Tony Woodlief | Author

Amor fati

The thing about babies is they don’t care about your big plans. This past year I’ve had occasion to laugh at myself many times, a man like me, middle-aged and rooted in habit, suddenly a father again of newborns.

Yes, that’s plural. Twins. Boys, of course, because for the rest of my life it seems I am slated to have people ask me why I don’t have a girl.

So for those of you keeping score at home, that’s six boys total. I’ll let you pause to catch your breath. God knows I need to catch mine.

Like I was saying, I’ve had many occasions to laugh at myself, but I haven’t always taken advantage of them. The truth is it’s been really, really hard. Back before my first marriage ended and I had friends I spent time with, one of them, upon hearing me lay out my woes about a stalled writing career, smiled and told me, “You’re experiencing the death of a vision.”

This was not very comforting, and I told him as much.

“No,” he said, “you don’t understand. Look at Abraham. Moses. Jacob. Do you think any of them had their lives work out the way they’d planned? Sometimes our vision has to die, so that God can bring us into the one fitted to us.”

That’s not exactly how he put it—there were a lot of interruptions from me, and he wasn’t that poetical at the end, but it’s my story and I’ll tell it how I want and the point is I think he was right.

But man, it’s hard to watch your vision die.

So lately I’ve been really striving to follow Nietzsche’s dictum: Amor fati—“love your fate.” Many people have articulated this better than me, but you can boil it down to this: Live your life in such a way that you can repeat every moment of it for eternity without shame or regret. Nietzsche is well-known for his (usually misunderstood) “God is dead” statement, but those of you who are Christians can embrace the wisdom here as well. If you believe Christian dogma then you believe you will stand before “the dread Judgement Seat” of the Alpha and Omega, and surely this is something like peering with eternal eyes on the entirety of your life. We should strive to bring as little shame to that moment as we can in the time remaining to us.

As I’ve been working on amor fati, I’ve been paying more attention to the thoughts I entertain, and the words I speak. Give it a try for a few days. You’ll be surprised, if you’re anywhere near as terrible as I, how much garbage is floating around in the old thought pipes. How much bile leaks out from the heart’s overflow.

And, well, that’s a whole other topic, but here’s the point: I’m realizing that I must be really exasperating to God. I say that because I hear myself saying things that in one way or another he’s been telling me for decades.

As I struggle to push a chubby arm through a shirt sleeve: Stop fighting me, I’m trying to help you.

As I drag an imp away from the woodpile: Why are you always trying to get somewhere you shouldn’t be?

As I fend off four fat grasping hands when they tag-team me in an effort to lay hold of my coffee: One of these days you’re going to get exactly what you’re scheming for, and it’s going to hurt.

As I restrain a baby trying to grab the spoon I’m using to feed him: Quit trying to do it yourself; you’re only making it take longer.

As I lift them, squawking, from the fireplace: I’m just trying to keep you alive long enough for you to get some sense.

And, as I repeat all these a hundred times a day, in addition to parenting my older boys, I find myself thinking this, like a litany: Why are you so stubborn, so stubborn, so damnably stubborn?

You could fill a sermon with the things I say to babies, and play it back for me every day. Sometimes I think the things I want my children to learn would root better if they found more fruition in me. And then I think: How long, dear God, have you been trying with me, and when will you finally lose patience?

I formed early in life an image of the fierce and vengeful Almighty, and it’s hard to reconcile that with love, you see. Burying a child made it so much harder. And all those earlier admonitions aside, I think that’s the truth I’ve had the greatest struggle letting in, this truth about love.

And then I am holding a baby by a window, saying good morning to the sun, to the trees, to the birds congregating in the trees. Look at what God made for us. He smiles, and this is the lesson I most want him to remember, and to believe for myself as well: You are loved. You are loved. No matter what comes, you are loved.

On Key

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