Businesses have mission statements, as do churches. But mostly, families and individuals have no idea, day-by-day, what they are doing and why they are doing it. Earning a living maybe and trying to relax on weekends, but without an overarching vision of what life is to be.
And there are some of us who measure our moments and squeeze out every drop of energy until our lives feel like soiled and discarded rags. Some call it burnout and others call in a nervous breakdown (our nerves don’t break down – they become sensitized) but I think of this as an “obsessional collapse.” It is the result of overworking a soul and underappreciating the necessary balances in life, including rest and wonder and walking around.
Some years ago following just such an obsessional collapse, I adopted Micah 6:8 as my mission statement. This was better than “do more, do more, there is always more.” Here are the words of the prophet more cleansing and life-giving than any obsession: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
I love the verbs in this verse – these are things I can do and want to do – act, love and walk. It seems to me that pleasing God is pretty easy if one takes these verbs and their modifiers to heart. Somehow the obsession of “never enough” is confronted.
One begins by behaving justly. Right behaviours are easier to control than unconscious motivations and fluid emotions, so it makes sense that loving mercy originates in acting justly. And humility comes from the experience of justice and mercy. These verbs are developmental and sequential. One builds upon the other and is required before the other can be known. At least that is how I think of it.
In Wayne Muller’s book, “A Life of Being, Having and Doing Enough,” he reflects on a story of one of my favourite poets.
After having breakfast with his wife, the poet e.e. cummings went to the study to work on his plans for the morning. At noon, when his wife called him to lunch, he came in smiling. She asked, “How did your morning go?” He smiled again. “Splendid, just splendid.” “What did you do?” “Well, when I left you after breakfast, I took a comma out. And just now, I put it back in.”
Sometimes being told that one is only “mortal” is good. Sometimes removing a comma results in creating substantial art. Sometimes acting, loving and walking is quite enough.