January 23, 2012
As a girl, I discovered a thin, 1980s paperback called Disciplines of the Beautiful Woman. In these pages, pastor’s wife Anne Ortlund shares her advice for over-stretched women: eliminate and concentrate. I read the words over and over. Go deep in a few relationships, instead of spreading yourself too thin. Focus your efforts on a few interests or hobbies, and leave behind a legacy of excellence.
The message appealed to me, and still attracts me today. “Read well, not widely,” is the similar mantra of Adler and Van Doren. As I revisit their classic literary handbook, How to Read a Book, I note the sharp-edged criticism. “A person who has read widely but not well deserves to be pitied rather than praised.”
Truly, “eliminate and concentrate” works wonders on the small scale. I’ve enjoyed a few successes in past months, as I pared down my wardrobe, Christmas ornaments, college photos, and recipe cards. Yet, life on the grand scale is not so easily sorted; isolated events, errands, conversations, and tasks seldom fall into neat categories. Often, I fail to see a connecting, over-arching purpose, and this can leave me feeling frustrated and fragmented.
The search for a unifying factor is timeless. In all of life’s activities and reposes, mental highs and physical lows, humankind seeks a meaning. We crave this meaning, and thus we face a choice. I can define all aspects of life in relation to me – my personality, aspirations, emotions, and opinions – but then I would be worse than the old, earth-centered scoffers of Copernican cosmology. How much better to define this eclectic, unpredictable thing called life by the God who ordained it.
“Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” My search leads me here. But the journey is only just begun.