“The unexamined life is not worth living.”
– Socrates, as quoted in Plato’s “Apology”
They say that art imitates life. I’ve always thought they meant that people create pictures and stories and music based on things they’ve really experienced, but when you combine their platitude with Socrates’ adage a whole new definition comes to the foreground. Consider an artist sketching an outline. He starts with a line and adds one detail at a time, each one building off of the last. He is fully immersed in the minutiae of his portrait, but everyone once in a while he has to stand back, tilt his head the way artists do, and consider if everything is right so far. His eyes take in the big picture and the little flaws stand out. Maybe the eyes are too close together, maybe the hairline is too low on the brow, but however big or small the issue he makes sure to fix it before continuing with his creation. The good artist knows that it’s best to correct problems as soon as you see them, and it’s always better to check than to plow ahead.
The same is true for novelists, architects, engineers, lab technicians, mathematicians, chefs, accountants, and doctors. The more often you take in the big picture the sooner you can catch all of the tiny flaws, and the sooner you can catch all of the tiny flaws the easier it is to clean them up. A simple difference of one in the figures is not a big deal if you catch it right away; you can just run the equation again and set it straight. If you leave the answer to that equation off by one, though, you’ll have an unrecognizable mess just a few more equations down the road. If the chef notices that he used half the flour he should have while he’s still in the mixing stage, he can just add more. Once that cake is baked, there’s no going back.
In every job, hobby, sport, and activity the principle of self-examination is necessary for excellence, so why do we have such a hard time applying it to our lives as a whole? When was the last time you sat down somewhere quiet for a while and prayed and meditated on the course your life is taking and the way you spend your days? How often do little disobediences and minor inconsistencies create major problems in our lives because we’re too caught up in the lightning-fast details to be bothered with the big picture? The unexamined life is impervious to change, because we never see the need until too late. Stop for a moment and compare the life that you’re living with the model we’re supposed to be imitating: Jesus. Ask Him to show you all of the little details, the closed eyes and the deaf ears that are holding you down. Invite Him to erase the marks you’ve made with your own ambition and strength and trace over your life with His master design. Let Him lead you into the life that is worth living.