Matt Heard Life With a Capital L

ISBN 13: 9781633893252

Life With a Capital L

 
9781633893252: Life With a Capital L
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What is it that you long for? Dream about?  Hunger after?
 
We all desire more than just the endurance of our daily routines. But often we feel limited and stuck — like we’re merely existing instead of living. 
 
That’s not the way it was meant to be. God intends the humanity in each of us to be deeply experienced, lavishly enjoyed, and exuberantly celebrated. In fact this is what the gospel is all about.
 
Yes, the gospel. Contrary to conventional thinking — inside and outside the church — following Jesus is not about denying our humanness but embracing it. Rather than acting more spiritual or being more religious, we’re called and enabled to become more fully human...  and alive
 
Matt Heard escorts us on a journey of discovery: that Jesus didn’t come to save us from our humanity — Christ instead yearns to restore it to what God originally intended. Matt then explores ten key areas where everyday life can become extraordinary Life.   
 
Christ promised we could “live life to the full.” He didn’t just mean eventually. 
 
Life with a Capital L is the Life you are longing for. Now.

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About the Author:

Matt Heard and his wife, Arlene, live in Colorado Springs and are the privileged parents of three adult sons. A speaker and writer, he was the senior pastor at Woodmen Valley Chapel for twelve years.  Whether standing in front of people with a microphone or in a trout stream with a fly rod, whether sitting around a dinner table with friends or serving a need in his city, he loves exploring and experiencing Life with a capital L.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

introduction
There Is Life Everywhere

It is not that they chose to die, but rather that they could no longer figure out how to live.
—Robert Kurson

It was a moment that changed me, and I almost missed it. Touring the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, I was rushing through a small room to catch up with some friends when the painting caught my eye. Russian artist Nikolai Yaroshenko had purposefully layered his oils on this canvas back in 1888. Five diverse prisoners—a soldier, a worker, a peasant, a mother, and a child—are huddled together, peering through the barred window of a halted prison railcar. The child reaches through the steel bars, feeding pigeons on the railway platform.

Even in the midst of an awful predicament, the five prisoners were making a choice to engage with something. With what?

Yaroshenko’s title gave me the clue: There Is Life Everywhere.

Regardless of the day or the dilemma, we each have an opportunity to embrace something, not only the fact that our hearts are beating, but why they’re beating. Yaroshenko beckons us to look beyond our immediate circumstances and seize the privilege of being human.

There Is Life Everywhere. With his title, Yaroshenko is making a statement. But with the deliberate, thoughtful strokes of his brush, he is also asking a question. A question posed to those who will turn down the volume of their circumstances and listen. A question addressed not only to our ears but our hearts: will we embrace the Life that’s everywhere?

Like a well-aimed arrow, his question pierced the silent space of the gallery and penetrated my heart.

I sat down on the only bench in the room. Not only had I been rushing through my tour of the museum, I was just completing a season in which I’d been rushing through my life. Standing there, I realized I had been imprisoned by my busyness, difficulties, and burnout. Yes, hectic and challenging seasons in our lives are unavoidable, and they can even be invigorating. But they can also turn deadly if we let the sound of the chaos drown out the question Yaroshenko is asking.

~ ~ ~

Life. People define it in many ways. Is it merely when our cells are reproducing and our hearts are beating? We know there’s more to being fully human than that. And we all have our ideas about what that element of “more” should include:

Some fulfilling relationships.
   An enjoyable family.
      The attainment of a particular bank account balance.
         A gratifying career.
            The accumulation of enough stuff.
            A particular level of health and fitness.
         The absence of disease and difficulty.
      Plenty of exciting vacations.
   Enough fun along the way to keep at bay the ache that’s deep within our souls.

I sit back and look at that list. Is that it? Is that life? A cycle of well-crafted circumstances? Really?

Deep down, my objection comes in the form of a persistent suspicion, even a deafening hunch, that there’s more to the dance and drama of my life on this planet than air in my lungs and even circumstances to my liking.

