“Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” – 2 Peter 1:3-4
“My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him.” – Psalms 62:5
As I’ve grown as a Christian over the years, I’ve tried my best to focus my thoughts on Christian teachings: reading scripture, listening to sermons from the pastors at the various churches I’ve attended, paying close attention to the words and life of Jesus. However, there have been a few times in my life where the teachings from other religions have been enormously helpful in guiding my growth as a person. The following is a story of one of those times…
My recollection of the day I moved to New York City in December of 1999 is very hazy, but for some reason one specific moment stands out vividly. I was in front of my parents’ house under an old tree that still stands there to this day, and I was packing my old mattress into the back of a U-Haul truck. I have very little memory of when exactly I made the decision to move to New York. I just know that at some point between quitting my job in Philadelphia in August of ’99 and packing that U-Haul full of stuff, I decided that living with my parents and looking for a job in Baltimore was not the direction I wanted to head.
Two friends and I had found an apartment in Greenwich Village, which at the time was hugely cool to me as a fan of the show Friends. New York, in general, at that time was the coolest place in the world. Most of the best TV shows were set there, neighborhoods were popping up right and left, and the finance industry was flying high. Remember, this was before both 9/11 and the DotCom bubble. I fully expected that just by being there in the city I would be made a different person, a better person. It was the first of many times that I mistakenly thought that changing my geography would change who I was. That was my go-to move for many years…change from the outside in.
And while it’s obvious to me now, it took me a while to figure out that change really comes from the inside out.
I lived in New York for two months before finally finding a job. And when I landed it, I expected that job to make me happy. There I was, making it in NYC, and if you can make it there…yada, yada, yada. I seemingly had everything I could ever want at my fingertips. Most of my friends were there with me. I had the freedom of college but with a little of my own money to burn. I had a fun apartment with two good friends, and, it being New York City and all, we had access to pretty much anything we could want. As a quick example I’ll introduce you, or maybe reintroduce you, to Kozmo.com (link). It was Amazon Prime same day service but 15 years ahead of its time. You would order something and within the hour it would be at your house. At least once a week for a year my roommates and I used our DSL connection to pull up the website and order movies, video games, and pints of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, which we would eat in their entirety while watching appointment television in real time. This was technology-enabled gluttony at its peak. And of course, I expected it to make me happy.
But I digress; back to the job. Don’t get me wrong, when I started on my first day, I WAS happy. It was a job I liked in a field I wanted to be in. But more than that, I expected my new job to make my parents happy. I expected it to impress my parents’ friends. I expected my own friends to be overwhelmed with jealousy. I remember sending a childhood friend of mine some swag from the company closet expecting it to rejuvenate our friendship and impress the hell out of him. We barely spoke after the courteous but half-hearted “thank you” I was emailed.
But in the end, it wasn’t sustainable and it all fell apart. (A post for another time.) And when it did, I was surrounded by emptiness, and I didn’t have a central guiding principle that held me together, like spiritual glue. Looking back on it I should have turned back to my God to find my way, but I guess I wasn’t ready for that yet. So I went looking elsewhere.
In my search one of the places I landed was Lao Tsu’s book the Tao Te Ching. Sometimes the things that we turn to in times of trouble are life preservers, i.e. single purpose things designed just to keep us afloat or keep us from sinking under our own weight. Other times, those things that we grab hold of are boats, not just meant to keep our heads above water, but to ferry us to a new, safer place; to shelter us from the storm; to keep us dry.
The Tao was a boat for me. I am not a scholar of the book nor of the religion that surrounds it, but the ways of living that are described in the translation I came upon really opened my eyes to a lot of things. There is a flow to life. And living within that flow and connecting with a higher energy allows us to better connect with what is in us. Through self-LESS-ness was can better know our selves. In the Tao, the world was turned upside down for me. I was taught that life comes from death, knowing from un-knowing, and learning from un-learning. But the key thought that I found within its pages was that life should be lived without expectations.
We are taught that we should strip away all of our human expectations, because that is the way to a happy life on earth. Expectations anchor us to outcomes, and those outcomes almost never conform to those expectations. They also poison our relationships with the people in our lives. Our expectations hold people accountable for things that have not yet happened. They force our friends and family to live up to, or live into, a set of standards that in many cases those people don’t even know exist. And in the worst cases, our expectations of other people set a standard that we ourselves can’t even live up to.
While I didn’t pick up on it back in New York, I have become a firm believer that we need to pour all of our expectations into God and his ability to deliver on His word, because He will never let us down. It is a two-pronged approach that has made me the happiest. I try to us the Tao to strip away worldly expectations, and use scripture to inform my expectations of God. And while I may not always understand how He answers those expectations, I do know in His time they will absolutely be realized.