Is it worth it – the effort to live out the story of our lives?
We need an answer to that question in order to muster the will to keep moving forward. We need to develop a faith that explains how it all makes sense.
As humans, we are both blessed by and chronically challenged with a sense of time. The blessing is that we can recall the past. Once understood well, it is a treasure trove of learning and meaning. The challenge is that we are fated to think about and imagine the future. We cannot avoid it. And in our imaginings, we may picture either paradise or dystopia – or wild fluctuations between the two depending on the vigor and dispositions of our minds.
Lesser animals (in the cognitive sense) can settle for the satisfaction of the moment. Are needs met? Has comfort been achieved? Is safety assured?
Us? Despite the well-intentioned counsel we might receive to “live in the moment,” our brains are designed to do much more. We cannot force our minds to deny the memories of our past nor ignore the projections of our future. We aren’t supposed to. The worthy pursuit of our lives–what gives it meaning–is to pull together the events, experiences, thoughts, and feelings of our past, our present, and our desired future into a life narrative that says, “Yes – it is, it was, and it will be worth it. All of the effort, the joy, and the suffering make sense. It is a worthy adventure, this thing called life.”
But how do we know? How do we reach that bedrock conclusion for ourselves?
The answer requires a belief in and reliance upon the unknown. Together, that belief and reliance are what we call faith.
In the most pragmatic sense, faith requires an aspiration and the trust that we have the likelihood of achieving it. Along the way, we seek signs or feedback to affirm our hopes. Aspirations, trust, and feedback are best sourced from both inside and outside of ourselves. If we rely only on ourselves, we only have ourselves to rely on.
Have we defined to ourselves what is worthwhile–what has true meaning? Do we have faith in our own abilities to act successfully on what we value? Do we have the help of others whom we trust? How will we know that we are progressing in harmony with our highest values–acting with a full sense of integrity–living an authentic and fulfilling life?
Faith on the Horizontal Plane
I want to lose weight – 50 lbs!
It was January of 2002. I was 49 years old and at 217 lbs. was disgusted with my own physical image and frustrated by the constraints my weight was putting on my activities. The neighbor across the street somehow magically seemed to lose a lot of weight. I asked him how he did it. “Weight Watchers,” he said, “works great!” I trusted what he told me.
The next week I was sitting in a Weight Watchers meeting learning how to follow their plan. “Follow our directions and you will lose about 2 pounds a week.” I did, and I did – for a total of 50 pounds in 25 weeks! Whoa. How did that happen?
Clear aspiration+ belief in and reliance on a system I did not understand + a feedback system and the support of others that offered me hope along the way. I had faith in the system and my hope was realized.
There are things in this secular world which can offer us that kind of hope. We have faith in ourselves and our abilities. We have faith in others whom we trust. We have faith in science and the principles of nature that have been discerned through observation; testing, trial and error, and the scientific method. We have faith in the laws of the land and those who enforce them. And yet, even as we look to this temporal realm for hope and faith, we know that all will fall short of certainty. Along with faith and hope, we will find disappointment, discouragement, and even catastrophe where we don’t expect it.
That leads us to a different kind of faith.
Faith on the Vertical Plane
I want to live a life that makes sense of it all–one that has meaning and worth.
I want to leave a legacy.
Reliance on the things of this world will almost always fall short of what we wish for ourselves. Wealth, power, fame, romance – create your own list. Even those who achieve them all are not guaranteed a blissful and carefree life.
For true security and contentedness, we need to look further. We need to develop a spiritual way of thinking and living that works for us. We need to develop a faith, or belief in and reliance upon a power greater than what we can find in this life alone–one that answers the bigger questions.
Where do I find the faith to know that my life is worth the effort? Where do I find the meaning in my story?
The search for a higher understanding was famously explored by Viktor Frankl, the Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, in which he chronicles his experiences and shares his reflections on his imprisonment in a WWII Nazi concentration camp.
How can humans do these things to each other? And, why did they happen to me? Why must I suffer so?
Shortly after his release from the concentration camp, Frankl came across the pictured statue which he titled “The Suffering Man.” It shows a man reaching up to the heavens from the flames of suffering.
Frankl used this statue as a symbol of responsibility, “Where is the hand reaching back?”
It is our pursuit of and the eventual resolution of these questions that lead us to the ultimate source of faith and security in this life. Grounded in those convictions, we are then free enough from ourselves that we can be the hand that reaches back.
That is the Legacy Career.
Yours in faith, character, and service,