The widespread appeal of luxury holiday resorts, Caribbean cruises, and spa retreats is that no effort needs to be expended on meal planning, cleaning, organizing outings, overcoming glitches in the schedule – it’s all included. There are no meetings to host or attend, no business decisions to make, no phones or computers to intrude on the agenda. This elaborate system of total indulgence provides a break from the usual round of the daily grind, allowing participants to simply ‘be.’ It is a surreal experience, because everyone is aware that this is but a temporary suspension of duties which will resume with a vengeance once the paid vacation has ended, when, once again, there will be a return to the rat race of ‘doing’ (which feels much more real).
The ‘doing’ vs. ‘being’ debate has been vastly explored for ages. And I think I know where the former got established in my psyche. It was a children’s television program called, Romper Room. It was hosted by Miss Phyllis, a gentle, smiling soul, thrilled to ‘see’ us on her program each morning (and we were thrilled to be ‘seen’). A central theme of the show was to encourage my friend, Ruthann, and I (as we watched, unblinking), to become good ‘doobees.’ This included instructions on obeying our parents, cleaning our room, neatly putting away our toys, speaking only when spoken to (this was back in the dark ages, y’all), never interrupting big people when they were talking, going to bed without complaining – you get the picture from a bygone era. It was ‘do,’ ‘do,’ ‘do.’ The subtle, unspoken, message was that you weren’t asked to ‘be’ and were only granted permission to ‘be,’ when it was convenient for your parents. (I think ‘being’ was closely linked to noisy, messy, late, stubborn, sassy, and generally disobedient.) Alas! Poor unaware Miss Phyllis! If she’d only known the storm she was sowing into our young, impressionable souls!
But, of course, this backwards message has been a part of Western culture for far longer than I can remember. We are sometimes reminded that we are human beings, not human doings, but the combination of culture, family, and our own willfulness makes that a tough truth to grasp. The spiritual dilemma arising from this is that we are called to ‘be’ God’s children, to ‘be’ His beloved, to ‘be’ gossipers of the Good News, to ‘be’ friends of God (intimate allies, John Eldredge calls us). All the time we are aiming at perfecting our serve, honing our prayer life, taking care of life’s business, God’s heart is wooing us into His embrace. But this mushy, gushy stuff sounds very inefficient, wasteful of time, counterproductive (and downright weird) to our enculturated ears. And yet, the pursuit of our agenda turns up empty, while the surrender to God’s agenda fills up our hearts and souls with belonging and security and love, plus makes possible the achieving of our agenda, to boot. Dallas Willard (inspired by the Spirit, I believe) said that faith is not opposed to effort. It is opposed to striving. Sounds restful to me! PD