Jim Palmer is one of my Internet friends, that special class of people with whom I have an online relationship but hadn’t ever met in real life. Jim is the author of Divine Nobodies and Wide Open Spaces — two excellent books, by the way — and is a fellow triathlete/endurance athlete. He has a great blog, too.
Anyway, he’s in the Amarillo area today, though, speaking at WTAMU and I got to hang out with him at lunch. Several campus leaders were there, too, and we had sort of an unstructured question-and-answer session. I asked him if there was any connection between his spiritual journey and his more recent journey as an endurance athlete. As a seminary-trained minister, he talked about coming to a point, spiritually, where he didn’t feel he had to justify doing something that he enjoyed — something that truly brought him happiness and fulfilled an inner need — by attaching some deep spiritual meaning to it. It was enough to just ride long distances on a bike, or swim, or complete ultramarathons, because it made him happy. The challenge itself was justification enough.
That was a refreshingly honest and liberating answer. As Christians, often someone will ask “Why are you changing jobs?” or “Why do you write?” or “Why are you so into golf?” And our tendency is to over-spiritualize our rationale for doing it. Why take a new job? Because God is leading me to do it. Why write? To influence others for the kingdom, or bring glory to God. Why golf? It helps me build relationships with others, and maybe I can lead them to Christ.
Those answers certainly are pious, and they sound really good in church. But are they true?
I wonder. Jim talked about being inhibited because we’re living according to the “plot” we think our lives are supposed to follow. Like characters subservient to the plot of a novel, there are lots of things we just don’t do because we don’t think they fit into the story. But we’re wrong. What we need to do is free ourselves from the pious plot and instead, do the things that feed our soul and invigorate our lives.
Why do you like to go backpacking? Because I love it. Being outside away from everything makes me happy.
Why do you run long distances? Because I love how it makes me feel. It makes me happy.
Why do you watch The Amazing Race? Because sitting in a comfortable chair while watching people experience other cultures and deal with incredible stress…well, it makes me happy.
Why can’t we be honest about things instead of trying to dust them with spiritual glitter? Why can’t we just do things because they make us happy? Because aren’t happy, fulfilled, interesting Christians much better advertisements for the religious life than people who must always have a holy reason for everything?
I think so.
What about you? What would you do (big life change, new hobby, etc.) to improve your happiness if you didn’t have to justify it spiritually? And what keeps you from doing it?
(Or is this idea totally off-base and selfish? If so, let me know.)