Taking the long view on carpe diem
My music career goes back such a long way that my first CD was also available on cassette. On that first CD/cassette was a song called "Seize the Day." I still remember my sense of wonder the first time an audience sang along to that song – how humbling it was to realize people had committed my words to their hearts.
In the 25 years since, "Seize the Day" has taken on a life of its own, finding its way into graduation ceremonies, ordinations and missionary send-offs. Recently I had to smile when a lady said to me after a performance, "I sing ‘Seize the Day’ too! I wonder who wrote it?"
I mention all this because, here at the start of a new decade, I find myself once more considering what it means to seize the day.
My pondering began when I read a piece by James Clear, a writer who explores the power of habits. Urging readers to develop an intentional daily routine, Clear suggests the average North American will wake up approximately 25,000 mornings in his adult life. He points out that overnight success is almost entirely a myth – most often any good accomplished is the fruit of consistent daily choices.
Conversely Clear argues, "It’s also rare for our lives to crumble to pieces in an instant. Most unproductive or unhealthy behaviours are the result of slow, gradual choices that add up to bad habits. A wasted morning here. An unproductive morning there."
I’ve woken up approximately 9,125 mornings since "Seize the Day" was released. Have I seized the day? More precisely, have I seized the days?
...chances to love God and others are so subversively understated, we constantly run the risk of missing them.
Daily-ness was a big theme for Jesus. Matthew and Luke both record Him teaching us to pray not just for bread, but for "daily bread." Jesus’ original listeners would have been immediately reminded of the daily supply of manna given to the Israelites in the wilderness.
God had made it clear they should trust Him each morning for their provision, and then He had rolled out the object lesson of a habit scientist’s dreams. To avoid working on the Sabbath, the Israelites were permitted to stockpile extra manna the day before and it would stay fresh. But if they doubted God’s future care and tried to reserve manna any other day of the week, the hoarded provisions would soon be full of maggots.
When Jesus teaches us to pray for our daily bread, the implications are as clear for us as they were for the Israelites. Our life with God is meant to be one of daily connection, of learning and relearning, over and over, that the only life that makes sense is the one lived in utter dependence on Him.
But there’s more to this dailyness. All three of the Synoptic Gospel writers record Jesus offering the hard teaching that His disciples must "deny themselves, and take up their cross and follow me" (Mark 8:34; Matthew 16:24). But Luke captures an important extra word in Jesus’ command. "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23).
Jesus invites us to come to Him, daily, to find not only the provision we need to live, but also the power we need to die – to deny all there is within us that would keep us from following Him and living well. For a few of us, the day may come when we are called to live or die in a blaze of glory – to do some once in a lifetime thing of a radical nature. But for most of us, there will be roughly 25,000 invitations to what physician and author Paul Brand calls "radical micro-obedience" – chances to love God and others that are so subversively understated, we constantly run the risk of missing them.
For 25 years now I’ve been singing about a novelist, a missionary doctor and a starry-eyed artist – the characters who populate "Seize the Day." But I think it’s time to add a verse about the woman who aspires to a life characterized by a long micro-obedience in the same direction. A life of unseen, unspectacular faithfulness. A life made new every morning, day by day, seized by love.
Carolyn Arends (www.CarolynArends.com) is a recording artist, author and director of education for Renovaré. Find more of these columns at www.FaithToday.ca/GoWithGod.