Living With Style (Rule Two): Act Naturally
Staying Put

Living with Style (Rule Three): Aim for Something


"Work from a suitable design." (William Strunk, Jr. & E.B. White, The Elements of Style)

There are people who plan and others who don't. In the most endearing of times, we call the latter "free spirits;" in their most frustrating times, "irresponsible." A suitable design for life is not so much whether to plan or not to plan, however, as whether there is a specific vision that animates our day. The abundant life requires that we aim for something worthy of aspiration, that we envision an end. Slavish adherence to a set of rules or principles is deadening and inflexible and makes us difficult to live with because we are moribund legalists. In contrast, living in the moment and doing as we please, however, is rank antinomianism and gets us nowhere fast --- a slave to our passions of the moment. A suitable design, or vision, keeps us pointed in the right direction and yet malleable in regard to means. We are free within bounds, more free, really, than the free-spirit.

Strunk informs writers that "[d]esign informs even the simplest structure, whether of brick and steel or of prose." By extension, we might say that no one really lives without design, without an underlying presuppositional structure for their life, though the design may be subconsciously adhered to, a body of assumptions about life's purpose that have taken root experientially and unnoticed. Both the carpenter and accountant live out of a design. Yet while the design may be subconscious, the point is not that it should be a detailed regimen. Strunk again: "This does not mean that you must sit with a blueprint always in front of you, merely that you had best anticipate what you are getting into. To compose a laundry list, a writer can work directly from the pile of soiled garments, ticking them off one by one. But to write a biography the writer will need at least a rough scheme; he cannot plunge in blindly and start ticking off fact after fact about his man, lest he miss the forest for the trees and there be no end to his labors." I feel that way sometimes. At the end of the day there have been no end to my labors, and yet all I have to look back on is a list of ticked off items with no sense of the larger design they fit into.

Suitable design acknowledges the moving of the Spirit. Take the Apostle Paul, for example. His overriding design or vision was to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles (Rom. 15:15-16, NIV), and yet while he planned certain things he was often led by circumstances to change his plan. He advises the saints in Rome "that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now). . . (Rom. 1:13, NIV). One imagines that the logical, methodical mind of Paul would be frustrated at plans gone awry, and yet his larger vision was intact: he preached the Gospel wherever he was to whomever would listen.

In the end, unlike the mere task of writing, Christians acknowledge a design and Designer behind their own temporal designs, a Story behind our stories. Our designs are imitative of a greater design. We have the assurance that even our detours, even the frustrating rabbit-trails we find ourselves on all lead back to the main road, the road Home, and that a good and perfect Author has us in hand.

C.S. Lewis said "Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither." What is it that you are aiming at? Do you have a suitable design? Strunk says that "even the kind of writing [or, life] that is essentially adventurous and impetuous will on examination be found to have a secret plan: Columbus didn't just sail, he sailed west, and the New World took shape from this simple and, we now think, sensible design." So what direction will you sail?