This morning I woke up and did what I do most mornings, I ground some Jones coffee beans while I checked my facebook page for updates. My waking eyes were drawn to the announcement of a brand new facebook service called Timeline. I took the bait and got sucked into a fantastically communicated webpage chalked full of cool videos and hip font. It didn’t take long for me to to get the “longing butterflies” (you know the excited feeling in your gut when you want something new, kind of like the “Christmas Eve bubbly’s”, or the “on-the-way-to-the-store-to-buy-something-new-and-cool-buzz”). Essentially, the application works as a timeline of your entire life, done in the most sophisticated and media savvy fashion. You can post pictures of yourself, highlights of your life, favorite quotes, formative moments, movie clips, and more all in chronological order from cradle to grave. Anyone looking at your timeline can not only see who you are, but see your entire life story. It’s pretty cool.
As I realized how I really wanted a Timeline of my life to show off, I started asking myself why. It seems like more and more we’re striving to not only be known and remembered, but to attain significance.
Recently I was jogging on a trail where I used to live. The trail winds itself along a creek, crossing over the babbling stream periodically like a grapevine wraps around a trellis, through a series of wooden bridges. The final bridge floats over the water in an area completely inclosed by trees, creating the feeling of a room or canopy. Usually I pause for a moment here, to catch my breath, as the oak branches above protect me from the sun, and the flowing brooke below calms my mind.
One time as I silently stood in this spot I noticed an engraving on the wooden rail of the bridge. It read “Eric Stevens was here, 2005”. Some one wanted to leave their mark and be remembered, literally, I thought.
There seems to be a pattern in our behavior. We want to be known. We long to express the fact that we were here or there at one point in time – and it seems to be intrinsically woven into who were are.
Why do we long so desperately to be remembered? Why do we build intricate websites, construct companies, erect buildings, and carve our name onto trees? What does this tell us about ourselves?
It doesn’t take long for one to look around at human culture and come to find that the desire to be remembered is a driving force behind so much of what we do. A few weeks ago we remembered the ten year anniversary of 9/11. One of the most well known sayings or slogans I’ve seen on bumper-stickers and I heard that weekend is “Never Forget”. It’s as if to us, the greatest tragedy of all would be that we would forget. To forget about someone is as if they never existed. Deep down the possibility of this fate, being forgotten, being unknown, being insignificant, haunts us.
So we build, write, accomplish, and conquer all with the hopes that others will know our name, providing our hearts and souls with the significance we urgently long for. We tweet, post, and comment, waiting for a reply, waiting for someone to bear witness that we were here.
As I processed this seemingly essential characteristic of us humans I found a few ideas that I hope we can cling to in all of our striving to be remembered:
First is the idea that within each of us is the potential of offering relief to one another as we frantically attempt to leave a legacy. If each of us truly desires to be known by others, this means we are actually the remedy for those around us. What if we lived lives that bore witness to the stories of one another by being present and intentional about knowing people? This means listening, thinking about, and caring for others in a way that goes beyond just hanging out. It means getting deeper, to the level within a person where you begin to know who they really are, both scars and strengths, and choosing to celebrate their story. I think if we begin to shift our focus from making sure our story is remembered, to bearing witness to the stories of others, we will begin to find a different level of significance that may in fact provide some relief to our neurotic and selfish legacy building endeavors.
Secondly, is the provocative concept that we already are remembered in a way that goes beyond what any Timeline page or name engraving can or will ever accomplish. Our lives, every single aspect and moment of them, from our names to each one of our hairs, is known and cherished in the heart of God. This is what is essential to Christian teaching, that before we even knew oursleves, or before we were even followed on twitter, God knows us. He not only knows us, but he cherishes us. He not only cherishes us, but he weeps for and with us. He not only weeps for us, but he bleeds for us. The core message of Christianity it that the most significant and important voice in all the realms and in all of history became a humble human and gave himself away. Not only does he collectively choose to bear witness to all humanity, he personally and specifically and intimately knows each person. I don’t know about you, but being known and loved by God far outweighs any sort of ego boost I might get by being known and remembered by others, and this is the foundation I hope we can build our significance on.
It seems to me that all of our desires and longings to be known are in fact insatiable. No level of wordly accomplishment or recognition will ever be enough. It will take something other-worldly to satisfy. How humbling the notion is that we are already remembered before we even tweeted or accomplished anything.
Here is a link to the Timeline introduction I watched this morning: Timeline