This post is for my children – but you’re welcome to read it. This is a conversation I want to have with them as teenagers, but I am writing it down in case I get hit by a bus. 🙂
A core component of our human existence is a desire for happiness and an ongoing search for meaning in this life. If you Google “the meaning of life” you’ll find all sorts of self-involved pithy quotes about gifts, dancing in the rain, self-actualization and personal discovery. You can find happiness (pleasure) in all these things – and probably some meaning, too. Most people live this way. It’s not a bad life.
Throughout your life, you’ll see friends and family pursuing happiness who never find it and inadvertently hurt a lot of people in the process. You’ll see people you care about make a royal mess of their lives. My hope is that it will never be you. My hope is that you’ll have early wisdom to see the true meaning in life – that it’s so much more than the pursuit of happiness, as much as we all love happiness!
Dr. Martha Stout, a clinical psychologist at Harvard Medical School, said something notable in talking about the intersection of religion and psychology and the failure of the late 20th century’s over-emphasis on self: “A psychologist would say that when we take some responsibility for the welfare of others, our actions feel natural (or “ego-synotic”) and our own life satisfaction is enhanced. The Bible says simply, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'”
A jillion years ago, I was a teenager in a Sunday School class reading the apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians where he says, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” That sentence irritated me. It didn’t make sense grammatically. I wondered if something had been lost in the translation from the original Greek into English – maybe an important word or two had been left out. The verse bugged me – for years. To live is Christ? And to die is gain? What??? Many years later, I was all grown up and strolling past all the blue cubicles in the office at EDS when it suddenly struck me what this verse is saying.
Ohhhhhhhhhhhh no. My heart sank just a bit. It’s not about me. (What?!?) My life (My! Life!) is not about me. I am not here to pursue happiness. I am not here to dance in the rain or discover my true self or my gift or to create my own meaning. I am here – you are here – to live to the glory of God.
The good news? Happiness is a by-product. The other good news? There’s plenty of space for rain dancing and adventures and gift finding (and giving). There’s oodles of space for joy in every day life. But the meaning of each day is to live to the glory of God and that means loving others as much as we love ourselves. For some people, there will be grandiose gestures of using your medical degree to treat people with Ebola – or selling what you own to go care for orphans halfway around the world.
Most of us will simply be God’s hands and feet on the ground every day right where we are – advocating for those who need our voices, giving to the poor, making casseroles for the sick and bereaved… I’m laughing about the casseroles, but you know what I mean. We’ll each do whatever we’re good-ish at doing to be a light of His love in the lives of people hurting right next to us. That’s the meaning of life.
Kids, I hope you will be happy. Of course, I do! But I hope you’ll always be keenly aware of God’s love for us and His enormous blessings and let that guide the meaning in your life so that you can play a key role in bringing happiness (and peace and healing and all good things) to others.
I hope we can talk about this for many, many years to come!