This summer, at a brief retreat along the Hudson River about an hour north of New York City, I rediscovered a forgotten prayer by Anselm of Canterbury, a 12th-Century guide to matters of the heart and spirit. The prayer begins:
O my God, teach my heart where and how to seek you, where and how to find you.
You are my God and you are my All, and I have never seen you.
You have made me and remade me.
You have bestowed on me all the good things I possess.
Still I do not know you.
I have not yet done that for which I was made.
That phrase—“I have not yet done that for which I was made”—brought tears rushing to my eyes, tears of recognition and grief for all the people I know (and I know many) who feel that life is rushing by them before they ever live it.
All of us know something about that feeling, don’t we? The feeling that there is music in us we haven’t sung, truth we haven’t spoken, mysteries we haven’t explored, love we haven’t given or received, and joy we haven’t danced. There are possibilities we haven’t realized, dreams we haven’t pursued, and contributions to the world we haven’t given. “I have not yet done that for which I was made.”
In an interview just after his most recent novel came out, Stephen King responded to critics who question the quality and quantity of his work (they question its quality primarily because of its quantity, I think):
A lot of people have suggested that the stuff that I do may be second-class because there’s so much of it. My response to that is: I’m going to quit and be dead for a long time. This is the time that I’ve got, and I want to use it to the max. I really want to try and mine everything that I’ve got.
We want, despite all of our hesitations, fears, and excuses to live life to the max—to “mine everything we’ve got.” We want to live, really live, this life we’ve received as a sheer gift.
So Jesus captures our imaginations when he says: “I have come that’s they might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10) He invites us to the life for which God made us: a life overflowing with hope, peace, joy and love. In the second century, Iranaeus of Lyons, said: “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.” In the mid-twentieth century, the African-American Christian and mystic Howard Thurman said: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
One way to understand what this fullness of life might be like is through the familiar-because-so-true phrase of Frederick Buechner’s about God’s calling: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Jesus calls us to that place—to that experience—of being so vibrantly, wondrously, and delightfully alive that we inspire, energize and vitalize the people around us. It honors God, who made us and loves us, and serves the world, which needs our gifts, for us be as completely “on,” as compellingly present, and as compassionately involved as we can possibly be.