This September I found myself heading into a brand new year with nothing but a part-time job coaching swimming. I was no longer sure where God wanted me in the youth ministry at my church. I had recently broken up with my girlfriend. I didn’t have any goals. I didn’t have any idea what I was going to do. To be completely honest, I was terrified beyond belief. I had been putting it off for years, and now it was staring me in the face: my future.
I’d always assumed that I’d be an actor or writer, that fame and fortune would just come my way. In a couple of years, I’d be standing on the Oscar podium, thanking the Academy for my shiny Best Actor statuette. Or maybe I would be enjoying a 10-week reign at the top of the New York Times Bestseller list. Either way, I was going to succeed.
But here I was, working a couple hours a week, with nothing else to do! I couldn’t start pursuing my dreams, because what if I failed?
Naturally, I retreated. I was making enough money to get by; I decided to just put it off. There’s no hurry. That’s what everyone was telling me. Take some time, figure out what you want out of life. I didn’t need to think about taking chances and the possibility of failure. That was just “depressing” and “pessimistic.”
And what was I supposed to do while I figured this out? What was I supposed to do with those endless hours of nothing? I had a couple of solutions, like working on my scrapbook, visiting friends and decorating my room. But my main solution? TV!
Believe it or not, I watched the entire first season DVD collections of Alias and 24 in a couple of weeks. I immersed myself, watching The Sopranos, Six Feet Under and an endless number of movies. On a good day, I would wake up, have breakfast and turn on the TV until I either had to go to work or stop for dinner.
It was nearly November by the time I realized what a mess I was. My life was in disarray. I wasn’t going to church. I didn’t care about anything. I was running out of money, and I was obscenely unhappy. For two months, I hadn’t been living my life. I had been living the lives of fictional characters, caring and responding vicariously to the drama and intrigue in their fictional lives. My existence wasn’t exciting like Jack Bauer’s or Sidney Bristow’s. I wasn’t a secret agent spy or a mob boss like Tony Soprano. I was more interested and involved in their lives than I was in my own.
I finally said, Enough!
There was no defining moment, no great epiphany that led me to a suddenly selfless and purpose-filled life. Instead, it was a battle as I tried to banish the lazy, apathetic alter ego I had created for myself.
So, I coined a catch phrase: “Take time.” Nothing especially profound there. I just decided that I was going to start taking time to do the things I wanted and needed to do. I had many excuses for not applying to universities or looking for another job. For why I didn’t visit friends or do new things. Why I barely ever prayed, and when I did, why I just scrawled thoughtless entries into my prayer journal. It was time for a change. I was going to stop wasting my time, and start spending it.
I would take time to read my Bible.
Take time to go swimming.
Take time to pray.
Take time to learn how to play guitar.
Take time to write letters to friends.
One of the first things I did was go on a “movie diet.” I promised myself I wouldn’t watch TV for three weeks. Taking that out of my life provided me with opportunities to do all kinds of things.
I started helping my dad do renovations on the house. We sawed, hammered, lifted and sweated together. I couldn’t remember the last time I did work. And I realized how little I knew my father, and how rarely we talked. I became fascinated by my dad and his life. Suddenly our relationship was more than fighting about money or using the car. I felt like his son again.
I started going to the pool to swim laps. Since my days as a competitive swimmer three years ago, I’d rarely exercised. I decided to take a stab at getting back into shape. Recently I’ve been swimming 2000 meters a day, and I’ve been spending an hour by the hot tub, writing in my prayer journal to God. It makes me feel refreshed, rejuvenated and strong.
But these were only two of the things. The list goes on. The point is that all of the sudden, I was living my life, rather than watching it pass by.
So, am I smuggling Bibles over the border of China? No. Am I preaching the Gospel to the indigenous tribes of South America? No. But I feel like I can hear God again, like I’m getting a little bit closer to the way God wants me to be living.
I still don’t know what I’m doing with my life. And I’m still terrified. But God is slowly teaching me how to trust Him, leave things in His hands and accept His guidance. He’s teaching me how to battle my selfish and lazy nature, and to step out of my comfort zone. And I’m optimistic about where He’s taking me. Anything’s possible.
One thing I’ve started to do recently is read books, and this is something I came across: “The best way to waste your life is by taking notes. The easiest way to avoid living is to just watch. Look for the details. Report. Don’t participate … be a reporter. Be a grateful audience.” —Chuck Palahniuk
I encourage you, as a grateful audience to other people’s drama, to live your own life and take time to figure things out for yourself. It’s scary and it’s risky. It pushes us out of our comfort zones. But without doing this, I think we just let our lives pass us by.