I have a friend who works in fast food, and I work in an ice cream shop, so we usually have little stories in common here and there and share them with each other. One day for whatever reason we were talking about shopping for groceries, and the girl said she needed to start eating healthier. I knew of her knack for eating her restaurant’s food, so I said, “Well, you could also avoid the food you guys make.” And there was an awkward pause accompanied by an almost subtle twitch of a glare as she said, “That’s what I meant.” I guess she thought I was criticizing her. I wasn’t. I assumed—in a natural way, I thought—that she was stating a goal of buying healthier food to eat since we’d been talking about grocery shopping just two seconds prior. Perhaps eggplant was now going to be on her list, was my thought. But that wasn’t what she meant at all. Her entire approach to eating healthier was going to be executed by avoiding the things which are not healthy. In other words, a plan based in the realm of refusal rather than that of initiated action. Apparently I was supposed to know that right away.
I haven’t traveled enough to know if this is just a Western or American idea, but it seems common to try and realize our goals this way. Rather than embrace that which is beneficial, we’ll just avoid that which is detrimental. Neither task is easy to take on, but the latter is always easier than the former. And it’s unnerving how easily I do this with my spirituality. And it’s not even a “trying to earn my way to heaven” sort of thing. It’s simply a habit. Rather than pursuing good wholeheartedly (i.e., running after the Spirit and wrestling with God), I’ll perpetually return to the pattern of avoiding bad like the plague (a.k.a., trying to stamp out malice).
But I was made to chase after the things of worth and good repute. I was made to grow. I was made to be challenged. Basically, I wasn’t made to avoid things. So when I define my level of “good” by how well I steered clear of vice, my whole world has become inverted. And that’s a frightening thought for me because I’m terrified by the prospect of standing before God and going, “Hey, look what I didn’t do,” only to be met by his response of, “And . . .?”
In the parable of the talents, the guy who buries his one into the ground is defined by a life of nothingness. He labels and, thus, condemns himself based on what he didn’t do. And it didn’t turn out well for him.
There is a time for fleeing that which is vile; that much we can agree on. But if that is all defining my life, it seems there would not be any boldness to be found. We’ve had good works prepared in advance for us to do. If I’m so busy focusing on bolting the moment something of diabolic machinations comes along, I’ll miss what it is I need to actually be pursuing. If one’s heart is turned towards those things of beneficence, the avoidance of things contemptible automatically occurs. I’m not sure the inverse of that can, though.