Take the characters in Yaroshenko’s painting. Most of us think that a prison trip to Siberia would be a surefire snuffer of any kind of life worth experiencing. We’d think that humanity could never thrive in the context of conditions so inhumane. But Yaroshenko didn’t think so. Even in less-than-ideal circumstances, he envisioned
a type of life that’s within reach. 

~~~

Yaroshenko’s painting was actually inspired by a short story written by Leo Tolstoy three years earlier. In “What Men Live By,” Tolstoy, a follower of Christ, begins by quoting 1 John 3:14: “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death.” Those words reference a central theme of Jesus’s teaching, one that goes to the core of why he came: to usher us into a new way of being human.

Before each of us is the choice to remain in a realm Jesus calls death or to allow him to transition us into the realm of life. “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24). So many people miss this—that Jesus is referring to something that happens right here and now.

Yaroshenko’s “life” that can be found “everywhere” is this life into which Jesus invites us. Today.

It’s a way of doing life that can be present in every nook and cranny of our days—from heartbreaks to hobbies, client meetings to birthday celebrations, dinner parties to soup kitchens, funerals to vacations. From enduring an illness to enjoying concert tickets in the front row.

And, yes, even in prison railcars.

I’ve started calling it Life with a capital L.

Everyone experiences heart-beating, lung-breathing life. Some are able to add to that existence some enjoyable relationships, a satisfying career, and maybe a level of financial success. Some will even add a bit of religiosity or maybe even spirituality to their repertoire. But not everyone experiences Life with a capital L.

For some, it will be a surprise to learn that Life with a capital L doesn’t start by trying to be more spiritual. It starts with becoming more fully human under God’s direction.

It doesn’t come with a permanent, plastered-on smile, a get-out-of-jail-free card, or an exemption from pain. But it does come with Jesus Christ’s assurance that he will put our feet on the path and get us Home.

In the midst of Monday morning realities that can range from busy to broken to beautiful, Jesus can breathe Life into our life. He can overcome the problem of a life consumed by merely existing. He can satisfy our yearning to actually Live.

~~~

Go back with me to that museum in Moscow. It was only after staring at the painting for a few minutes that I saw him. He, too, was inside the railcar.

A sixth prisoner.

In the shadowed background, he is silhouetted against the light of the barred window on the opposite side of the carriage. With an empty stare, he looks the other way, into a stark, gray sky. Missing out on the Life-filled moment unfolding behind him, he is lost in a sea of his own hopelessness.

It struck me. Yaroshenko wanted me to see him—this other guy on the opposite side of the railcar who was missing the Life. Because too often I’m that guy.

How many times in my journey have I moved to the other side of that railcar and stared out through prison bars of pain, disappointment, or just plain busyness? How often do I look in the opposite direction and miss out on Life? Those are questions I’m still asking, and they are changing me. Deeply and positively.

The ultimate question is not whether Life—with a capital L—is everywhere.

The question is whether I’ll experience it.

PART 1
reclaiming our humanity

Chapter 1—Fully Human: Realizing Life While We Live It

If the church is not a place where we not only learn something about what it means to be human but also a place where seeds of a fuller humanity are planted in us and watered, to grow, then all our hymns and prayers and preachments are vanity.
—Frederick Buechner

A graveyard can be an effective setting for thinking about your life. Especially when the occupants are having a conversation with one another.

I was attentively perched on a chair in the century-old Greenwich House in the West Village of New York City. Within the past decade, it had been converted into the Barrow Street Theatre, a small, intimate off-Broadway venue. Along with less than two hundred other people sitting in the three-quarter-round space, I was witnessing a favorite story of mine and, over the years, thousands of others.

Our Town, Thornton Wilder’s 1938 Pulitzer Prize–winning play, invites us into the everyday life of the fictional small town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, at the turn of the twentieth century. As the narration of Wilder’s stage manager, being brilliantly portrayed that evening by David Cromer, explains to the audience, “This is the way we were—in our growing up and in our marrying, and in our living, and in our dying.”1

Serving as a window into the extraordinary nature of ordinary living, the play opens by including us in the daily routines of a group of the town’s residents, focusing in particular on two families—the Webbs and the Gibbs. Act 2 takes place three years later and centers around the romance and eventual marriage of Emily Webb and George Gibbs. The third and final act takes place nine years later in the cemetery on the hill overlooking the town.

A funeral procession is arriving at the burial site of Emily Webb, who has died way too young—in childbirth. As the ceremony is taking place, we listen to the occupants of the cemetery, residents of the town who have already died, talk in a detached manner with one another and with Emily, the newest arrival. Emily misses her life and longs to go back. She discovers from the other deceased occupants that it’s possible but not advisable. Emily ignores their caution and chooses to relive one day from her youth—her twelfth birthday.

During her experience of repeating that wonderful day, she notices details, moments, and nuances that she’d overlooked the first time around—when she was living. Overwhelmed by the way she and others missed the significance of those moments, she’s ready to return to the cemetery.

Now realizing how “in the dark” living persons are, Emily turns to the stage manager and regretfully reflects on her journey by articulating a haunting realization.

“Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it—every, every minute?”

The stage manager quietly responds, “No.” Then he modifies his answer with a couple of possible exceptions. “Saints and poets maybe—they do some.”2

The theatre, filled with the palpable echo of Emily’s piercing question, was frozen in reflection. Sitting next to me was a gentleman in his later middle years, dressed in a charcoal pinstripe suit and crisp shirt. From a brief comment I had overheard as he was taking his seat before the play began, I’d discovered he had rushed up from Wall Street that evening, just in time for the performance. Now, in this moment that was inviting each of us to evaluate whether we were truly experiencing our life while we were living it, his hand moved to his face to wipe away some tears. I understood. I was right there as well, wrestling with my own, probably similar, thoughts.

But not everyone was in that same place. One row in front of me, on the other side of the aisle, were three high school girls. I had noticed them previously and wondered if they were there just to fulfill a school assignment. My suspicion was affirmed because, in this same powerful moment that had brought tears to the businessman, these girls were giggling. Though struck by the contrast of their out-of-place chuckles to the response of the man next to me, I entered back into the final moments of the play—which culminated with a standing ovation.

~~~

As I walked into the fresh air of a Manhattan May evening, I thought about those two divergent reactions I had witnessed. Obviously, I didn’t know all the reasons for the executive’s tears or the students’ snickers, but because of what was ricocheting around in my own heart, I had a strong hunch. As I walked, I pondered.

A middle-aged businessman has lived long enough—as have I—to know what all of us discover sooner or later: life, at least in some ways, has a way of turning out to be less than what we expected when we were younger. That’s something those teenage girls probably hadn’t yet come to grips with—or didn’t want to. When your entire life’s ahead, you just want to assume all your dreams will be delivered to your doorstep.

But eventually life happens. It’s a sobering moment when we recognize that we’ve not been realizing life while we’re living it, that we’ve not been living full lives, that we haven’t wholly engaged in the privilege of being human for the few precious years we have on this planet. It’s difficult to face the truth—that we’ve just been going through the motions and playing around with our lives. As the poet Robert Abrahams once articulated,

Some men die by shrapnel,
And some go down in flames.
But most men perish inch by inch
In play at little games.3

Are we just playing little games?

Or are we realizing life while we live it? Are we each experiencing—truly—what it means to be a human being? Are we really living? Are we engaging our full humanity?

It’s one thing to wake up and realize you’ve been asleep.

But it’s another to wake up and actually start living.

~~~

To realize life while we live it involves more than merely trying to pay attention. Sure, if we’re just the protoplasmic product of an evolutionary accident, that’s all it will be. But most of us, deep down, sense there’s more—we just can’t quite put our finger on what it is.

Even though we might struggle to articulate it, what we’re sensing is the dignity of a calling that is embedded in each of us—the calling to fully experience our humanity. When we’re born, we instinctively embark upon that quest. Kids celebrate their fresh and flourishing humanity with abandon. But somewhere along the way, we become sleepy  regarding our significance, and we wearily shift to survival mode. That might involve days of busyness or boredom, but either way, the ultimate result is an “empty way of life” (1 Peter 1:18).

What happened?

We have lost our ability to realize life while we are living it. We’ve lost touch with the day-in, day-out experience of being fully human. That realization is behind T. S. Eliot’s words as he wistfully contemplates, “Where is the Life we have lost in living?”4

The stage manager in Wilder’s play muses, “Every time a child is born into the world it’s Nature’s attempt to make a perfect human being. Well, we’ve seen Nature pushing and contriving for some time now. We all know she’s interested in quantity; but I think she’s interested in quality too.”5

A quality human being is someone who is realizing life while he or she is living it. That requires fully embracing the privilege as well as the calling that’s central to being human. It means grappling and fighting to engage with my full humanity. It means beginning a journey of exploring and unpacking what that looks like.

~~~

A natural first step is to ask a simple question: What is my humanity? Is it just a reference to being a part of this species called Homo sapiens? Obviously it’s much more. So what does it mean to be human? What is a healthy human being? What distinguishes us from animals? Webster’s defines humanity as “the quality or state of ...

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9781601424464: Life with a Capital L: Embracing Your God-Given Humanity

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