A big part of developing and growing as a person is seeking and finding inspiration.
Sometimes we just want to be entertained or to forget our own problems for a while, but I am constantly on the hunt for books and films and encounters with real people who inspire me to be a better person. Even as I get ready to turn 65, I find myself ready and willing to grow, change, improve, and reimagine myself. I hope this desire never leaves me. It is actually a great source of enjoyment and hope to know that we are not stuck, that we can develop and make spiritual progress.
If you have not thought about this recently, my suggestion is that you find a comfortable chair to sit in, get a pad and pencil and write down the qualities you would like to change in yourself. These might be both physical and mental, spiritual and psychological. Write down some traits of people you would like to emulate. Write down the names of some films or books or music that have inspired you in the past. Or plan to spend some time with people that bring out the best in you and inspire you to improve or grow or be more interesting.
I know a lot of self-help books teach this, but it is true that our imaginations are very powerful. If we can imagine it, there is a good chance it can happen. Particularly if we are realistic. The things you write on your pad are the beginnings of forming in your imagination the changes you want to see.
When I was teaching the confirmation class last week, one of the adult mentors mentioned that she reads books and watches films about the Nazis and World War II to remind her that her own struggles and problems are not so hard after all. Kate and I for a time were in the habit of watching a challenging film every Saturday night that would make us grateful for our lives and feel ready and strengthened to handle problems that might lie ahead. Many of these films were set during the world wars. I really believe these films have in fact made me a stronger and more grateful person. Kate feels the same.
Of course experiences teach us a great deal and help us grow. Here is a beautiful quote from President John Adams on how grief and loss make us better:
“The desolated lover, and disappointed connections, are compelled by their grief to reflect on the vanity of human wishes and expectations; to learn the essential lesson of resignation, to review their own conduct toward the deceased, to correct any errors or faults in their future conduct toward their remaining friends, and toward all men; to recollect the virtue of their lost friend, and resolve to imitate them; his follies and vices, if he had any, and resolve to avoid them. Grief drives men into habits of serious reflection, and sharpens the understanding, and softens the heart; it compels them to rouse their reason, to assert its empire over their passions, propensities and prejudices, to elevate them to a superiority over all human events, to give them the felicis amimi immotam tranquiltatem (the unmoved tranquility of a happy mind) in short, to make them stoics and Christians.” quoted in The Conservative Mind by Russell Kirk.
Our pains and sorrows, our failures and sins, also sharpen us and remind us that we will never be perfect and continually miss the mark. But with Christ working in us we can do infinitely better than we can ask or imagine.
Here are just a few films that that Kate and I find powerful and helpful in this way.
- Generation War (German TV series)
- Schindler’s List
- Fanny’s Journey (Belgian film)
- A Noble Intention (Dutch film also sometimes listed under the title Public Works)
- Riphagen: The Untouchable (Dutch film)