By Nathan Peterson

Broken Toes, Bouncy Balls & the Search for Life

We see it all over the place. In YouTube videos of adrenaline junkies doing crazy, but fun, but still crazy things. In ridiculous but entertaining college pranks. Even in hard, shocking moments, like when people decide to leave their families to chase after some radically different dream.

We’re all seeking life.

Inherently, we know that the act of breathing, blinking, existing isn’t enough. We were made for more. We want to feel alive. And whether we’re aware of it or not, the way we go about our lives — in class, at work, how we spend our free time — shows what kinds of things we believe will give us life.

The Bacon-flavored Bouncy Ball

What seems to be life-giving for me these days is kickboxing.

There’s something about throwing on those shin guards and wrapping up my knuckles that just feels amazing. As much fun as the physical fitness part of it’s been, getting to push myself to new levels, the sense of community I’ve experienced has been even better!

Grey dog sitting on couch next to orange bouncy ballWhat about you? When do you feel most alive? Maybe it’s cooking or traveling, playing sports or video games, going on adventures, or just hanging out with friends.

But here’s the thing that nobody likes to talk about: What happens when the thing you think is life-giving is taken away? Having accrued more bruises than I can count, at least one broken toe, and a sprained shoulder in the last three months, I’ve been running into this question A LOT.

It’s been discouraging. Why can’t I just go do this thing that makes me feel so alive?

A few years ago, we gave my dog Odie a bright orange bacon-flavored bouncy ball. What happened next was … memorable. He played with that thing for two hours straight. Even after we stopped throwing it for him, he still ran around with it back and forth, back and forth, until he was panting so hard we thought he was going to just keel over. Eventually, we had to take it away for a while, just to give him a chance to let himself breathe.

The more I think about it, the more I realize: I am Odie. And Muay Thai kickboxing has become my bouncy ball.

Stop Chasing

One of my favorite pieces of Scripture is Psalm 16. In verse two, David establishes the vital connection between God and the things that make us feel alive: “I say to the LORD, ‘You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.’”

All good things come from God (Jas 1:17). He wants us to enjoy and be refreshed by them — but within the context of a loving, intimate relationship with him. When we lose sight of that, we start chasing after these gifts instead of God. If it goes on long enough, we become like the people in verse three: “Those who run after other gods will suffer more and more.” It’s like Odie with the bouncy ball. My parents gave it to him as a gift to enjoy. But the way he was so fixated on it was self-destructive and wouldn’t satisfy him.

Same with me getting caught up in the adrenaline of fists flying. I started losing sight of the true source of life. Without Muay Thai, I still have my source of life. Without Jesus, I have nothing.

Poems & Snowstorms

Snowy landscape with field and treesIt’s a balancing act, for sure. I can easily zero in on a few key activities and believe that only when I’m doing these things can I really feel alive. Through all this, I sense that Jesus is teaching me that there are way more opportunities to experience him and his grace and goodness in this life than I realize — and to thank him for those moments.

I experienced this firsthand on a snowy Saturday morning during a writing retreat. Feeling grumpy because of the snow — in April, thanks Wisconsin — and because my broken toe was keeping me from the gym, I had no desire to write. It felt like God was leading me to go outside with him. And as the snow fell, as I just walked and walked, my heart started to calm. I felt … alive. And I knew it was a gift straight from God. I even ended up writing a poem on my phone about it then and there. Here’s an excerpt:

Life and joy and beauty have found me.

I don’t need to look for them.

For they forever follow you, Jesus.

As I walk back inside,

The world feels different.

The snow-covered trees, the grass, even the weeds are welcoming and friendly.

Lord, this is the kind of beauty to invite others into.

Temptations & Invitations

More than likely you’ve never had — nor will you ever have — any inclination to try Muay Thai. That’s fine (and probably less painful!). But especially if you’re in college right now, temptations abound for you to try to turn a gift from God into your sole source of life. To chase that thing, that achievement, that person, instead of and apart from Jesus. Don’t do it. It will not satisfy you.

On the flip side, there are many opportunities to discover things that are truly enjoyable, that make you feel alive. God is giving you those things because he’s a good Father, he loves you, and he wants to give his kids good gifts (Mt 7:11). Especially during college, where you might be away from home for the first time, when you’re figuring out your calling, when you’re balancing school and extracurriculars and friendships, it’s important to find things that help you feel alive.

So get out there, try new things, have fun, and pursue the good gifts God has given you to enjoy! Thank him often and never forget he’s the one behind them all. Trust me, it will save you a lot of pain and disappointment.

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Nathan Peterson is a writer on InterVarsity's Communications Team in Madison, Wisconsin. He formerly was the Urbana 18 writer. You can support his ministry at donate.intervarsity.org/donate#21293. 

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