– Yogi Berra
Most people who want to learn something difficult need someone to explain it to them simply. It is like giving you a couple handlebars to hang onto while taking a new idea for a spin. After college, I tried to map out my ideal week and a friend drew three, parallel lines, one on top of the other, on a napkin. He said, “Morning, afternoon, and evening. Schedule your non-negotiables and then pick your priorities for each of these three time blocks…times seven!” Simple.
One way to make something simple is to cut out the fat, framing some complex thing by its vital parts, or its “irreducible minimums.” It may be pieces of a process which are the essentials. Or, it may be a range of choices that contrast each other. Below are contrasting choices for how to live well. We may hop around a bit from one to another, but everyone has a “home base.” Everyone has chosen a road chiefly defined by one of these three.
…that is to say, “religion.”
The famous story of the Prodigal Son includes the picture of the older brother who stays home. His obedience and position in the family was not reward enough for him. He became bitter, wanting to be recognized for having been the good son–some gratuity to add to the benefits of wisdom, good choices, respect, and security. Instead of recognizing his innate value in the family, he needed to be identified as someone “better than.” He convinced himself that gains always came at someone else’s expense. His own effort to follow the rules in contrast to his younger brother became his salvation. He had reduced himself to good behavior. When you live by rules, human pride never fails to poison the process.
2. “No rules…
…just right.” That familiar slogan of a famous steakhouse is enticing. Sometimes it seems as though we gain more freedom without limits. On the other hand, we recognize that the fall of a public figure often begins with these famous last words: “Those rules don’t apply to me.” The younger brother (the Prodigal) learned this lesson the hard way. His “me-monster” only grew hungrier as he fed it. He had reduced himself to bad behavior. When you live without rules, human appetites poison the process.
A famous atheist recently decided it was absurd to think personal creatures could be created by a blind, impersonal force. He decided that a personal, relational being must lie behind the created order. If he is correct, then living well must hinge upon a right relationship with the Creator. Like any of our physical and emotional needs, it is only when we feel the hunger and connect it to what fully satisfies that we find a sense of fulfillment–and that we, live well.