I have set before you today life and death, blessing and cursing…..therefore, choose life.
If I had to choose a motto that I heard from childhood and have lived by and quoted for my entire life, it would be “Watch extremes”. My dad applied that to many situations, and so can I. However, from my own life’s journey, my personal motto would have to be Choose life.
In mid-adulthood, as I was going through the beginning of a mid-life transition, I was also teaching a large weekday Bible study for women. The format for that study was highly structured, and while I had taught Bible studies for years, I felt a lot of pressure to fit the mold of the program director. That rigid format and the particular women who were in the Bible study hooked every insecurity I had at the time, but I learned a lot from the hard experience.
While teaching the Pentateuch—the first five books of the Old Testament– during the first year, I came upon God’s counsel to the children of Israel. Newly liberated from slavery in Egypt, the Hebrew people met one challenge after another in their long walk to freedom. Those challenges evoked their fears and regrets, prompted conflict with each other, doubts about Moses’ leadership and crises of faith in this invisible God. Their long journey to the Promised Land was instructive for the long journey to freedom from my personal complexes, character defects and codependency. And I am still on that journey, one day at a time.
I will never forget the moment when I came upon these words from God to those wandering pilgrims, many of whom were likely frustrated and frightened. The words choose life stood out to me as if they were in neon light, and they have guided me for over thirty years.
Having read Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning in college, I had learned about freedom and choice from his account of his experience in a concentration camp in Nazi Germany. Frankl observed that the freedom to choose our responses to the circumstances is the last freedom we have. As we live, the freedom that cannot ultimately be taken from us is the power to choose. By our countless choices we don’t even realize we have, we choose life or death, blessing or curse. By my choices, I shape my life.
By my choosing in big issues and in small, I either choose life-giving attitudes, behaviors and habits or death-dealing ones. By my choices, I open up more choices or slam the door on others.
I am perfectly free to repeat self-defeating beliefs, outright lies that support a negative point of view or a story that reinforces self-sabotage. I am free to talk and act in destructive ways; but I don’t get to choose the consequences of those destructive ways.
I am also free to take the high road in not only what goes into my mind, but what comes out of my mouth. I am free to treat my body any way I want to, and I make my own results by my choices.
I can make conscious decisions day by day, to keep my mind free of junk, self-deception and clutter. Or I can numb myself in a variety of ways, schlumping along and refusing to see things as they are, letting others make my choices for me. I am free to make decisions that are life-giving for my mind, body and soul or I can make choices that are death-dealing.
It’s a burden and a blessing, being free to choose life or death, but in the end, God created us with that gift. We are free to love God or not, he made us so free to choose.
I can choose the kind of person I want to be and I can choose to be with persons who take the high roads in life. I can choose how I will live the days I am given, and I can choose to be a person who sees things as they are and perhaps as they can be. I can also live in denial, duplicity and self-deception. If I see that the path I’ve taken is the wrong path, I can either make a U-turn or I can wallow in my mistake. I can see my failures as self-definition or opportunities.
I can choose to forgive others and I can choose to forgive myself and receive forgiveness from others. It is my choice to experience the freedom of grace and mercy, or I can choose to hold resentments and grudges, making myself sick with that self-poisoning. I can choose anger and hate enough that it finally makes me sick and even die. There are many ways human beings die by self-inflicted wounds.
And this big truth prevails: By my choices, I affect others, just as I am affected by the choices – for the good and for the ill – by the choices that others make. We truly are “in this” together.
I can choose to open my mind to new challenges, such as this current racial challenge, and be transformed in my heart and my mind. I can ignore what is happening all around me and become part of the problem instead of working for the solution. I can whine because things aren’t like they used to be, or I can embrace the new with a full-hearted, if trembly Yes!
I can choose to love, and I can choose to love with all of my heart, or I can be stingy in love or codependent. I can see my failures as lessons or I can choose to see them as indictments.
Of course I struggle with fear, even after all these years. I sometimes have what my mother called “the mulleygrubs”. I still get discouraged and I still get my feelings hurt, and I still say things I wish I could take back. Especially in this day of this on-going, seemingly endless pandemic, I often have free-floating anxiety, but that means I am still alive and still making choices, taking appropriate risks and speaking up when necessary.
At this point in my life, it is unsettling to realize that I am in the last quarter of my life. In the time I have left, I want to savor the good times, grieve the losses, let go of resentments and practice resurrection. I don’t want to run out of time to do what is important to me or build up any more regrets, leaving behind a legacy of bitterness about what I did that I wish I hadn’t done or didn’t do what I wanted most to. I want to say the most important words of love to the people I love the most – my precious family and my friends.
As long as I am upright and have breath, I choose life by choosing to be a lifelong learner. I choose a child’s wonder and awe, and therefore, I choose life.
I want to choose life by accepting my flaws, admitting my mistakes and understanding that “there is a crack in everything”, including my life story. And I want to affirm deeply what I sing with Leonard Cohen about the broken places and cracks in my life that, “that is how the light gets in.” The light of mercy, grace and love.
I choose life by living now, in this present day and moment, breathing in the life-giving energy of this gorgeous universe, a loving and merciful God and wonderful family and friends.
I choose to embrace what is, and to be grateful for the fullness and richness I have experienced in family and friends, opportunities and experiences.
And when it is time for me to transition into the next phase of life, I hope it will be clear to my friends and family that this is how I lived, as poet Mary Oliver said it best:
When it’s over, I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
I want it to be said that I did what I was created to do, not perfectly, but to the best of my ability. Invoking Mary Oliver again,
I did with my one wild and precious life what I was sent here to do.