I normally don’t quote mis-quotes, but there is one mis-quote commonly attributed to Henry David Thoreau that I find more truthful and complete than the original, accurate quote. The mis-quote goes, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and die with their song still inside them.” So why do men live lives of quiet desperation? The second half of this is where the mis-quote comes in, but I believe it is an attempt to complete the thought.
One of the greatest lies in western culture today is the notion that choice is freedom; the notion that if someone gives you two choices and you have the freedom to pick one, then we are empowered and life is fulfilling. Few bother to ask, “were those the only choices?”. Few bother to ask, “who gave me these choices?” Many times, the correct choice is one that was not put before you. In economics, we have something called opportunity cost. In a nutshell, opportunity cost is the opportunity that is lost because a different opportunity was taken. Take for example a person who takes a business opportunity rather than staying home with their kids. On one hand you have a financial gain, but on the other hand you’ve given up time with your kids that will never be regained. That is the opportunity cost of this particular situation. Secular western society gives us lots of opportunities to make money, and inevitably these are what the choices presented before us are based on. Should I go for the job that gives me the most pay, or the most benefits? But what if God wants you to go with a third choice? What if you’re called to a life of service? We need to weigh the opportunity cost before we blindly go with the choices put before us.
In the book of Matthew, Jesus was speaking to the crowds on one occasion, and a learned man came up to him, and said to Jesus that he wanted to follow him, but said ” Lord, allow me first to go and bury my father.” Jesus response was, “Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead.” This might sound really harsh, until you realize that it’s never said, or even implied that this man’s father was actually dead.
Let me give you a modern day equivalent.” I’ll live a life of service to God and to others, but first let me get through college.” Then you get through college and say, “I’ll live a life of service, but first let me get married.” Then it starts to change. “I can’t live a life of service, because I have a wife and kids to take care of. I’ll do it after the kids leave the house.” Then it becomes, “I’ll live a life of service, but I have to wait until I retire and I can live comfortably off my investments.” Then you retire, and it becomes, “I’d like to live a life of service, but I’m too old and tired.” These are the opportunity costs we fail to consider. Financially speaking, most people let their income dictate the lifestyle they live. There’s a certain level of income people need to live if they live simply. Inevitably though, people making twice or three times as much, don’t have any more disposable cash than the first person. This is because people let their income dictate their lifestyle. “The more I have, the more I need,” is how it goes. If we took into account the opportunity cost of our lifestyle, we might live a vastly different, and more fulfilling life. We might not drive a new car every two or three years, but we also might live the life that God has called us to, if we were listening. After all, keeping up with the Jones’s tends to keep our ears stuffed full of other sounds. There is never a better time than now. My wife had someone very unhappy with her recently before she went to Africa. They thought she had no business going off to Africa and leaving her children behind. I understand their fear, but I believe that if she waited until the kids were out of the house, the statement would have changed to, “she has no business going off to Africa at her age.” It’s just fear talking. It’s just fear talking when we say, “I’ll go when such and such happens”. It’s time we acknowledged the decisions we make that are based on fear and/or greed. Life is never secure, and anyone who tells you otherwise is likely selling something. So the time might as well be now.
If you’ve got a burden on your heart to go and do something that doesn’t fall within the bounds of “normal life”, get out and do it before that unfulfilled burden turns into the desperation that Thoreau talked about. Let the dead bury their own dead.