Searching for significance

Do you remember how big your world appeared when you were a little kid? Your house was a huge space ripe for exploration. You had to use a stool to reach the kitchen counter and the cabinets were hopelessly out of reach. The couch was a monstrosity that could swallow you whole. Everything seemed massive. But now that you are older, those huge properties no longer seem so big. The same house is confining. The kitchen cabinets are eye-level and you could sit on the counter with ease. And that couch isn’t even a couch – it is a tiny threadbare loveseat that only swallows loose change.

That is the analogy I gave my boss when he asked how comfortable I was feeling with some new responsibilities added to my job description. I was like a little boy lost in a big world - sure that world would shrink as I grew.

I sometimes feel like that with life and this blog and trying to get back in shape and relating to my kids and… I am a little kid lost in a gigantic universe. If only I was as big as I should be. If only I would grow up the way I think it should happen, like that song by Garbage: “When I grow up I’ll be stable.”

Why do I feel this way? It could be a symptom of my melancholic disposition. Or it could be human nature. I can’t pretend I know the root cause, but I know the end result is an overwhelming feeling of insignificance.

Do you ever feel like this? Like you are not living up to the full purpose of why you are on this planet. Like you should be doing something (anything) more than your current engagement. I don’t know about you; I don’t know what life has dumped on your plate. But that searching for significance is a constant in my life.

There is a fierce battle between this strange dichotomy of who I am and who I want to be, and a never-ending reconciliation between who I want to be and who God wants me to be. So if you bear with me for a little, I need to be brutally honest. I am going to be like Snoop Dogg and drop it like it’s hot. This might take a while so go grab yourself a cup of coffee, and sip it like it’s hot.

Moving on.

If you are like me and struggling with meaning and purpose, keep reading. I want to share with you a few areas from my life that I am working through. Possibly you see something that gives you hope for your corner of the world. Or maybe you can shed some light in mine. These are the ways I’m searching for significance.

a) Being a better father. I am sure that most parents feel woefully under-prepared to take care of the miniature people placed in their lives. As Christian approaches his sixth birthday, I still feel like I don’t know what I am doing. But here is what I do know.

1) Christian is bewilderingly intelligent. In many ways he could be my clone but in other ways I know he is more imaginative and capable of so much more than I was at his age. But he is also a bit odd. He could tell you the difference between an otter and a seal, he can differentiate empire penguins and macaroni penguins, he can identify a wide spectrum of the animal kingdom, but he cannot find his way home while out on an evening walk. He will obsessively color “projects” and build “contraptions” with Legos for hours, but is lost when telling you what happened at school that day. He is a stickler for rules and has a heightened sense of justice, but he falls apart when it is time for bed. He is smarter than many of his peers and is delightful and (usually) well mannered. But he is not a normal kid. Every day I observe him enacting some bizarre behaviors that defy explanation.

2) Zu is kind-hearted and full of surprises. For a while, I thought she would not be the brightest kid in class, but would get away with far too much because she’s cute. But she is proving me wrong at the age of two (almost but not quite three). She is expressive and vocal and aware of much more than what is expected of kids her age. She tested to be on par with kids a year older in language and communication. Unfortunately, that same test put her social and emotional skills as someone half her age. While she demonstrates a great ability to show compassion, she has trouble regulation her emotions. She is cute though. In fact, she’s beautiful. If you were allergic to adorable, her mere presence would make you break out in hives.

3) JJ is a fighter. In his short time on earth, he has had more hospitalizations than should ever be inflicted on someone so young. I speculate how long it will be before he permanently relates doctors to needles, tubes, and beeping noises. Yet he is sitting in the middle of the living room with a devious grin on his face that says he either has something in his mouth that does not belong there or has just filled his diaper with a foul and sticky substance. He is almost oblivious to the trauma that his body has been through.

My three kids are a miracle in their own unique way. It’s been six (ish) years since Bekah first told me she was pregnant. For the past six years, I’ve asked myself on a (nearly) daily basis ‘what did I get myself into?’ I know I’m a good dad, but that knowledge is often forgotten as I wonder what I am doing wrong. I want to be the kind of dad that my kids crave hanging out with and bring their friends around, but now I’m unsure how adept my kids are going to be in the social realm. I want to be the kind of dad that helps them with their homework, but I think they might not need my help. I want to be the kind of dad that laughs with my children but I often find myself laughing at them.

b) Being a better writer. I blog. If you are reading this, that fact should be obvious. But underneath the surface there is much more that you won’t notice at first glance.

