I graduated college in the spring of 2008. It was a fantastic time to enter the job market (insert eye roll). After graduation I married my husband and moved across the state. By the time that all was settled it was September, the month of doom. I couldn’t get a job anywhere, not even at the Coney Island Diner in town. I found myself in uncharted territory. For the first time in my life I had nowhere to be, nothing to do, no purpose to drive my life.
I started with setting up our little home. I made a quilt, curtains, and a new wardrobe for my new life. When that was done, I started watching The Barefoot Contessa cooking show religiously with note taking and all. I was in dire need of an education in cooking. But that didn’t really fill all my time, so I started asking myself, “What do I feel like doing?” It was a strange sensation to ask myself what I felt instead of what I needed. I liked the novelty of that sensation.
Slowly over time I asked that question more and more. Yes I was learning how to cook, which really needed to happen, but I also explored other narratives on TV through HGTV, Lifetime, and TBS. I read, at an unbridled rate. 1 to 3 books a day, depending on the length of the book. For the first time I delved into bestseller fiction alongside my usual diet of theology and philosophy tomes.
These explorations took over my life. I still did the little housework I had, but only when I felt like it. I still ate healthy, but only when I felt like it. I still practiced writing and reading, but only when I felt like it. At the end of the year I was driven by my whims. What was worse, I didn’t even realize it. I still thought me and my “good sense” were in control.
It took getting a job through the pastor’s wife, and starting to have kids to knock that “good sense” back into my head. Taking whim out of the driver’s seat of my life was a painful process. A painful lesson, but an important one.
Why am I telling you this story about unemployment and wasting time on TV and bestsellers? Who cares? In the previous post, Self-Sufficiency, I talked about how our culture praises self-sufficiency as a virtue, but really it’s a vice dressed up as a virtue. I think my story illustrates another vice subtly disguised as virtue in our culture. The vice of whimsy.
How many Project Runway contestants were praised for their whimsical garment? Or you’re out with friends and some story told over drinks closes with, “I did it on a whim!” This idea of light hearted magic infuses the very word.
In fact, the dress is pink and fluttery and the story was about something impulsive and mildly stupid. But tack on the word, “whimsical” and it’s all elevated out of its truth somehow. Now you’ve got a round winning dress, and a great anecdote for double dates.
I think there is a quality of life that is lighthearted and fun, and that the word “whimsy” perfectly describes this quality. However, I also think the word is abused. Often it is used to cover over the unsightly outcomes of fallen human nature. Especially the more subtle veins of it.
Take for instance my year of whim-following. That sounds fun and interesting when phrased with the word “whim.” Take the glittery word away. What’s left? A year of following desires driven by culture and escapism rather than following desires driven by God. That sounds less fun and even less interesting. I can tell you it was not all that satisfying either.
After a while of using this word for image management, it goes from tricking others to tricking ourselves. We’re tricking ourselves into thinking that we like being driven by unhealthy or misguided desires until our hearts are corroded away.
Isn’t that what Paul was talking about in Ephesians? “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires.” (Eph. 4:22 NIV) Life before Christ was driven by desire that is untrustworthy, and it usually ended in ruin. In the NKJV translation, it uses “lusts” for “desires.” I know the word “lust” has a very ugly history and you can’t say it without feeling judgey and dirty at the same time. But really, lust is just desire that has unnatural power in our hearts and lives. We are meant to be in control of our desires, not controlled by them.
Paul goes onto talk about your new self that is in Christ and how it is freed from this deceptive relationship with our desires, and other sin that may have a hold on the old self. In Christ we are free from the corrosion of whim.
I’d like to point out that it doesn’t happen automatically. Paul tell us to “put off” the old habits. That is an action that we do while Jesus is doing His stuff. It’s not “put off” like procrastination. It’s like, take this off, put it down, and don’t pick it back up. So, put off the whim/sneaky lust/distorted desire. How do we do this?
In verse 23 Paul tells us how! It is by the renewing of your mind. That means paying attention to your thoughts, your impulses, and even your desires. Actively throw out the unhealthy thought-habits, filter your impulses and desires through the bible and prayer. Maybe find a mentor, a spiritual parent of sorts, to walk through this process with you. Over time this activity renews your mind, puts your desires in their proper place, and allows you to use all that mental bandwidth for something new. God loves new stuff.