Last weekend we went to a place called Little World near Nagoya for our Golden Week excursion with our college students. Later we grilled out, went to the bath house, and watched Star Wars all night.
This place, Little World, is so cheesy, but that’s what makes it great.
Something I’ve been re-learning again lately is that the moments that matter most and the places where relationships are either created or strengthened, are pretty ordinary and seemingly insignificant. One of the things I have become most disturbed by, not just ‘out there in the big, bad world’, but primarily in my own heart, is the tendency to paint my life in a certain light for others: namely, that it’s filled with never-ending, profound, and awesome experiences. I know that a host of articles have been coming out lately lambasting the over-use of social media to create a facade of meaning and significance for the watching and ‘liking’ world - and there’s some credit to those writings. But those summaries are usually simplistic.
There’s something deeper and complicated occurring, usually. I know that to be true for myself. It usually has something to do with self-justification: wanting to seem like I’m good enough, fun enough, accomplished enough, having amazing experiences enough, cultured or educated enough, smart enough, witty enough, progressive enough, awesome enough, etc. The list goes on. It’s different for everyone. The point is, there is a deep and innate desire that all humans everywhere share to be someone significant; someone found worthy. It’ll kill you if you let it - either by making you fatalistic, depressed and lazy because you never measure up or by making you a workaholic, anxious, and unrelentingly self-oriented as you keep up your appearance with others. Curating your life so that others approve of you, or that you approve of yourself for that matter, isn’t just exhausting, it’s wretchedly enslaving.
“Novelty is a new kind of loneliness.” -Wendell Berry
As I was walking around this cheesy Japanese theme park with a dozen of our best friends and college students, a place that maybe I would have looked down upon with pretentious disgust or boredom if I were with any other group, I felt oddly relieved. There wasn’t any pressure to find a really amazing experience that I could tell others about - there were only my friends there with me, in the moment, doing pretty ordinary things (and purposefully doing uncool things) and we were all laughing about it.
I don’t want to look back at the end of my life or even the end of our time here in Japan and all I have is a bunch of awesome looking photos that are filled with cool scenery or ‘amazing experiences’ but are utterly skeletal in their significance. I don’t want to spend my final days here or on this Earth grabbing up everything I can for myself so that I can prove to others how (insert self-promoting adjective) I am. I don’t want to live like a tourist.
I want to pour everything I am into those around me because, in the end, people are what matter the most. The places that change you aren’t the extravagant vacations or breathtaking views - those places just leave you more wanting than before. The so-called ‘amazing experiences’ I am clawing after with tooth and nail aren’t ‘out there’ like a buried treasure waiting to be unearthed by my cunning and witty and well-manicured lifestyle, but they’re hidden like an insignificant seed in the hearts of the people presently around me.
God, give me eyes to see it and the heart to chase after it.
And those moments of sheer wonder and awe that we all desperately want either appear or begin in the most mundane, unanticipated and unsexy ways - waiting in line, refilling someone’s cup of water, walking to the convenience store to buy greasy chicken, arguing, learning to forgive, listening…writing letters home.
“I knew from my study of the Gospels where to look for Jesus. For the most part, his earthly life was hidden, like a seed in the field…Jesus never used his power to show off. He used his power for love. So he wasn’t immediately noticeable. Humility makes you disappear, which is why we avoid it. In order to see Jesus, I would have to look lower. I would have to look at people simply, as a child does. I began to ask myself, “Where did I see Jesus today?’ I hunted for the difference between what others would normally be like and what they had become through the presence of Jesus. The presence of Jesus, the only truly authentic person who ever lived, would reveal itself in the restoration of authenticity in people. I’d see Christians whose inner and outer lives matched.” -Paul Miller, A Praying Life
I understand greatly the desire for significance that haunts each one of us. Let’s be honest, we’re haunted by it. I mean, it’s not entirely screwed up. That deep hunger for authenticity and honesty and freedom is good, even glorious at best. The way we know it’s not something twisted is when that thirst in us, that’s deeper than our marrow, is directed towards serving others - when it’s not incurvatus in se (turned inward upon itself). When that craving for authenticity is first and foremost chased after and unveiled in the life of others - even at the cost of our own. When that happens, that honesty and integrity and sheer authenticity we would kill for is born in us.
Then again, what do I know?
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© photos by Jake Gee