Sometimes, we need to set aside efficiency for the sake of love and to sacrifice success for the sake of faithfulness.
Not everything we do has to serve another purpose: allowing the beauty of nature to take our breath away, delighting in the love of another human being or holding the hand of a child, Sayles observes.
There are some things so right and good, so significant and wonderful, that we have to do them, no matter what. We know that they matter, even if we can't fully explain why they do.
They're not means to ends, but ends in themselves. They might not have immediate or measurable value, but they are priceless.
They might not contribute to the achievement of a tangible goal, but they satisfy more deeply and more fully than any achievement.
They are faithful expressions of love or longing or gratitude or hope or need or joy.
Not everything we do has to serve another purpose: allowing the beauty of nature to take our breath away; delighting in the love of another human being; holding the hand of a child; listening to the stories of the elderly; being carried by the sounds of stirring music; weeping tears of sadness; laughing at ourselves and at the irony of life; sitting quietly so that we can be reminded that God is God, and being held in the arms of Jesus as we pray.
These experiences are higher and holier than any mere purpose. They are right in themselves. There are times when the right thing is also the extravagant and exuberant thing.
Sometimes, a whisper will not do; only a shout can capture our joy.
Annie Dillard, in "The Writing Life," once gave this advice to would-be writers:
"One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. … Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes."
There are times when the sheer thrill and joy, the deep agony and pain, of life calls for everything that is in us, nothing held back.
We write a check for more than seems reasonable or commit to give more time than we have because we're captured by a vision of creation healed and people made whole.
We take a wild risk for the sake of love and justice. We laugh until we cry, uncontrollably and ridiculously, because we've been touched by a life-changing gladness.
Sometimes efficiency is not enough, and "success" doesn't come close to faithfulness. Sometimes only risky extravagance and foolish exuberance will do.
Guy Sayles is pastor of First Baptist Church of Asheville, N.C. This column first appeared on his blog, From the Intersection.