A Life That Consumes
"Our story of life in Manhattan certainly wasn't unique … With every bone-tired breath, we wanted to remain. But could we?" For our series Sustainable Work, Kristen Kill writes about the call to cease striving and remain where you are.
"I just don't know if we can do this anymore. If we keep going like this, I'm afraid we'll have nothing left. I'm so frazzled and threadbare. It's just not sustainable."
The words rolled off my tongue with ease. It wasn't the first time I'd said them, and it wouldn't be the last. They were on repeat, one of a bevy of phrases I often used to carry my fears and plop them in my husband's lap when I was feeling particularly anxious. As I spoke this time, he just looked at me with sad eyes … silent. When he finally spoke, his words resonated deeply, “Maybe our life is more about how we spend, than what we store.”
Our story of life in Manhattan certainly wasn't unique. Almost everyone we knew had come from somewhere else, somewhere slow-paced and expansive. We helped brace one another as we hit the city hard—sharing ideas for managing the logistics of the urban grid, small space living, high stakes careers, and days with little margin. We cheered one another on as our capacity grew, as we met the challenges before us. And all the while we expended our resources, stretching and stretching and praying we'd remain pliable.
I peered out the cab window and looked up, catching the reflection of the night on the skyscrapers whizzing past, the fragmented light beaming off buildings and bridges and street lamps but never from the moon, never from the stars. The city had swallowed them up whole. My heart ached. My own heart was catching light only in fragments these days, shards blurred and quick, too fast for me to catch or truly see.
With every bone-tired breath, we wanted to remain. But could we? Our coffers were nearly empty, our emotions all but spent. How could we keep up with the demands and the cost of living in a city that promised so much but never seemed to have its fill in taking more and more from us? How could we ever fill up when we were giving out so much? My hope of providing for my own goals and dreams grew scarce. Every one of my nerves felt exposed, and I was ready to run. To escape and move on.
To Stay Is the New Risk
Experts tell us that millennials more than any generation before us will struggle to stay put. Where my parents and grandparents defined risk as embarking on new adventures and settling in new places, my generation struggles to embrace the value of a life lived in one place. We are always on the move, on the lookout for the next big thing: a new occupation, another person, or even a better place to call home.
Wonderful qualities are born through this transience: a spirit of adventure and innovation, an entrepreneurship and independence that soar. The dark side, however, can leave us all dry, as the value we place on everyone and everything around us is reduced solely to output—what can be counted and measured. So we push and squeeze to get the most out of everything before it fizzles and steams in screeching decline, soon to be tossed aside into the pile of people and places, jobs and experiences that fill our resumes and round out our anecdotes. What we may not realize is that the more we blaze through and the more we consume, the more we toss our own souls right into the pile among all we are done with.
Sustainability becomes impossible when we are on the prowl for what will serve us next. When we aren't getting what we need from a thing or a place or perhaps even a person, when we feel we are expending too much of ourselves and receiving too little, what we once defined as sacred becomes disposable. Our affection and attention shift back to … ourselves.
I'd been striving for so long to make New York fit. I'd been striving so long to make a life of written words that would settle into hearts, to make a home of beauty for my family. I was so desperate to see my life bear fruit, to see New York water my work, to shine on it and make it grow. I'd placed the value of my own life on what I could produce. My own soul was crushing under the system I had created where I wanted more and more and more. I could never be satisfied. Striving in my own strength had finally produced a fruit that settled foul in my gut and left me utterly hungry and impoverished in heart.
"Remain in me." A whisper at first.
"Abide in my love. You are weary. Rest. Cease Striving."
Christ beckons in the midst of our chaos. In the midst of our busy work and our hurried hearts, he woos us to come away with him. To simply be with him. To my heart, to rest and to stop seemed impossible. Maybe that was exactly the point. The one who formed me was not concerned in the least with my output of work and how it could be leveraged, but rather in just me. My value was made known by this King who set aside his crown and emptied his coffers for me. For us.
When our lens is adjusted to see our surroundings in the light of Christ, in his gracious glow rather than in the shards and splinters of artificial light, our hearts shift. We see something new in the places we inhabit, in the people we know, in the very work that we put our hands to each day. Outside of the practical nature of production and profit, we gaze with affection on creation, on all that Christ spent his very life on. And instead of wondering how we can get, we begin to desire to give. To nurture and invest and renew. A real life is a life poured out and cared for.
Can we imagine, too, that our own hearts deserve so much? That we are valuable enough to not simply survive on vapors but to partake of the feast that will fill us to everlasting?
To sustain a life, to sustain work, to remain and to stay, might be the grandest adventure of all, but our ability to do so will depend greatly on our own hearts. We may push and pull, take and give, all the while intending to stay at net zero, but our footprint must not be invisible. Our vision must be formed by where we are willing to invest, where we are willing to give, and by the overabundance of our own hearts to do so, as we rest and fill up from the one whose mercy and light and offering never run dry.