Beyond Advice

There are times when advice is exactly what you need, because you don’t see as well as other people.  There are many other times, though, when you aren’t quite that helpless.  This does not mean, however, that you do not need the collective wisdom and experience of the community.

Let’s say you ignore all advice that boils down to “Do it the way I did.”

Let’s say you also ignore all advice that boils down to “Don’t do it the way I did.”

What do you have left?

Quite a lot.  What you’re looking for is not advice.  What you’re looking for is experience by proxy.  Ask “What did you have to give up to get what you have?”  “What were the advantages of your choice?”  What were the disadvantages?”  “How would your life be different if…?”

If someone gives you flippant, easy answers, just move on.  Find someone else to talk to.  You’re listening for thoughtful reflection on a life unlikely at every turn, a life where there were always thousands of other choices — as you will always have thousands of other choices.  Your interlocutor will value certain outcomes and devalue others; that is his (or her) affair.  You might adopt some of those values; others you might pass by.  But the experience, the chance to learn how the world works by looking closely at someone else’s story — that’s gold.

You can’t just do what someone else did before you.  There are millions of little details that make your situation different from theirs.  Teenagers learn this and endlessly argue that they aren’t about to repeat a stupid mistake: “This is different!” they whine.  Of course it is.  But as their parents know, often the differences don’t really make a difference.  You aren’t looking for anything so simple as “I did it this way; you can too.”  No, you are looking for paths, for well-worn trails where many individuals, each of them with their own story, motives, and dreams, each one different in endless ways, nonetheless wore a common rut in the world.  Don’t want to wind up where the rut ends?  Don’t start where it starts.  But if it goes where you want to go…now you’ve got something.

To see the ruts in the world, you can’t think like a lab tech.  It’s not a science.  The world you live in is not a mechanism.  Yahweh is not a watchmaker; He is a spoken Word artist, and everything you see and smell and taste and touch, He spoke into being.  He is upholding it all, even now.  If you would live in harmony with His world, His art, then you have to make decisions artistically. You have to think in metaphors and symbols and types, in foreshadowing and themes.  You think typologically, not technically.

You can’t plan your life.  You can make plans and blueprints and timelines until you’re blue in the face, but God is the One who speaks the world into being, who fashioned the days for you, when as yet there were none of them.  He allows you to collaborate with Him, but there are thousands of other paths, and many of the critical decisions in your life are not up to you.  Will that car suddenly swerve across the double yellow line and hit you head-on at 55 miles an hour?  You don’t get to decide.  You drive straight on, trusting that it won’t.  So far, you’ve been right.  The next time, you could be wrong.  All is mist, as the Preacher once said, and all your plans are shepherding mist.

You can’t plan your life.  What you can do is live in a way that matches the sort of world in which you find yourself, a way that honors the Artist and His intentions for the work.

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