Do what gives you life. That’s what some of my expat friends used to say, with tongue in cheek, when one of us announced we were going for a coffee, or staying in for the night, or some other kind of simple indulgence. I thought it must be one of those kooky lines Americans drop, but it’s a phrase that’s stuck with me.
Do what gives you life. Not: Do what makes you happy; or: Do whatever the hell you like as long as you don’t hurt anybody.
What gives you life? It’s a timely question to consider as we approach resolutions for the new year.
Here are six things that I find life-giving. They’re the simple things that lift me, make me feel alive, fill me in a way that I can’t quite put into words.
1: The sea
I can sit on a rock for hours – a whole day, even – and just watch the waves rolling onto the shore.
The ocean is vast, endless; pulsing with energy and life; beautifully blue. Simply beholding it is nourishment for the soul.
(Mountains and other epic landscapes evoke a similar sense in me).
2: When I feel the music
After three years in South America I find I really love the complex and textured, fun and joyful, rhythms of salsa music. I love it – but I don’t feel it.
What I do feel is the drop in Iris by the Goo Goo Dolls. The sweeping sounds of Sweetness Follows by R.E.M. and Atlas by Coldplay. The mournful piano of Wendy Matthews’s The Day You Went Away. Matt Corby’s voice when it goes from silky to husky in Wrong Man or his cover of Soul’s Afire.
Music can be such a visceral thing. Songs like these don’t just speak to me – they touch and move my heart and soul.
Admittedly there’s something artificial – contrived, even – about rows of people facing a stage and singing praises to God. It’s a staple of almost every Christian church service, but I never used to get it. Mostly I sang and even enjoyed some of the songs, but it was never as fun or engaging as singing along with the radio or jamming with my sister. Or karaoke.
But somewhere along the line, it clicked. Hearing my own voice united with those of others around me, declaring truths about the God who loves us, makes me feel really connected. To them. To Him. To my own spirit. All the other distractions and preoccupations of life melt away and I gain perspective.
4: When Real Madrid win something
I’m a Real Madrid fan. I used to get up before dawn to watch Champions League finals, fist-pumping every goal and getting such a rush when the full-time whistle blew and our boys lifted the trophy.
The money and emotion invested in spectator sport is absolutely absurd. And yet my heart beats a little faster in a penalty shoot-out. I raged when Spain was eliminated by South Korea at the 2002 FIFA World Cup, and when Totti’s last-minute goal sent the Socceroos packing in 2006 (that was not a foul!).
I get the chills at match point in the Australian Open finals, when the ball soars just long, or dips into the far corner and the victor falls to the court in elation, his or her face transformed by the joy of the victory.
There is something raw, primal and somehow spiritual about the fight and the triumph in competitive sport that makes me feel alive.
5: Playing volleyball
I’d been off the courts for a good six months and getting back on the sand for a hit a couple of weeks ago was wonderful – so much more energising than I had expected.
I’ve written before about the significance of beach volleyball in my life. It’s a truly life-giving part of my routine because of how it blends full-body exercise, being in the outdoors, beach time and socialising. And it’s straight-up a fun activity.
6: A quality hug from somebody you love
It’s warm. It’s fuzzy. And it’s so, so good.
A solid embrace lights me up from the inside out. The tender tessellation of a fearless hug is life-giving stuff.
Life-giving or life-seeking?
Nature, music, sport and cuddles. Maybe what I’m actually talking about here is experiences. That’s what they’re selling us nowadays – not products or services, but values and identity, good vibes and liberation.
When you peel back the mantra of Do what gives you life you expose core questions about human yearning and meaning in life. Experiences like these “give us life” because they – at least momentarily – connect us to something greater than ourselves. They possess a spiritual quality.
In a society that is so secular it’s spiritually dry, that’s what we’re thirsting for. Do what gives you life points to the truth that regular life isn’t life enough for us. We were made for more – but more of what exactly? Outside of a connection with our Maker and his design for human life, I’m not quite sure what it is we think “more life” actually is.
More communion with other humans and with nature? (Getting outdoors; listening to music and worship; watching sport; hugs). Sure. Incidentally, that’s biblical, too. It’s at the heart of shalom.
More balance between work and other realms of life? (Worship; playing sport). Yep, also in Scripture. That’s why the Sabbath was made for humankind.
A more healthy lifestyle? (Getting outdoors; playing sport). 1 Corinthians explains that our body is a temple – so we should care for it.
Do what gives you life was something my friends and I said rather lightly to each other, as a way to affirm our everyday decisions. But it turns out it was a really significant comment to make. What it is, in fact, is spiritual advice.
Header image: Víctor Rodríguez.