Balanced Scales

To do, or to be better able to do

We all have a purpose in life, even if we have written it for ourselves, or failed to notice what it is. How do we decide on a balance between learning a skill, and putting it to use? It is not a chiefly religious matter, I think, to ask this question. Nonetheless, it is made all the more relevant by faith, because faith demands that we consider the ultimate purpose of everything we do. Much of what we do and and say is an expression of our immediate needs and desires. We may also do some things here or there that express our personal beliefs. I have always believed, however, that in order to claim that I possess a legitimate personal philosophy, or even a legitimate faith, each and every action of mine–that I do not regret, or admit as wasteful–must ultimately work towards fulfilling the concomitant purposes.

When a man commits wrongs, and he proceeds to account for them, he is often told to “stop justifying his actions.” But what of justifying good deeds, according to how they serve a higher purpose? In my own life, everything has seemed to fit into one of only two categories: things I ought to do, and things that I do to improve myself, in order that I might better do what I ought.

I have wondered, lately, if this view of life is not too restrictive. I have justified so many things as being part of my improvement process, that I may be better educated, more knowledgeable, or more skilled, in order that I might, in turn, be well-equipped to do what I was meant to do.

It is a strange balance that cannot be quantified. I attended school because it equipped me to do something useful. I watch movies not only because I enjoy them, but because they inspire me, and contribute to my greater understanding and creativity, which I hope to use for good. I do not know how much school is best, or how many movies I ought to watch.

Christians should not feel universal pressure to become missionaries or employees at homeless shelters, fearing that their lives will otherwise be meaningless or impractical. Rather, they should consider how the skills and experiences–the ones that they are best designed for–might be used for the greater good. They should even consider thinking ahead about these things.

When is it no longer profitable to improve oneself? It is of no practical use to master a skill if you run out of time to use it, and you are of no practical use if you are not skilled at anything. I continue to wonder if I should reduce my efforts at self-improvement, and spend more time volunteering myself as I am, and my abilities as they are.

I continue to wonder if this is too narrow a view to have in mind at all times, and if it does not leave enough room for simple enjoyment. I wonder if both these things can’t be accomplished at once, in that all our actions are ultimately meaningful, and the opportunities for small acts of grace–as I will soon write about–are greater than I have been willing to notice.

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One Response to “Balanced Scales”

  1. Stephanie Says:

    “When is it no longer profitable to improve oneself?”

    Strictly speaking, never. I judge that whether one’s current focus is school rather than work or work rather than education, let’s say, there are still plenty of opportunities to involve the lesser focus in the daily routines of the major focus.

    However, if you are wondering when it is no longer profitable to focus *so much* on self improvement, preferring to concentrate on the practical application of your skills instead, I would say that such a time arrives when you find yourself presented with a significant need that you can serve consistently–or even just a significant desire to serve such a need. It doesn’t even have to be a professional need. This was what ultimately deterred me from attending grad school, and I am satisfied that it did, though I had to wait a year for a significant professional break to come of it.

    “I wonder if this is too narrow a view to have in mind at all times, and if it does not leave enough room for simple enjoyment…”

    For a long time, I’ve had a problem with serious enjoyment of any kind: the idea of a week-long pleasure cruise, vacation, etc. does not sit well with me because it would squander so much time and resources for no particularly useful end. I love playing video games but, unless I’m ridiculously bored (or depressed), feel guilty enough to limit my indulgence in them to a few times a month–and this makes it very hard to get through the handful of games I play. Just the other day, though, something occurred to me: serious, thorough, extended enjoyment of oneself is not a bad thing because it paints a picture of where we, as Christians, are headed. It seems that so much of my time I spend doing unpleasant yet practical things. In Heaven, I expect, everything will be both practical yet thoroughly pleasant. No waste *and* no whining.

    I may know how to get things done, but I hardly know how to have fun, and I think I should work on that, if only to reflect upon the inheritance I’m due to receive. And I now believe that dedicating a fair amount of time to fun, in well-considered proportion, is something I can do to work towards this ends, and is in no way something I should feel guilty about.

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