One thing that remains consistent through the various ups and downs I experience in life has been “why.” Why am I doing what I am doing; why am I thinking the way I’m thinking; why am I living the way I’m living? Before what or how or even when, I am trying to learn the practice of consistently returning to why.
The why informs what and how I do and when I do it. Of course, this is something that comes up at home every day.
- FOR EXAMPLE: Why am I running in circles around my house chasing a two-year-old while making whale noises and speaking in childish sentences? Because Ellis is worth it and I love him. Also, Shawna is worth supporting, deserving of being supported, and I love and admire her a lot. If I’m not firmly rooted in the conviction of that why, I quickly burn out and implode.
Another obvious area where why comes up daily is at work. Work is where it is easiest for me to get caught up in the whats: What am I doing? What are the needs? What are the answers? What are the steps toward solution? And so on. I like big whats and I cannot lie. … (gotta meet my dad-joke quota) … The abundance and opportunity of whats can make life exciting and interesting and instill a feeling of importance, but when they are not centered on why, the result is a self-centered mess that often tramples all over the most important whys in my life.
Ultimately, when the details of whats eclipse my why, then my how becomes distorted and compromised.
A good person produces good from the good treasury of the inner self, while an evil person produces evil from the evil treasury of the inner self. The inner self overflows with words that are spoken.
– Jesus, Luke 6:45
How I do life, faith, family, and work can quickly turn into methods of the lowest common denominator when my attention is more on what I’ve got to do now, next, and tomorrow rather than why. How keeps me awake at night and wakes me up early. When I’m absorbed in what I’m doing (or in how tired I am from what I’ve been doing all day), how I do things becomes reduced to expedience or convenience. How can I get something off my plate as quickly as possible? With that motivation I’ll easily cut corners, lie, or even just brush things under the rug and ignore them for as long as I can because my focus is on what I am doing rather than why.
Another way of looking at the why in my life is to realize it is my motivation. When I ask myself, "Why am I doing this?" an honest answer will reveal my motivation behind the behavior. Orientating my attention onto the why that is motivating me beneath the surface is incredibly revealing and purgative. When I stop to ask myself why I am doing something or behaving a certain way, it’s often that the answer surprises me.
For instance, years ago, I discovered that I predominately used anxiety as my why; my motivation. If I had a deadline (whether for a project or a birthday gift), I would always wait until the last minute because then I had found my motivation for why it needed to get done: IT’S DUE TOMORROW! Before that point, I was far less motivated because, when my answer to why is that it has to be done it doesn’t motivate me, knowing it doesn't have to been right now, yet.
When I observed this about myself, what struck me was noticing the absence of love. I had thought of myself as a loving person, but this perspective had shown me that I was a far more anxious than loving. At first, I had no idea how to comprehend being motivated by love, but I saw how, without Love as a motivation, there is no true understanding God or the purpose of life. How could I understand the motivation of Divine Love if all I had really known was the motivation of anxiety?
Seeing that Jesus was not motivated by anxiety but by Love, it opens my understanding of his instruction, “I tell you, do not worry. Don’t worry about your life…” Worry or fear would have brought reluctance to the cross, but there was no sign of that, there was a motivation of Love, expressed by full acceptance and forgiveness.
Of course, the cross is an extreme example, but it is the ultimate reality of our Teacher and can be brought into normal circumstances all day, every day. Why am I doing what I am doing; why am I thinking the way I’m thinking; why am I living the way I’m living? I have to ask myself those questions repeatedly, constantly, to help cultivate a conscious response of Love, so that I can live the fullest life possible. I don’t want to waste my time being motivated by tasks, responsibilities, or opinions. I want my why to be Love, always.
You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.
– Jesus, Matthew 22.37-40