On Living Deliberately

On my wrist is a green rubber bracelet that I bought at Walden Pond in August 2009. The bracelet says “LIVE DELIBERATELY” on it, and I never take it off. I need the reminder:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. For most men, it appears to me, are in a strange uncertainty about it, whether it is of the devil or of God, and have somewhat hastily concluded that it is the chief end of man here to “glorify God and enjoy him forever.”

Currently, I’m reading Henry David Thoreau’s Walden–in its entirety–for the first time. Though nearly everyone (myself included) is familiar with many of Thoreau’s ideas (such as the above quotation), I never realized how powerful this work of literature is. It isn’t enough to read Thoreau’s passage on living deliberately without understanding how he applied that concept to every moment of his time spent at Walden Pond–even the time spent plowing his bean-field.

Class on Thursday night was a glorious two-and-a-half hour discussion on what it means to live deliberately. Thoreau entitled his first chapter “Economy,” a chapter which composes about one-quarter of the work. By economy, he does not refer merely to financial matters, though that is a part of it. Economy is, in Thoreau’s world, living deliberately–making the most of every resource we’ve been given, particularly time.

We spent a portion of class adapting a definition of economics and applying it to life. We listed scarce resources (time, energy, health, passion, etc.), with restrictions (we must eat and sleep; there are only 24 hours in a day), and determined how we could best use those resources, within the confines of those restrictions, to fully achieve our wants and needs. We spent time reflecting on what we truly want in life and discovered that the 8 of us in the classroom essentially all want similar things: deep, meaningful relationships; health; knowledge; the ability to travel; sanity; etc.

This week, our class is challenged to live deliberately, to fast from some aspect of our lives that does not enable us to live simply. Mostly, we agreed that technology is one area that has a total hold on our lives, that is freeing to give up. So until Tuesday, I’m staying away from Facebook. I’m making an effort not to be enslaved to my email and cell phone (though that is harder than leaving Facebook), and I’m attempting to think about each moment of my day through the perspective of living deliberately. In each moment, I have a choice in my actions–I could waste time in an activity that isn’t productive, that results from boredom; or I could choose to live each moment.

One thing about Thoreau’s idea, however, is that he isn’t Christian. Yes, he gives evidence of knowledge of biblical truth, but he does not espouse it. (For example, he feels that men have “hastily concluded” that our chief end is to glorify God. I tend to agree that this is our chief end, though I have not hastily concluded this premise.) This isn’t a problem for me. As a Christian and a scholar, I recognize that all truth is God’s truth, and even when an author writes from an opposing worldview, I can recognize the pervasiveness of my Father’s glory. For example, after leaving class Thursday night, I passed a church with a marquee imploring me to love the Lord my God with ALL my heart, soul, mind, and strength. And in that moment of thinking about living deliberately and reading the Scripture as I drove past, I realized that this commandment is the very essence of living deliberately for a Christ-follower. Loving God with everything I have is intentional and deliberate and the only way to live fully and completely.

My LIVE DELIBERATELY bracelet isn’t a reminder for me to sell my possessions, move to a cabin in the woods, and plant beans. Instead, it is a reminder that life is a choice. I can choose to fritter it away with meaningless pursuits, or I can choose to deliberately seek the will of my Father in every moment.


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