Teenagers don’t clean their rooms because all they want to do is move out. Some feel ready for a bigger world, one lived on their own terms. Some know they’re not ready, and resent the reminder. Either way, the actual, messy, work-in-progress situation cannot possibly compete with an imaginary, pristine, no effort required one. So the room stays messy. In fact, it typically gets worse.
Most parents will remind their teens that life is a matter of readiness; if you don’t clean your room now, where the cleaning products are free and, in most cases, the mess you’re cleaning up was paid for, too, you’re not likely to do any better when you’re the one picking up the tab. In the meantime, living in filth out of stubbornness or torpor isn’t exactly a bellwether of adulthood.
All of that is true, but exactly none of it matters. When the dream feels more real than the reality, logic has no foothold. Good luck arguing with an irrational person; it’s irrational to try. On the other hand, if you stop fighting and start modeling the behavior you want to see, a few positive things will happen. First of all, your kid will eventually appreciate the difference between your clean room and their disaster area. More than that, if they stop having to defend their delusion, they won’t have to dwell in it, and that breathing room makes space for growth.
There’s a lesson or two there. Sometimes being right and winning is less important than it might seem; sometimes the fight is counterproductive. ALL the time, the trick to a better future is present engagement.
Lots of people are trying to get to Heaven, or Nirvana, or wherever. And lots of those people are so blinded by their yearnings for other worlds that they never do the things that need to be done in order to reach escape velocity. More than that, they never make a difference here and now, where it counts.
I don’t believe in a concept of Heaven as some external, eventual, aspirational but nigh-unreachable place in the sky. I don’t believe that that’s what was promised. I take Luke 17:20-21 pretty seriously. But let’s pretend for a moment that we ARE talking about a perfect place, some other place, far away. If that far shore is already perfect, than it doesn’t really need your attention. Your room is messy right here and now.
As with everything worthwhile, the secret to getting it is to stop dwelling on it. You can find your soulmate when you stop trying to catch them and start trying to be yourself. Because the kingdom is in your midst, the trick to getting there is to stop trying to get there. The distance created by the consciousness of attainment will keep you separate from the Truth.
Be here now, as they say. The alternative creates frustration and alienation. I’ve been to churches where the focus is so centered on escape that there’s not just an indifference to, but often an anger about, the world. I’ve felt the walls go up and heard outlandish statements about the relative worth of people who are and are not allowed into the lifeboats.
None of that is especially Christian, as you know. It’s pretty close to the opposite of what Jesus Christ lived and taught. He went out into the world and made a difference; He healed and taught and helped. Right here and now. You know that. And yet it’s not surprising to hear that the escape and exclusion mindset is easy to find in mainstream churches. I’ve seen it in “alternative” churches (or centers, or spiritual campuses, or whatever they choose to be called) too, though.
On the other hand, there are churches that are really trying to uphold the Jesus Christ standard of outrageous love, radical mercy, and profound engagement. We’re trying to build one now, but we’re not alone. Go find those places. Go build those places. Go, and do. Here, and now.
There’s nothing you can do about the past or the future. That’s good news; when we embrace the beauty and power of the now, we release the delusion of escape. We grow.
Some folks talk about getting back to a time when this country was “great”, conveniently overlooking all kinds of ignorance, inequality, and oppression that we’ve overcome in the intervening years. Whenever I hear that (or see the silly hat), I think of the American Adventure show at EPCOT Center. It’s a perfectly goofy, schmaltzy, delightful presentation. In it, the Benjamin Franklin robot reminds us that America is “…Not great, but fitted by our very thoughts for greatness.” In other words, it’s not about a destination. It’s the journey. It’s a matter of radical engagement. It’s the trust in transcendence, brought to bear on the here and now. It’s the water and stone.
There’s something in your midst, right now. There are hungry people in your community. There is somebody in your life who is ready for your example of what love looks like. And there are dirty clothes all over the floor.