I once heard a story about a priest who was confronted by a soldier while he was walking down a road in pre-revolutionary Russia. The soldier, aiming his weapon at the priest, commanded, “Who are you? Where are you going? Why are you going there?” Unfazed, the priest calmly replied, “How much do they pay you?” Somewhat surprised, the soldier responded, “Twenty-five kopecks a month.” The priest paused, and in a deeply thoughtful manner said, “I have a proposal for you. I will pay you fifty kopecks each month if you stop me here every day and challenge me to respond to those same three questions.”
Who am I? Where am I going? Why am I going there? As I try on these three questions, I find myself stopping in my tracks, so to speak, much as I envision the priest doing. The questions both startle and call to me, simultaneously.
I wonder how many times my answers to these questions wouldn’t line up to my underlying values or hopes, to the life I ultimately want to be living. I wonder how many times I am so stuck on autopilot, living unconsciously on the road of familiar, that if I actually woke up enough to ask myself these questions and listen to the answers, I might realize that I don’t actually want to be where I’m headed.
We do this, I do this, in so many small ways.
Years ago, I had to ask myself these questions about going to church on Sundays. I woke up one day and had to admit that I was going to services, at the time, not because they were life-giving for me or particularly refreshing, but because I felt guilty not going. I felt I “should” or I “had to” or that’s what was expected of both me as “Nikki” and me as “a minister”. The latter of which might have been my answers to the question, “Who am I?”
So, one Sunday I stopped. I decided my answers to these questions and especially to “Why am I going there?” weren’t good enough for me; they weren’t answers I wanted to hang my hat on. I stopped going to church and took months figuring out what I wanted to be doing with those mornings instead. At times, my answers to “where am I going” were as varied as “to yoga”, “to coffee with a friend”, “to journal” or “back to sleep”. In correlation, my reasons “why” were varied, but more often than not they included: “because that is what a part of me wants or needs today” or “because that’s what sounds most life-giving”.
Years later, interestingly enough, some Sundays I do find myself back at church. It took time, exploration, and openness, but I found my way to a community and a service that more often than not seems to be exactly what I am looking and longing for. I have experienced it as “coming home”. When I choose to go there, my answers to “Who am I?” can be as diverse as: I am a weary soul. I am part of a tribe. I am a lover of life. And some days, I am more aware that I am going to “church”, while on others I am more pulled to its’ existence as a safe haven, a retreat, a communion. And again, I go to be fed, restored, embraced.
This is the difference between living with intention and living unconsciously. This is the difference between choosing our lives and letting our lives choose us. Yes, there is ease, simplicity, and safety in the familiar, in keeping the status quo. And certainly, it is not realistic to be one-hundred percent intentional and mindful one-hundred percent of the time. Even so, it behooves us to remember that our day-to-day choices ultimately make up a life and so, it’s of benefit to ensure that our day-to-day choices align with the underlying direction we are hoping to go.
Towards this end, we might start with our long-term vision. We might ask ourselves, at the end of my life, “Who do I want to have been? Where do I want to have gone? Why do I want to have gone there?” And then, we can start to make choices, day-by-day, month-by-month, year-by-year, that align with and support that vision.
Unfortunately, we might not be able to pay someone to stop and ask us these questions daily (although, your smart phone might well do the trick), but we can make the commitment to asking ourselves. We can make the commitment to living more intentionally, but only if we want to. That’s the neat thing. We need only to live with intention if we desire to live an intentional life; we need only to wake up and strive to remain conscious if that’s what appeals to us.
The choice is yours. And, the choice is mine.
Your answers are yours.
Mine are mine.
Amen and thank goodness for that.