The Problem with YOLO     

YOLO: “You only live once.” It seems like a harmless, possibly helpful motivational slogan. It sounds kind of like an updated version of Carpe Diem, and “Seize the Day.” But YOLO has an insidious underbelly. If you’re not careful, it could wreck your faith.

Two Foundations of Faith

Here’s what I mean. There are two principles that should be grounding, guiding premises of every Christian’s life.

  • First, that God’s kingdom is an everlasting kingdom. As children of God’s kingdom, we live present-future lives. We know that this life is not all there is. In fact, this life is merely preparation for the life-unending. Death is not the end. Disappointment, pain, and suffering do not have the final word (Psalm 145:13; John 11:25; Revelation 21:4).
  • Second, that “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5: 7). Faith, by definition, is “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). In other words, a hopeful, joyful patience—an optimistic ability to delay gratification—should be a basic mindset of believers.

YOLO’s Short-Sightedness

On the other hand, YOLO

  • says that these 80 years (plus or minus) are all we get so there’s no time to waste, not a moment to lose.
  • promotes fear and panic: because you only live once, you must grasp and grab everything you can before you make your final exit.
  • encourages self-centeredness—you deserve to fulfill all your dreams, and you deserve this now (even if you have to push ahead or step over others to get there). *
  • leads to discouragement and despair over lost opportunities and failures because YOLO doesn’t understand or expect redemption. Because we only live once, we must get it right the first time.

I sound like a killjoy, I know. But bear with me. What happens if you really believe in YOLO? How does that affect your hope? Your joy? Your faith?

Abraham didn’t believe YOLO.

If Abraham had believed in YOLO, he wouldn’t have waited 25 years for an heir and then been willing to sacrifice him! But Abraham didn’t believe that we only live once. He “reasoned that God could even raise the dead” (Hebrews 11:19).

If Abraham had believed in YOLO, he wouldn’t have given up his comfortable lifestyle in Ur and wandered around in tents for decades—continuing to believe God’s promise even on his deathbed, even though he never received so much as an inch of the Promised Land in this life. But Hebrews 11:10 says that Abraham “was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God”—Abraham knew that this life isn’t all there is. There’s so much more that lies ahead.

The Benefit of Hindsight

Grandparents pray for their grandchildren for decades, often without seeing results. They sometimes die before seeing their loved ones come to faith or return to the Lord. But haven’t we all been amazed by testimonies from people who attribute their spiritual rescue to the prayers of their faithful grandparents—even after those grandparents had passed on?

Missionaries have sometimes spent their entire lives in foreign lands without seeing fruit from their labors. Yet, God promises that His word will not return to Him void (Isaiah 55:11). Amazing stories have been told about groups of people who have come to the Lord as a result of those faithful ones’ witness—but years after. The missionaries themselves died without knowing. They were like the people in Hebrews who “died in faith, without having received the things they were promised. However, they saw them and welcomed them from afar” (11:13).

People (like me) have prayed earnestly for their loved ones’ healing. They have prayed in faith, believing. They have persevered and not given up. Yet sometimes their loved ones died without receiving that healing. How does that kind of disappointment work in a YOLO world? Isn’t it a faith destroyer? But for those of us who reject YOLO, who believe in an eternal kingdom and life-unending, and possess a faith whose results don’t need to be immediately visible, we can joyfully anticipate the happy day when we will see our loved ones whole again, with perfect bodies, completely restored, body, mind, soul, and spirit.

The Benefit of Future Sight

I need God’s timeless perspective on my life, on my prayers, on my labors. He sees it all from the vantage point of eternity—which looks a whole lot different than my temporal view. He reminds me that for those of us who believe in Jesus, though we die, we shall yet live (John 11:25). He promises that He will make all things new (Revelation 21:5). He proves that He can use the worst circumstances to bring about good (Genesis 50:20). He remembers our work, our prayers, our suffering—and He is will not let it be in vain. If we don’t see it in this life, then we will see it in the next. And then it will be glaringly obvious how mistaken the idea of YOLO really was.

But God

I’m finding it hard to keep from dwelling on all that is wrong in the world these days. I’m not really a nattering nabob of negativity (thanks to my son for teaching me that wonderful descriptor).  But you have to agree that each new day seems to bring news of yet another frightening, sad, or evil thing that is happening in the world—both at home and far away.

