Life Accounts

Note: This is why it’s always a bad idea for me to look at state education standards. I accidentally do this to them, and go a bit crazy. Neurotic categorizing is something that’s helpful when studying metaphysicians, but unhelpful in much of the rest of life, so I try to avoid it. As you can see, I didn’t catch myself until it was too late this time.

Some popular writers I’ve encountered put down criticism as something of a parasitic outgrowth, feeding off of those who go off and create and struggle. It is, of course, possible, perhaps tempting, for a critic to do that — but that is not really what criticism is about. At its best, criticism ought to be creative. At its best writing or thinking as a critic will lead one toward a creative end — there’s something wrong with this book or idea or speech I’ve encountered; what’s wrong, and what is it like for it to be right? It’s something of a compliment for people to bother criticizing something — it means it made them consider something; it means they had to stop and think about whether it was true. Think of all the things they come into contact with on any given day that they don’t bother even mentioning. I’ve read all kinds of things that I didn’t bother saying I had read, because they weren’t perplexing or surprising. If I spend a lot of time and energy criticizing educational bureaucracy it’s because, rightly done, education is fantastic and important.

I was thinking of this because of some comments on my “life planning” post from last week. Of course any booklet on how to envision one’s future is just a tool. Of course I think these things are important — if I didn’t think they were important, perhaps necessary, why would I keep writing about them? At the same time, the way that people with certain habits of mind, from certain backgrounds, of certain dispositions, at certain places in their lives, go about this planning — the kinds of presuppositions they make, and the things they find most worth taking into account — may be very different from equally interested, sincere people at different places in their lives, and with different personal characteristics. What I’m really driving at — what I’m nearly always driving at when I look into this question — is that of: what is the telos of a human person? What would it mean to be successful as a human being? Of course someone like Hyatt or Miller or Bolles or people interested in career and vocational counseling, ask that too, in their own way — people ask about the driving story behind your life, or what you would like to be remembered for when you die and so on. All the same, there’s something that I don’t quite agree with — or which I don’t quite understand, and which I would like to get at with criticism.

To try a brief foray: Hyatt asks people reading his book to write down a list of “life accounts,” such as God, self, wife, children, friends, career, finances, health, and ministry, in order of importance. That was his ordered list. On the one hand, this is a very reasonable way to go about prioritizing a fairly complex life. At the same time, that’s not how the Gospels would put it, I’m certain. The problem with a prioritized list like that is that it’s not accurate — no matter what’s in it, there’s no possible way it can be accurate — to what Christ’s shockingly radical statements about how we are to go about following Him. He who does not hate his father and mother and brother on account or Me is unworthy of Me. Go, sell all you have, and follow Me. Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me. Seek Ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all the rest will be added unto you. There were these people invited to a feast, but one of them had just married a wife, and asked to be excused. Another wanted to buy some oxen, and asked to be excused, and so on — so they were cast out into utter darkness with weeping and gnashing or teeth. The Kingdom of heaven is like a pearl, so the buyer of pearls sold all he had and bought it; it’s the buried treasure; a man sold all he had to buy the field it’s buried in.

I tried coming up with a Christian prioritized life accounts list, but I don’t think it’s quite right. I’m not sure that there’s any possible way for it to be right — perhaps if it was heavily annotated, with lines going all over the place. I tried again, and again what I came up with didn’t look quite right, so I stopped and asked: what does it mean to say that these categories are “life accounts?” Michael Hyatt says: ‘Next, you need to identify and prioritize your “life accounts.” As Daniel Harkavy. CEO and Head Coach of Building Champions, explains in his book, Becoming a Coaching Leader, life is like a collection of bank accounts. Each has a certain value. A few have large balances, others might have respectable balances, and one or two might be overdrawn.’

Perhaps that’s reasonable. After all, Jesus likens the outcome of our actions to “treasure” — do not store up for yourself treasure on earth where moths and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal, but store up for yourselves treasure in heaven. So I suppose one might write down under Life Accounts: Kingdom of Heaven. In that category, I hear, are things like virtues, helping people in need, dying to one’s own selfish desires, and so on. So I suppose in the newly prioritized list one might say:

Life Accounts:

  • God
    • Love
    • Prayer
    • Repentance
    • Virtue

I’m not sure that this is a very good way to out it, but I’m going to have to stop tinkering for the moment and go on. So, ok — then let’s say the person doing this exercise isn’t married with children, as I’m not — otherwise they’d be on the list. Well, people are very important — that’s the second Commandment, after all, so:

  • People
    • Be a good friend, relative, daughter, or whatever else to people with whom I am currently acquainted
    • Be a good neighbor to people who irritate me
    • Be a good citizen of my community and country
    • Help those in need

That didn’t sound quite right either, but I’ll just have to go with it. So, then, besides people God created the rest of the world as well, and called it good:

  • The Rest of Creation
    • Glorify God for all things
    • Be responsible about animals; look after them and don’t hurt them unnecessarily.
    • Be responsible and creative, not destructive, with material things; be glad of beauty in the world, and work to expand it.
    • Search out truth and wisdom in how the created order functions; on the movements of bodies, and of mind; of what things are, and of their properties.

Do I need another category? I think I need a category for one’s own work or ministry and finances to be in, but then it seems like that might be able to fit into one of the categories already noted — but it might be split up into all three, because to have good work is to either make beautiful and useful things, or to enquire into truth and how things are within the created order, or to help those in need; and to be a good member of the community it to turn that knowledge or creative activity toward what is useful to others; to practice virtue is to live simply, and refrain from unreasonable use of resources (gluttony, envy, avarice); to be a good friend and neighbor is to use one’s resources toward the good of others when possible, and to avoid taking advantage of their good will.

But I don’t know if these are accounts. They look like categories of obligation, and are prioritized by the force of that obligation.

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