I’m wondering about what kind of thing it is to make goals, resolutions, and intentions, and to keep them. I just read a post by a friend about “discipline,” He doesn’t like to run, and intends to run a marathon in a year, because exercise is good for people. His post was about considering every activity with a kind of cost/benefit analysis: could I be doing something better with my time just now? Usually, yes, I could. I’m not sure what, exactly, but almost certainly there’s something better I could be doing. Discipline is not one of my strengths. Whenever I manage to get something done, when I look back I am somewhat surprised. Apparently one really can stumble, putter, and poke one’s way into all sorts of interesting experiences. One oughtn’t be complacent, of course. One oughtn’t take this for granted.
That’s why I’m wondering — because one ought to act and not be complacent, and yet, at the same time, I am constantly running up against this mysterious complexity that seems to be about God. Whine all I want about how I’m not of a youth minister/teacher temperament — try as I might to get out of completing an education degree — try as I might to only fill out long-shot applications, and rarely even them; here I am teaching, and agreeing to teach, and volunteering to lead crafts at summer camp. Bluster and intellectualize as I may about mission trips, it is a matter of experience that if I have permission from God I’ll more or less know this (and doubt it, plan against it, and continue to bluster and wonder), and if not I’ll know that a bit as well, and will not go though I wish to, or will be disappointed, or sick, or unable to breath. I often end up keeping my goals — several years later, prompted by something altogether different from the goal itself. Ultimately, I must admit not only from theory, but also because of the way things end up working out, that I’m Orthodox because God called me into it, and I’m in Tucson because He permitted it; and before I was in Santa Fe because He sent me there; and I was in Alaska because He assented to it; and I graduated with an education degree because I would need it; and I was in Flagstaff to know the people at Holy Cross; I pray because of God, and write because I keep happening upon things to say — and if I go to Georgia it will undoubtably not be because I thought it a good idea, intended and planned for it — because I didn’t. It will be because God permits it. Nevertheless, one oughtn’t be complacent. One must look about, poke about, and take action.
I don’t yet know how this poking about and following my nose approach to life will work out in the end. Perhaps I’ll have to learn some discipline and a more organized, intentional approach to life at some point. As things currently stand, however, I am in doubt concerning the conventional advice I hear about finding a career, a life style, and deciding upon habits and activities. This doubt has been a theme in my thought and writing this past year — all year long, since at least last Lent. I suppose I spend far too much time and energy on it, while suspecting that I am obliged to work through this stuff, and oughtn’t put it off. How do I conduct a cost/benefit analysis of anything when I know neither the cost nor the benefit of anything? Not only do I hardly know my own desires, but I rarely know which desires I actually desire, and which ones are just passions in disguise. Careen advisors say: know exactly what you’re looking for — but when I try that I find in the end that I don’t get what I was looking for, or that I did, but that was not the most important thing, or that I didn’t know what I was looking for, but I get something quite good, perhaps necessary, nonetheless.
If I write this evening I’ll find: I know not what. Perhaps I’ll be a bit nearer a truth I was looking for? Or, with that time, if I read I’ll find: I know not what. A glimmer of beauty? And if I wash dishes I’ll have a cleaner kitchen. And if I draw I’ll find: I know not what. Perhaps I’ll be a bit better at appreciating the beauty of the world? And if I pray I’ll find… I know not what. Perhaps joy? And if I go for a walk, it will be lovely and healthy. And if I putter about, and poke about on the internet, and look about hither and yon I’ll find — a site that leads to a site that leads me to teach in a foreign country next year, which leads to… I know not what.
So although there are certainly better and worse uses of time, I am always attempting a cost/benefit analysis knowing neither the cost not the benefit. The only fixed principle in sight is “seek ye first the Kingdom of God.” Meanwhile, I seem to be always making decisions in the dark.