Things like . . . Airport bombs in Brussels and Istanbul. Other major terrorist attacks in Nice, Orlando, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. Religious freedoms stripped from Russians. Police murdered in Dallas and Baton Rouge. Great Britain exiting the European Union. Turkey’s government threatened by a coup. Civil war fomenting in South Sudan. Tasteless, corrupt, and scandalous behavior displayed in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections.  And everywhere, evil called good and good called evil (see Isaiah 5:20).

I’m not being cranky, I promise. And I’m not pining for the good old days, either—if such days even existed. But these things do weigh me down.

So much so, in fact, that my prayers recently have been more groaning and pleading than praising. And while a lament is therapy for the soul once in a while, I don’t recommend a steady diet of them.

The other day I apologized to God for all the heavy-hearted praying I’ve been doing lately. He responded with two simple words:  But God.

I was a little puzzled. “But God? What do You mean?”

As I pondered, I recalled some of the psalms in which the writer described evils and troubles and then said things like

“But God will never forget the needy; the hope of the afflicted will never perish.” (9:18)

“But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead; he will surely take me to himself.” (49:15)

“But God will shoot them with his arrows; they will suddenly be struck down.” (64:7)

“But God has surely listened and has heard my prayer.” (66:19)

“But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (73:26)

“But God is my King from long ago; he brings salvation on the earth” (74:12)

I decided to try my own version of “But God.” I grabbed my journal and wrote down everything that was causing me distress. Then, after each, I wrote “But God,” and invited the Holy Spirit to show me what I needed to know about God to bring peace to that concern. My list looked something like this:

The world is full of evil.

But God is righteous and good, and He rules over all.

Governments the world-over seem to be in chaos and panic.

                But God is steady, our Rock and Prince of Peace.

Our nation appears to be unraveling and our leaders are full of pride and deceit.

                But God is our true King, and He reigns forever.

Those who are supposed to lead us justify and promote evil while mocking what is good.

                But God is truth. He is just and merciful and will bring all things right in the end.

Our culture is distracted and indifferent.

                But God sees and knows all and is attentive to our cries.

I am battle-weary and tempted to give up.

But God is my strength and shield. He will defend and uphold me.

This simple “But God” exercise was the re-orientation my soul needed. It redirected my focus to where it needed to be: on God who is the answer to every problem that faces our troubled, broken world.

I wish I could say I did this exercise once and everything was all better. Not so. I need to keep going back to it. But that’s okay. I doubt very much that God is bothered if every day—or even multiple times each day—I have to take the time to refocus on who He is and return my attention to Him.




Alone, But Not Lonely

Does the following seem like a paradox to you?

“If we are unable to be alone, we will be more lonely. And if we don’t’ teach our children to be alone, they will only know how to be lonely.”*

That idea was certainly a paradox to me—until a few years ago.

Although I’m an introvert, I was really lonely after my husband passed away. Our son had already left the nest and settled into his own adult life, and now, with both of them gone, I was completely on my own. I was 46. I couldn’t imagine going on for decades like this.

So you can imagine my dismay when someone I respected made what seemed like a really insensitive suggestion: “I think the spiritual disciplines of silence and solitude would help you.” He was completely earnest.

Outwardly, I maintained calm—but inwardly, I was shrieking! Had he heard me? My husband had died. My nest was empty. I worked from home–alone. I had no housemates. My closest family lived 2,000 miles away.

Solitude? You could hardly find anyone who had more of it than I did!

He gave an explanation—I don’t remember it now—but it wasn’t much help. To me, silence and solitude was the last thing I needed. But, perhaps in deference to this older man’s wisdom, I actually tried to take his advice to heart. I made an intentional choice to avoid filling my days with noise and activity, including media—though it was very tempting.

I didn’t become a hermit—I still did things with friends, participated in church activities, and occasionally invited people in. But I did probably 80 percent of my life in silent solitude.

Somewhere during that deafeningly quiet season, the Holy Spirit directed me to John 14:23:

“Jesus replied, ‘Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.’”

I’d read the verse countless times before, but this time was an arrow straight to my heart. God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—wanted to make their home with me! They wanted to fill the quiet and solitude with themselves!   They wanted to share their life with me and have me share my life with them.

