“Wait a second. What? Are we still talking about what happened to your friend Mary?” I asked my daughter.
“Huh? No. This is totally different,” she answered. “I stopped talking about her, like, five minutes ago.”
“No wonder I have no idea what this conversation is about anymore,” I said.
We both laughed. As two people who have serious ADHD we often have interactions like this one. One or the other of us will suddenly go off on a tangent without signaling and three changes-of-topic later the other person is left wondering why the pieces of the conversation don’t seem to fit together. Though they make perfect sense in the mind of the speaker, to the listener they’re incoherent.
Are you coherent? I’m not asking if you can string words and sentences together to make meaning, I’m asking if your life hangs together as a coherent whole.
kō-ˈhir-ənt : logically ordered or integrated
In our consulting with Intersekt, we often talk about coherence as it relates to strategy. The actions taken by the team or organization should work together to help the group achieve its purpose and objectives. The same should be true in our personal lives, but I find that most of us don’t even think about personal coherence, much less work to do anything about it.
Let’s say you’re a college student, working to get your degree. A coherent life would look like a balanced mix of diligent study, rest, and healthy relationships. A partier may study at the last minute for tests or cram for a paper that’s due tomorrow, but get very little rest and spend way too much time socializing. On the other end of the spectrum, an obsessive might spend all her time with her nose in the books. Sleep and recreation are taken in minute doses, and relationships are nonexistent.
A mom of pre-teens may find herself giving every waking minute to her family. Between housekeeping, cooking, and chauffeuring she rarely spends time in God’s Word or prayer. The point here isn’t to find some elusive “balance” in life. The point is that the choices we make often do not work together to create the life we truly desire.
The college student who spends all his time partying isn’t going to get his degree, or if he does, he won’t have learned much in the process. The obsessive will miss many opportunities to build relationships that will work on her behalf, both in school and later in life. The mom who only focuses on her family will lack the spiritual maturity to be truly helpful to her kids as they face increasing pressures to abandon their own faith.
Each of these people are living incoherent lives. Their choices don’t work together to help them accomplish their objectives, whether that’s career success, college graduation, or well adjusted, spiritually healthy adult children. In addition, they are likely not experiencing the consistent, deep-seated joy that Jesus promised us. (see John 15)
What can we do?
We start by asking God what he wants our life to look like. Why has he put us here? What are we meant to accomplish? From there we work backwards to ensure that our choices and actions work together to actually support those goals. As part of the process we take a reality check to ensure that rest, recreation, and simply being is a healthy part of the mix.
Right now, as we look towards the New Year, is a good time to spend some time thinking this through. We don’t need to take a three week silent retreat to do it. (Though if you can afford the time away, I wouldn’t advise against it.) Several evenings squirreled away with a Bible and notebook would be a good start. Then a simple question each morning to ask God and yourself, “What will a coherent life look like today?” In this, as in many aspects of our lives, Albert Einstein's words are well-heeded, "Continual improvement beats postponed perfection."
In lieu of comments, The Change-Maker receives and periodically publishes letters to the editor. If you'd like to submit one, please click here. We look forward to reading your feedback. Thank you.