Life is More
I did not like God’s word for my year. But I was surprised by how it played out.
I did not like God's word for my year.
As was my custom, I had asked God if there was anything he wanted to say about 2020, anywhere he wanted to direct my focus, instead of me picking an arbitrary word. And one specific phrase kept echoing loudly in my mind and being repeated in my reading:
“Life is more…”
It came from Jesus’ famous discourse on work and worry:
“And he said to his disciples, ‘Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.’” (Luke 12:22-23)
Life is more than material things, important as those may be. I could agree with that.
Yet when it came to a more personal interpretation, I couldn’t shake the sense that God was saying my life was more than my job, my performance and my productivity – all areas I have typically worked towards, worried over, and based my identity on. What did Jesus mean, life was more than that?
Besides, such a phrase felt strangely ominous, as if something bad were going to happen to challenge my job security and my life’s meaning. I didn’t want to think about that. It was January; the year stretched before me enticingly, and although things were increasingly stressful at work, with our precarious financial situation having been confirmed, I wanted to be optimistic.
I dutifully wrote down God's phrase for my year, anyway, with a note: “Life is more than the material things I worry about, when God has promised to take care of the essentials anyway. Life is more…so what is the more? What can I invest in or look for that goes beyond work and paying bills?”
A couple of months later, Coronavirus turned our sense of normality upside down.
Then, in the summer, I lost my job and began an ongoing season of unemployment that deeply challenged my sense of worth and identity.
If I could not introduce myself as a ____ (broadcaster, teacher, whatever), who was I? If I was not constantly creating content, either because I was too burned out to think or because I was jobless, did I still have value? Did I have a place in the world?
And here, God’s word over my year came into sharp focus. Life is more. Life is more than your work. Your identity is more than your professional title. Your worth is not tied to your productivity.
I have always intellectually believed those things, but apparently, they hadn’t sunk into my heart.
In the past six months, I’ve had the opportunity to process those truths and make them my own, especially as I dealt with my frustration at feeling exhausted, creatively dry, and stuck in my career progression.
I slowed down, protesting all the way at first, and began to give more attention to my inner life. As I did so, my priorities gradually began to shift. Another theme started repeating loudly in my life (“sacred echoes,” as Margaret Feinberg calls them): the importance of relationships.
Was this what God meant by trying to remind me that "life is more?"
It was certainly a big part of it. I began to sense him answering my earlier question about what to invest in besides work. I was being prompted to invest in my relationship with God and with others.
I felt that theme highlighted when God answered my persistent question about where I was meant to be next with the simple, striking phrase, “With Me.” And I felt it resonate in my soul with every Zoom call, online game or movie night, message, socially distant walk, or increasingly rare get-together.
"Life is more than tasks and productivity and a profession. Life is about community." The message was sinking in.
I don’t think I’m alone in remembering the value of community this year. It seems that many of us reconnected or deepened our friendships with more time and intention. When the pandemic took away opportunities for physical contact, the absence made our relationships all the more precious and their value keenly felt. Even fellow introverts, as we talked, admitted a deeper appreciation for companionship.
We are created for community. We are created for love. We are not meant to do life alone.
Somehow, abundant, meaningful life is bound up in relationship – even eternal life, as Jesus reminds us: “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3, emphasis mine)
As the months passed, and I spent slow, contemplative mornings with books and my Bible and journal, I even found my fears about purpose and identity being answered in relationship.
I began to remember that in relationship with God, we find ultimate purpose and identity in being his Beloved. As soul-satisfying as human community is, we are made for a deeper love than even that. Henri Nouwen comments:
“God has created you and me with a heart that only God’s love can satisfy. And every other love will be partial, will be real, but limited, will be painful. And if we are willing to let the pain prune us, to give us a deeper sense of our belovedness, then we can be as free as Jesus and walk on this world and proclaim God’s first love, wherever we go.”
Free like Jesus. Free from the need to find my identity in my job title; free to embrace how God identifies me. Free from finding my value in the standards that social media or my culture offer; free to value myself by his standard. Free to experience a life centred increasingly around love.
“Life is more than what you made it,” God has been whispering to me. “More than you’ve known it to be.”
"Life is more." It was a good word for my year after all.