As I meditated on their invitation, I realized that if I’d filled my life up with activity, I might not have heard the invitation. I might have been too busy or distracted to notice God reaching out to me. But the silence and solitude had prepared my heart to be wide-open and hungry, ready for them to move in and occupy my home, my life, with me.

It’s not that the Trinity wasn’t with me before. It’s just that when my life was full of people, sound, and activity, I wasn’t as tuned in. I wasn’t as aware of my need. I didn’t reach out as much or notice God reaching out to me.

But as I started living into this awareness, I found myself engaging with God. Thanking Him, out loud, for little things. Asking Him for help with things my husband used to do for me. Talking over problems and decisions and taking enough time to hear His response. Letting Him know when I was lonely or discouraged and asking Him to meet me there. Sometimes I even went out to a restaurant alone with God. Or on a weekend away in the mountains.

It didn’t happen overnight, but eventually, I realized that there had been a shift. I wasn’t lonely as much. The weekends didn’t seem so long and empty. I was more aware of God’s presence. I wasn’t lonely, although I was alone.


*Sherry Turkle in Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age. Turkle writes from a secular perspective, but her thoughts about what we lose when we are constantly connected to technology should be thought-provoking for any Christian sees the need for making intentional space for God.





Undivided Attention

I didn’t realize there was an explanation for it. I just thought I had a poor memory. But I read something recently that I think might explain what’s happening. It’s not just the inevitable advance of years that makes me forget things—it’s that I, like so many of us in this digital age, have unwittingly fallen into the habit of “outsourcing” my memory.*

Why memorize when my phone keeps track of important contact information? Why labor to recall multiplication tables, the names of world leaders, or the spelling of difficult words when a computer can do that for me? In fact, why memorize anything at all when Mr. Google or Ms. Siri are happy to provide all the information I need? Everything I could ever want to know is available to me with a voice command or a couple of taps on a keyboard.

But there’s a problem. Information quickly “learned” in little random bites—like when we look something up on Wikipedia—is just as quickly forgotten. There is no context for it. Without context, our brains don’t sort and store information as well. So what we “know” in the moment we are just as likely to forget an hour later. Does anyone out there know what I’m talking about?

There’s another problem. All my multi-tasking—especially digital multi-tasking like checking emails, texts, looking at YouTube videos, and traipsing around on Facebook—is affecting my ability to concentrate. My mind is not content to just be still anymore. It wants a constant feed of new information. It tells me I’m bored if I don’t have something continually stimulating me.

But it’s not just me, obviously—it’s you, too. Wonderful as our technology is, it is affecting the way our brains process information and the way we invest our attention.

God used these basic but disturbing facts to wake me up to an old spiritual discipline I’ve neglected for too long:  memorization. I had let it go when online Scriptures became so available. When I could call up any verse in any translation in just a second on my phone, why go to the trouble of memorizing? That was my reasoning.

But apparently I need to go to that trouble. Why?

  • I don’t want my mind to be captive to the stream of whatever (usually meaningless) is coming through my media feeds (see 2 Corinthians 10:5). Memorizing God’s truth gives me an alternative. I can discipline my mind to focus on something that will actually feed and nourish my soul.
  • I want to have raw material internalized so that I can use it for prayer, worship, encouragement, and guidance at any time or place.
  • By memorizing longer texts, the Holy Spirit can draw on these to stir His thoughts in me (see John 14:26).
  • Having a storehouse of life-giving words is a real treasure on sleepless nights, in times of stress or crisis, and when we need words at the tips of our tongues to encourage others.
  • Reviewing memorized texts provides a great way of “redeeming the time” (see Ephesians 5:16) while waiting in line, standing in traffic, and other times when I’m tempted to get impatient or waste time on mindless internet activities.

I’ve started modestly. I memorized the expanded version of the Serenity Prayer (see “When I Feel Too Responsible”). And I’m half-way through memorizing Psalm 145. Next up, Psalm 37. So far, it’s been really good for me. It’s been affirming to see that my brain really can do this. And encouraging that I have something internalized with which I can give my undivided attention to God.

*The grist for my thoughts in this post came from Sherry Turkle’s thought-provoking book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age.