Pages Navigation Menu

Stories of Lives Liberated

Empty Calories

The question came to me some time ago, but the answer pended and so the question remained. Until I arrived in Germany, I had not the appropriate time to devote the necessary thought. Now I have.

It was a simple question, really, “What are you?” But I was caught in the fact that he didn’t ask who I am or even what I do. He asked me what I am. Unsure of how to respond in that moment, I gave him, habitually and without any particular sentiment, that I was a student of business. “Nonprofit stuff, mostly,” I said. It’s true, of course. I am a student.
Be that as it may, my student status is not permanent; and even if it were, I don’t think I’d find myself eager to the claim.

I will, however, always be a son and brother. I’ll even someday be a husband and father, then for always. These seemed better captions than student, but I was unsettled at how even these were not truly encompassing of me. I might always be a son and brother and soon (relatively) a husband and father, but at work I’ll be none. I’ll be… the accountant.
I will be colleague, neighbor, or friend perhaps more often than Dad, Honey, or Son, and it was in recognizing this that I became convinced there must be something about me that persists from one role on to the next, something that not only exists in each but actually defines me in all.

My character.
I am hard-working. I am kind. I am true. Brother to neighbor, these things reign.
Well… no, that’s really not defensible. I must admit what I don’t allow others to see: how often and how easily I become lazy, distracted, or distressed and how my thoughts are not always entirely enriching, and just as I am unable to say I am always hard-working and kind, I am also disqualified from saying that I am always very true.

Now, enough people have assured me that, in me, ‘what you see is what you get’ – so many, in fact, that I began to consider it a proper assessment of me. It sounds properly priggish, I know, but for quite a span I saw myself as an ideal that others aspired to. Humbly I tell you that though I did feel superior, it wasn’t something I used out of some obscene need to feel superior. Only, compared to most my age, I genuinely saw myself as one with a higher moral regard. That alone was enough to satisfy me for a time. Until it wasn’t.
Pondering this forced me into a period of honest reflection where I realized that even though I have probably lied fewer, cheated fewer, stolen fewer, broken the law fewer times than 90% of the people I know, I have still lied more, cheated more, stolen more, broken the law many, so many more times than none. (If that’s not enough to prove to you how short I fall of even my own standard, I’ll go ahead and admit that I have on too many occasions employed a knack for judging and manipulating others.)

So, I asked myself something of a challenge: hey buddy (I patronize myself), how true are you, truly?

Not very. I’m not very true (or real, or sincere, or any other respectable identifier). And it occurred to me that everyone, every single one of us, is as untrue as the next because we are none of us entirely true.

 

Let me take you on a bit of a tangent. It’s relevant, I promise.

You know what empty calories are, right? They are the calories from solid fats and added sugars in foods and beverages. You include them in your daily calorie count, but they provide no vitamins or minerals. In other words, you can eat them until you’re full and gain nothing. Indeed, you can eat them until you’re full and end up worse off than you were at the start.
The same is true with life. Just as people can eat and be filled by nothing [of any value], they can similarly live and be filled by nothing [of any value]. Indeed, you can live until you’re full of life and end up emptier than you were at the start.

If all you eat is sweets, the evident bodily response is malnourishment and sluggishness.
Again, you can take the same line of thought and apply it to life. We get to the point where we believe money or sex or even seemingly more noble pursuits like equality or happiness will sustain their promise to bring fulfillment to our lives, but in this we are deceived. Be sure by observing what is absent: enduring satisfaction, sustenance.
You can stuff your life full of miscellany, but at the end (and likely somewhere in the middle) you’ll find yourself empty, lacking any real nourishment.

But here’s the thing mostly overlooked: just as sweets are not themselves bad, neither are money, sex, equality, or happiness. As hard as it is to believe, it exists simply that their purpose was never to serve as the main course for life. Only, once we tasted the dessert and found it was good, we insisted that it come before the main course. We find, however, that the sweet eventually becomes much less a treat; we just begin to expect it, always, first, and the only natural result, which is the result we do find, is that we become a very empty kind of full.

What I found to be true is that we are very good at searching for peace without ever finding it. In my case, I thought a little white lie or a quick upper hand would satisfy a present desire, but in my persistence I began feeling more and more estranged. Others find the same occurrence results from gossip or alcohol and have conditioned themselves to continue in filling themselves with emptiness. Oftentimes, people go so far as to silence their conscience, which is more tragic than you might think.

Our conscience was given not to ‘keep us from fun’ but to reveal the conduct that attempts to seize what can only be received: peace, joy… love, those desserts of life which only satisfy when they accompany the main dish, which is God.
This comes as a great comfort to me considering what I established formerly; because if I myself were the standard for what is upright, desirable, and good, I daresay that I wouldn’t very well like truth, and I would be distraught knowing my ‘righteousness’ is all that’s in sight.

 

My hope is that all of this has prepared you for my end. See, the thought of self-righteousness as it regards spirituality has always seemed to me rather curious. Here’s why:
Let’s assume Heaven is real. Consider yourself in the illustration, but know the same progression applies to every soul.
You live.
You die.
You arrive at Heaven’s gates.
You’re asked why you should be let in.
“I have done the best I could with my life. I acted according to what I believed was good as often as I could.”

Applying similar logic as I did when I deemed myself “true”…
1) Did you really try the best you could?
2a) Yes? And yet you wished harm on so many people, spoke foully, and disrespected your parents (among so much else)?
2b) No? You’ve got humility going for you, but that still leaves the bare truth: you know you could have, should have done better and that you didn’t. You know you don’t, and you couldn’t, deserve Heaven.
3) If you, the one whose first words at the gates of Heaven were a lie, were enough to qualify yourself for the realm of everything-and-only-things- good, we would find it not so much like Heaven, but more like Earth. We would find, more accurately, it to be Hell.

 

Friend, I care about you. I care about you deeply. I know how unnervingly easy it is to live an entire life alive in a lie.
Gently I tell you, the only way to Truth is to lay down the lie.

It’s only because I now have laid it down myself that I can tell you, decidedly and with particular emphasis, what I am: not son, brother, or colleague; not hard-working or kind, not even true.
I am not my own. I am Christ’s.

What, might I prompt, are you?

 

“I write for the unlearned about things in which I am unlearned myself.” – C.S.Lewis

As a student, Taylor Vollmer has realized the value of a dissenting opinion to understanding. Not claiming to be more or less qualified than any other, his studies shed light on things grossly depreciated.