In his debut album, “Room For Squares,” singer-songwriter John Mayer waxed poetic about a quarter life crisis (he was around 25, which was pretty optimistic, as my estimated quarter life crisis occurred when I was about fifteen or so, putting me pretty squarely in my midlife crisis as we speak) in which he wondered about the outcome of his still verdictless life, and whether he was living it correctly. Given the time that has happened since then, in which he has had a series of relationships that have never gone anywhere, one of them ending up in a particularly feisty Taylor Swift song  called “Dear John,” to which he replied in a feisty song called “Paper Doll,” and in which his career suffered a major self-inflicted wound due to an ill-advised interview in which he spoke perhaps a bit too freely, it is highly likely that the answer is that John Mayer has not been living his life rightly. Yet he is not alone to wonder about his life and whether he could be living it better. I would tend to think that anyone who is reflective would wonder about the course of their life, even if they may not be particularly inclined to make their navel-gazing a matter of the public record, as some of us do. Anyone who is sensitive to patterns that appear over and over again, and dislikes those patterns, will often wonder what could be done to make them better, and most of us (myself most definitely included) really do not have a clue about how to live life as best as we can, or else our lives would be so much better than they are. As we are the stewards of our lives, the responsibility for that failure lies on us, even if we are doing the best that we can. The best we can do, unassisted by God, is often not nearly good enough.
Today, my book review  was on a subject that is particularly relevant at this time of life, and in my own frame of thought, regarding our responsibility for how we live our lives. I wonder enough about what judgment will fall on my own life, given the level of judgment and scrutiny that I subject myself to and that others subject myself to. I believe that we were all created for various purposes. Some of these are large scale purposes in which we play a part, and some of them are smaller purposes, even personal ones. God knows our nature, our characteristic bent, the longings of our heart that drive us ever onward and that animate our lives and fill them with all kinds of drama and complication. Knowing me as He does, I cannot imagine that many, if any, of the twists and turns of the course of my life have been surprising at all. Many of them, in fact, are inevitable given the materials at hand. We may not have the foreknowledge to understand exactly how something will turn out, but if we know ourselves and our own proclivities well, we can tell that some outcomes are probably inevitable, and so it is not too surprising if we should see these outcomes. I know my own limitations fairly well, and am long acquainted with them, but how those weaknesses will be turned into strengths, aside from being compassionate to the longings of others, and being resolute in not taking advantage of the vulnerabilities of those I happen to come across, remains difficult to imagine and impossible to know. Yet I long for my own happiness, not merely to be kind to others (which may be misinterpreted), nor merely to give encouraging bromides that may cause offense, but rather to be an active force for good in the lives of those around me. It is one thing to be attentive to others, and to recognize their needs and longings, and it is an entirely different matter to be able to assist others in actually living life better, and in having one’s own life improved as well.
I have long had a family of recurring nightmares in which the threat of immense torment is made by someone who has the power and opportunity to make good on that threat. Yet my characteristic response, even in the nightmare, is to say that if I perish, then God has decided that I have suffered enough in life, and if I live, then God has decided He is not through with me. Either way, I win. So long as a being remains alive, there is the chance for repentance, for a heart to turn from its wicked ways, no matter how long they have been indulged or how deeply. To be sure, that repentance does not wipe away the repercussions of those mistakes, but it does change the verdict where it matters the most. Yet all the same, turning to God does not wipe away the consequences of the sins that others have committed against us. Sometimes we too bear the wounds and scars of living in a world that has devoted itself to rebellion against its Lord and Creator. Rebellions have a tendency of leaving scars on the lands and the people in which they are fought, in the ways that families are torn apart, that trust is broken, that effort which should have been focused on peace and productivity are turned on fratricidal conflict on those who should be our friends and brethren but are instead alienated from us. We did not choose to be a part of the loud quarrels or sullen estrangement of divided parents, still less did we desire to be the battlefields of spiritual and emotional warfare. Yet we are. While we are generally well attuned to the warfare of our own lives, and our fervent desire for a merciful verdict rather than the one we know we deserve, we are not always as merciful to others. I try very hard to be understanding to others (and myself) in the knowledge of what I and those around me are dealing with in life, and yet it is difficult at times not to be immensely frustrated with the way things are, where there appears to be little power or ability to change any of the conditions, nor any way to escape from patterns that would simply appear again if they are not addressed decisively.
It is not only my own verdictless life that I ponder, but that of others as well. Why is it that we so deeply want to be happy and yet are so singularly poorly equipped to actually behave in such a matter as is likely (or even possible) to bring us happiness? All too often what we think of as happiness is rather passing pleasure. Genuine happiness springs from within, from contentment that tempers the longing we have for continual improvement with an appreciation for what we have and the tasks that we have been called to do. At times the tasks that we do seem rather tiresome and futile, yet much of the burden of toil and effort that is required is made easier by appreciation for a job well done. Yet we cannot live our lives for the approval of others, as we will wait in vain if we wait for people to appreciate us as we ought to be, or wait for people who are hard on us to have a sudden change of heart. We must learn, as challenging as it is, to find the still small voice that urges us towards good things, that shows compassion and understanding and encouragement that is not divorced from the results that we seek or the contexts of our own lives. In the lives of those around us, we should be an influence for good, rather than a teasing and taunting influence that encourages folly or evil. We are not merely solitary vagabonds when it comes to the course of our lives, but we are part of the stories of others, and part of the verdict of our own lives concerns the influence and role we have in building up others as we happen to be around them and have the opportunity to help them. Needless to say, there is much to be concerned about there as well, with perhaps less satisfaction than we would like to feel. Let us hope we all have a more merciful judge than our own critical ones inside and that we receive in this life and in the life to come a far better fate than we deserve.
 Just like no one wants to end up as the subject of a personal blog entry of mine, no one wants to end up as the subject of a Taylor Swift song. See, for example: