Happy New Year, Edwards Church Community!
We are in the season of resolutions and reflection. Rounding the bend on another year, we might ask ourselves: Did I read the books, lose the weight, or otherwise live up to the plans or expectations I had for myself (or someone had for me) this year? Are we living the best lives we can, in our own eyes, in God’s, or whatever framework of evaluation we really use in our heart of hearts?
The author of Ecclesiastes experienced life in a way that conditioned him to agree with those people who question the possibility of productive change: “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun.” (Eccles. 1:9) When you’ve been around long enough, it can be easy to feel that way. But it is not the last word. “Behold, I do a new thing.” (Isaiah 43:19).
Several years ago, Stanford design professors Bill Burnett and Dave Evans noticed that very intelligent students with very bright prospects were coming to their offices to discuss how their past choices were already limiting their futures. “I took the wrong major,” was a common lament. Even today, after Burnett and Evans have launched their popular class and book, “Designing Your Life,” they routinely have successful people in demanding fields approach them to lament that they cannot change, because they are “trapped” by their success. They have – in position, income, prestige – what so many want. They feel bound to it, even though it does not feed their deepest hunger. They mistake reliable engineering for meaningful living.
What they tell people, no matter their age or stage of life, is that life giving change is possible. If you are willing to be curious, learn by talking to other people, and keep trying new things, you can make life giving changes in how you live. Forming the habit of recurring re-invention can be daunting, but in the 21st century it is increasingly necessary. People have always evolved as they grow in self-understanding and ability. The rate of change today just makes it more necessary than ever.
Burnett and Evans’ both bring the tools of product design thinking to the work of navigating life to discover greater meaning and joy. They encourage us, for example, to focus on the experience and needs of the “end user” (to have empathy for ourselves), to accept that we will “prototype” many possible solutions on our way to the few that we use long term, and to anticipate that we will change course on our way to what we thought was our destination. Both are accomplished product designers, with long careers that did not follow straight lines. One of them is a confirmed atheist, the other studied contemplative spirituality in a seminary. They collaborate because it works.
“Gathering at the crossroads of ancient faith and contemporary culture, we are a Christian church asking God to open us to a new way.” Even if we do not read their book, Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life, we can take a page from it by asking ourselves “How is it going, really,” talking to each other with curiosity and being open to innovating new ways. This could produce a Happy New Year, and many, many more.