Someone very kindly kicked my daughter's soccer ball back to her. I patiently instructed my daughter, “Say thank you.” Another boy whom I didn’t know and wasn’t talking to looked up at me while running after his ball and said, “Thank you.” Even though I'd done absolutely nothing to help him in any way, I very kindly and matter of factly replied, “You’re welcome.” My wife, witnessing this, started laughing to the point that she was having trouble catching her breath. I turned to her with a big smile on my face that continued to get bigger as I thought about what just happened. I repeated the exchange outloud so that we could relive it together and we have been revisiting that moment when we need a laugh ever since.
There was literally no reason that the boy should have needed to say thank you to me. I guess it was just a natural response to my request. Maybe I gave really clear direction to him and he appreciated it so much that he complied even without having a clear reason. I don’t know. All I know is that he seemed like a genuinely nice kid who said thank you for no reason.
I hate being told what to do. Actually, I kind of like it. I like knowing what is expected of me. I don’t like standing out. Sometimes I search out what I should do and who I should be by watching other people, reading books, watching YouTube videos.
When I do something because someone else told me to or because that’s what I see other people doing, it is called “acting by analogy”.
Acting by analogy is easy. I see someone do something and I recreate it. Someone tells me to do something and I do it the way they tell me to. Someone tells me to say thank you and I say thank you. It’s the reason we all do things similarly. I feel safe when I do what most of the other people around me are doing. It seems like I won’t make any big mistakes. I figure that I’ll fit in pretty well. It makes me think I’ll be able to relate to my neighbors because we’re all kinda doing the same things.
This acting by analogy hurts, though. It hurts me because I don’t find deep meaning from the things I do.
I find myself hearing my friends and family clearly, coworkers intensely, pastor’s voice strongly, the internet like a megaphone that rarely quiets, comments from bystanders ever swirling around me like a confused wind.
These voices tell me what I should eat, how I should pray, what I should wear, how I should interpret a certain portion of scripture, what types of hugs I should give, what to do with my free time, what I’m allowed to think, how I need to act in every situation. These voices make it easy to know what is expected of me, but they don’t give me a deep sense of meaning.
“The thoughts of others imprison us if we’re not thinking for ourselves.” -Shane, Farnham Street Blog
The ever present voices of others often make it more difficult to hear the voice of God. His Spirit doesn’t seem to be on a loudspeaker in my life, it takes turning down the volume of everyone else before I can hear His voice.
The opposite of acting from analogy is refreshing. When I do something because I determined it was what I wanted to do based upon my own principles, it is called “acting by principle”. This is sometimes referred to as First Principles thinking/reasoning/acting. First principles thinking means that a concept is understood down to the very fundamental building blocks, down to the basic principles, the first principles. It means I understand why am doing what I am doing and that it is based on something with meaning.
It is hard to decide what to do in every situation. There are almost an infinite number of situations that we will encounter, each with their unique circumstances. How do we know what God wants us to do in all these different situations?
The bible, much to my disappointment, has never given me a specific answer for what I should do in all the different situations I’ve been in. There is no formulaic answer. But, Jesus did tell me what basic principles everything should be based upon.
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
I’ve found a lot of meaning basing what I eat, how I pray, what I wear, how I interpret scripture, how I hug, what I do with my free time, how I think, and how I act upon loving God and loving my neighbor. It feels as though what I do has color and texture instead of it just being gray and flat because someone else told me to do it this way or that way. I seem to hear his voice clearer when I’m not intensely focused on what other people are telling me to do.
That kid who said thank you when I told him to probably didn’t really mean it. There wasn’t a reason for it or at least a reason that he understood. He said thank you because I told him to. Hopefully, I’m not just acting like that kid all the time. Do things for no reason. I’d like to have a purpose. I’d like to have a meaning. I’d like to follow Jesus completely, not other people. I’d like to leave the tradition of men and hold to the commandment of God.
“And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘this people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of me.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” Mark 7:6-8 ESV