Don’t Be Gatsby

I hope you live a life that you’re proud of.
F. Scott Fitzgerald

If you’ve read Fitzgerald, you can hear the subtle suggestion beneath his words, hinting that no one lives a life they’re proud of. Most of his characters jump from liaison to drink to cigarette with thinly veiled despair. Even those who might care end up wallowing in nihilism before his books end. Jay Gatsby, his most famed character, has always been a favorite of mine; all of his glitz and glamor, and grandiose plans, his love for the romanticized, idealized–and ultimately nonexistent–Daisy, are both fascinating and deeply depressing. I pity him, and despite many readings of The Great Gatsby I keep rooting for him, hoping that he will make a choice grounded in morality, or at the very least, reality. But that’s not how Fitzgerald wrote his characters, and perhaps most tragic of all, that’s not how Fitzgerald himself lived. So, when I read his words they tend to echo in my mind as more of a solemn warning against the same despair he fell prey to,

I hope you live a life that you’re proud of.

and I can almost hear an  aggressive whisper saying, “but you won’t.”

Fitzgerald, and many like him, recognized the ugliness of the human heart. That’s why his writing is so compelling: it’s true. He identified that even the most well-meaning are ultimately selfish screw-ups. His characters cope–or fail to cope–with this reality by choosing not to care and occupy their time with distractions: sex, parties, and an impossible idealization of romantic partners. I don’t know about you,  but I don’t want to end up like Gatsby or Nick Caraway, or Anthony Patch (The Beautiful and the Damned), or Daisy. I see my own heart filled with grandiose plans to do right and good, that take only an instant of inconvenience before they’re dashed into a selfish ruin. I see what Fitzgerald saw, but I’ve also seen something he didn’t. I’ve seen the human heart remade, replaced with something otherworldly, divine, and perfect.

“I make.” That is a divine word. “I make all things.” That, also, is divine. “I make all things new.” This our Lord Jesus Christ has done upon the greatest scale[…]Christ can make you really pure in heart; he can make you a new creature.
Charles Spurgeon

Christ fashioned an entire universe, one that human minds have not been able to fully comprehend, and he makes all things new; this includes our messy, failing hearts. It isn’t hard for him, he’s the Creator, it’s what he does. So instead of giving into the despair of failure, we can strive forward with the knowledge that a life we’re proud of is already won for us by someone worth sticking our pride in.

I think sometimes we forget that our earthly stories will end–or maybe we just try not to think about it. But whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, one day we will be nothing more than the dust that glitters as it catches the light. In the midst of the chaos of a day–particularly hard days that take all our efforts to face–it’s easy to think, tomorrow, or someday, I’ll put my energy toward doing what’s right. In our constant putting off and future mindedness we forget that what we do today matters. The problem is: we aren’t really future minded enough, we cast our eyes to our five-year-plan, or the day when our children are grown to a new stage, the day we’re in a relationship, or when we have more money, when we’ve had more sleep, or when our favorite show is over, and we forget that eternity lies beyond. The life we live is full of seconds, little moments all gathered up into eternity. Our earthly lives will end, eternity will come, and what we do today–this moment–matters.

It’s a weighty responsibility to think what matters isn’t just our titles, our jobs, our carefully crafted identities, or our life-vision, it’s the little things. It’s the giving up our precious time, resources, and energy to deeply love another person; the reorienting of our hearts to find joy and contentment despite our chaos and unfulfilled dreams; the renewing of our minds to find peace in an anxious world; the swapping of an agenda for patience and viewing an inconvenience as an opportunity;  the offering of a meal, a listening ear, or a coat: small acts of kindness that cost us little but give greatly; the continued pursuit of God’s words to us and putting our idols at his feet, believing that he is better; the practice of self-control against apathy and every temptation that seeks to pull us away from the holiness God calls us to. If that sounds like a lot of pressure, it is. We could cave under it like Nick Caraway does before the charismatic Gatsby. We could relinquish any hope of doing right and just be carried by the carnal desires of the day until our last breath rises with our cigarette smoke and all that’s remembered of us is our style, well-timed jokes, or olympic-sized pools. But it doesn’t have to be so. We have someone who walked ahead of us, who made every single moment count with perfection; and most astonishingly of all, he willingly hands that perfection over to us as we hand him all our messy, thoughtless moments. In the grandest gesture of human history he infuses our lives with himself: his perfect life, his willing sacrifice, his power over death and sin, his Spirit, to continue to help us as we walk with our already-not-yet new hearts. We have been given an outrageous offer of giving up our mess and receiving his perfection.

I think about Fitzgerald’s words often, and they always circumnavigate me back to ask: will I remember Christ in my chaos and daily monotony? Will I rest in knowing that someday I can touch those beautiful, scarred hands: hands that traced spirals into the universe, and that hold me without slipping?

We have the promise that one day, instead of lamenting “I didn’t live a life I’m proud of”, we can hear the Word that spoke the universe into being say, “well done my good and faithful servant.” Will we remember that today?

 

 

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