There comes a point during any good tough hike when the rigor and the pain flip you into a different mental mode. The aching muscles and dwindling mental energy narrows your focus: keep moving. One foot in front of the other. Get to the end. This is actually a good picture of how we often tend to function in our daily lives. We are working for something. Some ultimate end. Some point of satisfaction. Something that will make it all worth the struggle. Underneath the repetitious wheel of daily life we have a bedrock purpose that keeps things turning. Sometimes we may even forget about its existence. But that doesn’t diminish its ever present influence throughout our days and minutes and weeks and months. On this point both Nietzsche and Darwin were right – life is a continual struggle. We are always reaching forward.
As we make this observation, we usually make the the cliche follow up question question: “What motivates your life?” But I think there’s a better question to ask. One that actually divides the infinite possibility of answers down to only a handful of options. What is the kind of motivation that moves you? Is it something that you are hoping and looking forward to? Or is it something that you already have?
Here’s the trouble with our restless hearts. We grab on to things we think will satisfy us in the end, we attach our motivation and anticipation to those things, we labor to get to them, and once we do, the actual fulfillment seems to fade leaving us to grab hold of another thing. Marriage, career, relationships, interests, passions – all the same. Always fading like a mist as we lay our hands on them.
When I really began to understand the story of Jesus and all that he has done, I began to see that there was a completely different way to live altogether. Most people who view Jesus and his message from the outside naturally assume that the motivation of the gospel is just like any other religious system. They see it as a step by step system of avoiding the suffering of hell, or as a emotional and spiritual crutch – something that gives hope by promising a “blessing” at the end of the long ladder of obedience.
But that misses the heart of the gospel story, as well as the fundamentally new outlook on motivation in life. Jesus’ message of grace means that he did all that we could never do. At its essence is the fact that we could never be our own accomplishers, and that he has done the accomplishing for us. Jesus’s message is that God gives us a complete fullness of resolution. The chase is over. His life and death for us open the door to the resurrection of our God given completeness.
This also means I have a completely different kind of motivation: gratitude. Everything I ever need for real satisfaction and purpose, he has already given. I am not striving forward to something I don’t have. I am relishing in the reality that I do have and every step forward is merely a richer experience of something that has been given to me. Every time I fail I fall back on the fact that all that I have is a gift to begin with. I am humbled. And I am brought back to life.
This really is the only kind of motivation that never ends because it is rooted in what you already have. It doesn’t take the daily challenges away. It just makes them mean something different. They are not prizes and promises of something I seek. They are new experiences of that which I already have. They are new opportunities to taste the meaning of knowing God and belonging to him. They are new reminders that God has freely given me that which I seek.
Gratitude makes every good thing even more beautiful as it puts all things in their proper framework. It takes the ultimate sting out of the painful and dissatisfying moments. It awakens the mind out of the stupor of focusing on the “end” of the hike, to being able to see the beauty and wonder that we are already surrounded by. In this sense, gratitude transforms the entire experience. It is a completely different way to live.