1) I am not exactly sure what I’m doing. Blogging is not an exact science. I’m a few months shy of my fifth blogiversary, and this is still what I would consider a low-traffic blog (500-800 visits in an average month). And to be completely honest, I am not entirely sure what I’m trying to accomplish. In my first post ever, I stated my purpose was to amuse people with the random thoughts of a father and husband. Five years later, I’m not sure how amusing I’ve been. I have ruffled a few feathers, and I have made a few people laugh. But is that still what I’m trying to do? Is there any coherent reason to keep going? If I were to write instructions on how to be a successful blogger, step one would be ‘Don’t be named Nic Casey.’ Step two would be ‘If you figure it out, let me know.’

2) This blog is another fight between who I am and who I want to be. I want to be a blogger like Defective Yeti or Jon Acuff – full of snarky goodness, self-referential inside humor, and shameless pop-culture references. Not only are these guys exceptionally talented, they are infinitely funnier than I (much in a manner that The Office is funnier than pet dander). When judging the direction I want to steer this blog I keep that thought in mind, as I want to be hip and hilarious and write thought provoking/gut busting relevant posts that attract hundreds of comments. But I know that I am funnier when I don’t try, and a purposeful sustained attempt at comedy or satire would fail. I also know that this blog is the only way that some of my friends and family keep up to date with what is happening in the Casey household. While my passion is to explorer the strange intersection between faith and pop culture and I desperately want to pursue that topic in my writing, I also want to keep my far flung relatives in the loop. That is a balancing act I have yet to get right. If all else fails - at worst - I’m leaving a record of my identity for my kids. When I am no longer a living resident of Earth, this may be the best evidence of who I was and what made me tick that I can give my kids. If that is all I accomplish here, is that such a bad thing?

c) Being a better person. That longing might sound contrived. Who doesn’t wish they were a better person? But this is probably the area that I most often fail. Try as I might, there are days where I am not a better person than the day before. Some days are stagnant, and others are a clear step backwards. I wear too many hats, and often find myself fighting self imposed contradictions.

1) I’m a data analyst that sucks at math. I will admit it, mathematics are not my forte. But I love my job. Thankfully, Excel does most of the calculating for me. All I have to do is get creative and be able to explain what the numbers mean. Yet, as much as I enjoy what I do, I cannot believe that this is what I am destined to do until I retire. Maybe it is. Maybe not. I work for a good company, and the job has been a blessing for me since I moved to Coeur d’Alene. I want to succeed there, yet I yearn to do something different.

2) In case you were wondering, I’m a bit pudgier than I used to be. I need to lose some weight, but I hate exercising and I like food. I also want to slim back down to (or at least close to) my pre-kids weight. I need to get healthy. So, I have made some changes to my diet, and (begrudgingly) started exercising with some measure of consistency. But it’s not working. I’m tired, I hurt, and I can’t drop below 200 pounds. It’s like an invisible wall mocking my feeble efforts to live a healthier lifestyle.

All of this. It seems so big. And I’m just one insignificant figure lost inside that immense world. I want to be a cool dad, but that is the couch that swallows me. I want to be a popular writer, but those are the cabinets that I can’t reach. I want a change, but that’s the big house I will never completely explorer.

In my quest for significance, I find comfort in one thing. God has big plans for me. Before I continue let me clarify two things: 1) I’m not intending that idea to sound megalomaniacal. I’m not proposing any delusions of grandeur. This is not me saying that I could be a gold medalist if being smug was an Olympic sport. While I believe that God has big plans for me, I also believe that God has big plans for all of you. 2) If you don’t believe in God, I want you to understand one objective – if you are feeling any quantity of insignificance, you’re not alone. Don’t let that feeling burden you. I hope you search out your value like I have. It’s worth the fight.

But back to my observation: God has big plans for me. Here’s the comfort in that revelation. God doesn’t need me to be skinny. He doesn’t need me to be a good dad. He doesn’t need me to be a best-selling author. In fact, He doesn’t really need me. But He wants me to be a good dad. He wants me to find significance in my writing, my work, and my health.

The problem isn’t that I’m insignificant. My failure is that I’m measuring wrong.

Significance isn’t having a good job; it is doing my job well.
Significance isn’t how my kids treat me; it is how I treat my kids.
Significance isn’t drawing hundreds of readers to my blog; it is being found by the one person who needs to read it.
Significance isn’t being hip; it is being there.
Significance isn’t having all of the answers; it is looking for the answers.

Am I an expert at finding significance? No. If I was, I wouldn’t be writing this post. This is a lesson I am forcing myself to learn.

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