my response to your role in Tengo Familia, by the way.

  • Avatar
    Jamie Clark
    Reply

    Fred – your thoughts today hit me in the gut. The visual, along with your essay reminded me of a time I have as a young man in your Dad’s office. He showed me two things, one was a piece of oil pipe, and the other was a complicated set of machinery that he said was an in-line pump. He asked me “What are to be, a pipe, or a pump?” These last years I have spent too long as a pipe, thanks for reminding me I am called to pump.

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