In the 1840s, Henry David Thoreau walked away from his everyday life in Concord, Mass., in exchange for an intentional, uncomplicated life.
“I went to the woods,” Thoreau wrote in Walden, “because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
It’s always fascinated me, this prospect of living a simpler life, a life devoid of interstates and Starbucks, podcasts and post offices. Our family recently crossed Shenandoah National Park on Skyline Drive, viewing swaths of undeveloped wilderness and dreaming of a simpler life. There’s something in most of us that resonates with life in the woods.
Thoreau relocated to get to the heart of life, unfettered. He desired “to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life … to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”
For me, it’s a chimera, this idea of heading to the woods. At an elevation of 4,000 feet, your perspective, while breathtaking and compelling, becomes somewhat skewed. Not only is it much harder on the ground, but it’s also not where I’m called to live.
So as I made my way down from the mountain, two questions filled my mind. Does one have to go to the woods to live deliberately? And if not, how can I live deliberately in the place I call home?
Jesus must have dreamed what it would be like to step away from his everyday life. What would it be like to turn away from the pressing masses in need of healing, food, teaching and guidance? It had to be tempting, and yet Jesus returned again and again from drawing away into the wilderness. His life was deliberate. Carrying his cross was deliberate.
I’m convinced that it’s not only possible to live deliberately, but necessary. To be deliberate is to be thoughtful in actions, intentional in choices. It is a life of resistance to the parts of our culture that, in the words of A.W. Tozer, “put out the light in men’s souls.”
Wendell Berry observed, “If we do not serve what coheres and endures, we serve what disintegrates and destroys.” Christian living is deliberate living, the choice between two paths.
How do we exercise deliberateness “for the living of these days”? It begins with the daily recognition that no one can serve two masters. You can’t serve God and culture, God and self.
To serve Jesus is to occupy a consistent stance of conscientious objection to that which denies Christ. If that’s found on television or the Internet, then we choose to turn it off. If the way that we spend our time wastes the gifts of intellect and talent, then we make the deliberate choice of being better keepers of those gifts.
Jesus, I believe, offers what Thoreau was searching for: the possibility of real life. It’s found in the small, deliberate choices that we make.
Brent McDougal is coordinator of Alabama Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
Brent McDougal is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee.