Life is a funny thing. In so many ways, it chooses us. When we live, the family and communities we are born into, and where. The traditions we know, the language we learn.
We choose none of them and yet they form the foundation of who we are and how we see the world.
And for most people through most of history, that was it. Those parameters defined their lives, the choices available to them prescribed already.
But even the most constrained, I think, had to choose to live, choose to be awake to life. To seek beauty and goodness and faithfulness with each breath.
Born in this time, to my parents, in a place called the United States, I’ve had the privilege of more choices than most. The privilege to make choices for myself that matter. To choose where I live and how, to know that there is more to learn, and that what I believe need not be the same thing my parents believed.
In so many ways, a field of options has been opened before me.
But in all of those choices, I must still choose to live.
Near the beginning of the movie The Way, Martin Sheen’s character tells his son, “My life here might not seem like much to you, but it’s the life I choose.” His son replies, “You don’t choose a life, Dad. You live one.”
They are both right, of course. We make choices that shape our lives – our homes, families, work, education, worship, beliefs – but we must still choose to live them.
And choosing to live our lives goes far beyond those other choices we make.
There’s an embroidered sampler that hangs in my kitchen. It is the Serenity Prayer.
God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
There is so much I cannot change.
The faith I was given as an infant, its names and symbols and stories. They are with me – embraced or abandoned, I must wrestle them. But I can choose the shape of my belief and how I live it out. I cannot choose what that faith has done in the world – done to the world – for good or ill, but I can choose what it will do in the world through me.
For the most part, I’ve had no choice in the people I meet. But I can choose who I seek to know, whose lives I invite to shape my own, who I choose to partner in the project of humanity with. And I can choose to put myself in places to meet new people, to learn new stories, to allow my vision of humanity to be expanded and changed.
I cannot choose who will accept or reject me, but I can choose who I accept or reject. I cannot choose who will love me, but I can choose who I will love.
I cannot choose the days that will be given me to live, but I can choose to live them, all of them. The ones filled with the choices I have made, and the ones filled with the choices others made for me, and the ones filled with things no one chose or we all chose in some amalgamated impossible way.
The ancient text presents a choice to the people: “Today I have placed before you life and death, blessing and cursing. Now choose life.”
It is the one choice we have every day, with every breath. Today. Whatever it brings to us or we bring to it, we can choose to live it, to the depth of our lungs and the tips of our fingers and the reaches of imagination and hope.
Now choose life. This life. Your life.
Whatever you do. Live.