My high school English teacher showed Dead Poets Society at the end of every fall semester. As trees grew bare, Robin Williams inspired our impressionable young minds as John Keating by getting on top of his desk, reciting poetry, and encouraging his students to write their verse. My worldview shifted, though not for the better, when Keating pulled his class out into the hall to look at photos of generations past and remind them of the fragility of life.
“Carpe . . . carpe diem,” Keating whispered. “Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”
Yes! Yes! Something awoke within me. Let us make our lives extraordinary!
I ran with it — full tilt; Carpe Diem felt like the key to unlocking all my dreams. I felt like a philosophical genius pulling this Latin phrase out as my life motto, its sophistication far outweighing that of today’s YOLO declarations.
I let carpe diem guide my steps for years and learned the hard way that while the phrase works as a momentary encouragement or a yearbook quote, as a way of life, it fails.
If we jump, move, and boldly pursue whatever we crave because tomorrow we may die, we sacrifice wisdom for desire. The urgency of the moment hijacks our tomorrows, and though another day is not guaranteed, chances are it will come.
In the midst of my toxic overdose of attempts at seizing the day, God, in His goodness, intervened and taught me what it was to thrive. Coram Deo is the Latin phrase meaning “in the presence of God.” When Jesus met me in the mess of brokenness birthed by chasing rapacious fancy, I discovered the key to the life I was seeking was more likely to be found here.
I gladly traded my once favored carpe diem for the truer, deeper way of coram Deo. This turn protected the trajectory of my life in the following ways:
Coram Deo Embraces Wisdom
Carpe diem screams, “Chase pleasure! Follow the flesh.” This eventually yielded heavy fruits of internal disharmony, confusion, and a constant lust for more. Living in the face of God, living coram Deo, is where I learned to lay hold of wisdom. Soon the fruit of the Spirit, true peace, true joy, and true love, were what emerged from my life.
In the face of God I flourished. In the lust for more I withered.
Coram Deo Promotes the Go and the Be
One of the appealing things about carpe diem is that within its folds is the truth that there is urgency to life, but when I took this to the extreme, I lost the scope of eternity. When I bask in the presence of the Savior, I become keenly aware of the big picture. This prompts me to act immediately to promote His kingdom while at the same time being patient as He shapes my character within.
Coram Deo Is about God, Not Me
I began to know what true life was when I got to the end of myself and began living for God and others. I learned the hard way that an existence wound tightly around self is a small one indeed. I serve a God who is fully out of my control, but there is nothing better than being in the wild goodness of His presence.
The glory there is like no other.
R. C. Sproul said: “Living coram Deo is to live one’s entire life in the presence of God, under the authority of God, to the glory of God.”
True life cannot ripen in a moment; it takes place when a life is nurtured, cultivated, and shined upon.
So instead of running down the illusive, transient carpe diem, I now live knowing God sees all, knows all, and loves me still. No amount of seizing days can lead to what is found in the very face of the Creator of it all, for this is where I hear Jesus whispering the extraordinary call of “follow me.”
Chara Donahue enjoys freelance writing, biblical counseling, and speaking to women when her four kids are out playing with dad. She is an adjunct professor, holds an MSEd, and is passionate about seeing people set free through God’s truths. She is the host of the podcast The Bible Never Said That and a regular contributor at iBelieve. Her words have appeared at Christianity Today, Crosswalk, (in)courage, and The Huffington Post. She longs to be a voice that says, “Hey we are in this together, and there is room for us all.” You can find more from Chara on Facebook and Twitter.