Updated: Sep 9, 2018
By Brenda Martens Sewell
In October, my husband and I are expecting our first child and I recently left my (often high-stress and time consuming) job so that I can be a stay-at-home mom for this season in our life. Just as my husband and I are transitioning to a life that will be less busy, and also in some ways, even more busy, we were challenged at a recent Ecclesia gathering to consider what living a full life looks like. It’s a simple question without a simple answer, and it got us thinking.
Are we living a full life? What does an a full life look like? Conversely, what does an empty life look like? How can we be more mindful about living our lives fully rather than letting our lives live us? How do we thrive, rather than just survive, as we go through the day-to-day motions of life?
It’s easy for me to conflate living a full life with having a successful career or a busy social calendar or happiness. But while all of those things can be good, they don’t bring true fullness to our lives. God created us for so much more, and just pursuing our culture’s measures for a full life will often leave us empty. On the other end of the spectrum, I could give the trite, Christian-ese answer for living a full life: read your Bible more, pray more, spend more time in fellowship, serve others. But I find those responses to be frustratingly generic and not usually helpful.
So I’ve been wrestling with what exactly a full life does look like, especially as I enter this new phase in my life.
As I’ve been thinking about this over the past few weeks, I’ve come to realize that for me, having a full life – living fully – in many ways boils down to living authentically.
For me, as a Christian, an authentic life means living in a way that aligns with the good plans God has for us. It’s using the skills, gifts, and passions He has given us. It’s being mindful of the real-world applications for what the Bible teaches us, because the lessons in the Bible aren’t meant to collect dust, they are meant to be lived.
An authentic life also means living in a way that is authentic to who I am, how God created me. I’ve been learning in recent years that for me, much of having a full life is about having less in my life so that I can be more present in the moments that matter. Below are five areas have really been resonating with me as I think about living fully – living authentically – and which I want to be more mindful of during this season of my life.
1. Full and busy are not synonyms.
We can so easily get caught up in how busy we are that we aren’t aware that our lives, unlike our schedules, are actually quite...empty. I was reading an article recently by James Parker in the January/February 2017 edition of The Atlantic and came upon this line that so succinctly captures the emptiness of a falsely full life: “Stimulated by everything, nourished by nothing.” I want to live a life where I am nourished by how I spend my time. For me, this means having time to volunteer and serve without feeling stressed that the time I spend helping others may be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back. It means having time to do the things that rejuvenate me and bring me joy, like baking and reading and hiking. It means having quality time with friends and family where I’m not thinking through an endless to-do list. And all of that means saying no to some things, so that I can say yes to the things that bring me life. After all, Jesus himself said no to the crowds and took time to rest.
2. We need purpose.
If we wander through life just seeking to feel good or to feel happy or wanting everything to be easy, life is going to feel pretty meaningless after a while. We need to have purpose in life. Real purpose comes from a genuine relationship with God and a real desire to know Him and follow Him, and that will affect all areas of our life. With God, we have authentic purpose that leads to a fullness in life that can’t be experienced without Him.
3. Grounded in God, disciplined in the work of faith.
If my faith really is fundamental to my life (see #2 above), then I need to live that out in the small moments that no one else sees and in the moments when I don’t feel it. I’ve been learning lately that being disciplined about certain habits and practices has a profound impact in my life. For me, this means picking one or two spiritual disciplines that I can begin to implement in my life, such as setting an alarm each day to remind myself to spend time actually faithfully praying for the things I say I will pray for, or slowly reading and meditating on a short devotional or Bible passage. Real faith takes work, and my life is much more full when I put in that work.
4. Openness to life experiences and to others.
A full life cannot – and should not – just be about ourselves. Inherently, we are rather selfish creatures, but giving into that selfishness engenders an empty life, not a full one. This world is not all about me, and the more I am able to encounter diverse experiences – especially those that are outside my norm or my comfort zone – and the more I am able to connect with people from all walks of life, the more that I understand that. God has created this amazing, colorful world for us to share in with each other. Building the authentic community that He desires for us is rarely easy, nearly always complex, and often involves a lot of work, but it is so worth the effort. In Matthew 22:35-40, Jesus says that the most important commandments are to “love God” and “love your neighbor.” A full life must include truly seeing the people in our lives, from the grocery store clerk to our literal, next door neighbor, and genuinely caring about their wellbeing.
5. Contentment, not complacency.
I find that living fully and choosing contentment often go hand-in-hand. But please note: contentment should not be confused with complacency. Complacency is seeing things that should be better and not caring enough to act. Contentment is seeing things that are good and being grateful for that goodness without needing more. The world often tells us that in order to be content, our lives must first be filled with successful careers, the latest technology, expensive cars, fancy vacations, and all kinds of other stuff. But it’s actually the opposite: in order to have a truly full life, I must first choose to be content.
This is my list, at the moment, for what a full life looks like for me. Your list may be quite different. What I love though, is that if we each authentically live in the fullness of what God desires for our lives, our lives will in turn reflect the fullness of God’s love for all people, the fullness of His creation and creativity, and the fullness of His character.