“All children, except one, grow up.”
It’s the opening line to Peter and Wendy, the classic Peter Pan novel in which much of the lore and history surrounding Peter Pan comes from. Except the storyline feels far too commonplace in my own life. I feel like a 12-year-old trapped in an adult’s body. Somehow I’ve faked my way through life and while my body’s grown, who I am, where I want to be, what I want to do with my life eludes me. Every step I take towards a goal feels like Peter fighting off the adult pirates of real life who’ve seemed to stack the cards against me.
Here’s the most frustrating part about reaching your goals: even when you reach them, you’ll end up not where you want to be in life and wondering if there’s more.
No one has made this more apparent than New England Patriots’s quarterback, Tom Brady. In an interview with 60-minutes, he stated:
”…there’s times where I’m not the person that I want to be. Why do I have three Super Bowl rings, and still think there’s something greater out there for me? I mean, maybe a lot of people would say, “Hey man, this is what is.” I reached my goal, my dream, my life. Me, I think: God, it’s gotta be more than this. I mean this can’t be what it’s all cracked up to be. I mean I’ve done it. I’m 27. And what else is there for me?”
Most people would kill to have Tom Brady’s life and yet when he’s “arrived” he ends up discontent with where he is in life. In the biblical narrative of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon is reported to be a man with absurd wealth, 700 wives, and knowledge beyond comprehension, yet concludes it’s all vexing, vanity, and even isn’t where he wants to be in life.
We all feel like Peter Pan, constantly stuck, never growing up, and in a constant battle to reach the next tier of life wondering when we’ll finally make it.p
Consider the story line from the epic fantasy novel and movie Lord of the Rings for a moment. A young Hobbit named Frodo Baggins discovers a ring of power built to enslave mankind by the dark lord, Sauron. He embarks on a journey along with humans, elves, dwarves, and a wizard to destroy it and battle the forces of darkness. Along the way he succumbs more and more to the evil power of the ring — and that’s where the story ends! If you know the books or movie, you know this is hardly the case, but imagine if that were the story’s ending?
Far too often we forget that our own journey is still being written and playing out. We end up depressed where we’re at in life because we feel like we haven’t arrived, but even when we get there, we realize there’s another mountain to climb, whether that be more personal growth, a search for meaning, or finding joy and hope in faith or a Creator. It’s important to remember that just like a story has chapters, our own lives have chapters as well.
One reason we’re compelled to keep watching movies and reading books is because the stakes are high. Just when the hero is about to win, tragedy or failure strikes. We, as the viewer, are then forced to know how it’s all going to work out. The tension, failure, and struggle all keep us turning pages. Without these chapters, we couldn’t be convinced of an epic ending or moments of victory because that’s not how real life works.
Regardless of where you are in life, whether having arrived, disappointed, facing down addiction, or battling what can seem like unending tragedy, it’s important to remember these feelings may be part of a bigger story in your life. It’s a chapter, but doesn’t have to be the main theme of your greater story.
Still, it begs the question, “Okay then, how to we find joy in the hard or mundane chapters of life?”
“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” — Ursula K. LeGuin
In one of his books, Dr. Timothy Keller quotes Yale philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff who observed that:
“…modern culture defines the happy life as a life that is “going well” — full of experiential pleasure — while to the ancients, the happy life meant the life that is lived well, with character, courage, humility, love, and justice.”
It’s an interesting comparison when all around us we believe circumstances dictate happiness. Perhaps this is why many of us feel like we aren’t where we should be in life at the moment. If life is “going well” then we feel content about our circumstances and that we’ve achieved what we need to to be “happy.” However, if we are stuck in the middle of our chapter of life feeling we are not where we belong, a happy life eludes us. And yet, the ancients found a fulfilling life in aspects which define our journey: character, courage, humility, love, and justice. All things that take time and a grueling journey to cultivate.
As a culture now built on speed and efficiency, instant gratification is perhaps the greatest detriment to why we feel blown about in the sea of life. Even when we feel we’ve arrived, we don’t arrive because deep down there’s the nagging sense that the journey isn’t complete. There’s always something more.
What I’m learning is that within the chapters of my life, the tension, hardships, and even the good all play a role in creating a version of myself as God intended. If I can see that the life I’m meant to live (even when I don’t feel I’m where I should be) is building a man who exudes character and courage it shifts my perspective to the long term, as opposed dwelling on where I think I should be by now.
Years ago I was where maybe you are today. I was facing down addiction, alcohol abuse, a divorce, and feelings of inadequacy even though I was doing well in my career. I was taking progressive steps, but stumbling along the way. All I could think about was how I wasn’t where I wanted to be.
Far too often we stand in front of the proverbial mountains of life and think, “Look how far I have to go…”
Instead, maybe today you need to take moments to turn around and look down the mountain and say, “Just look at how far I’ve come and how much I’ve grown.”