If you asked most of my friends and people I know what the reason for living is, I’m pretty sure most of them would say something along the lines of “Because we’re here and we’re alive. We are born, we live, and we die. No reason at all.”
I can say this with a fair amount of certainty, because I would have given the same answer. And man, was I depressed about it.
Seriously depressed. Nothing was making me happy. Music, books, friends, dating, food, photography…the list goes on. Even the Internet – my favorite entertainment was boring and stale. My kids – usually a source of joy at best and challenge at worst – just thinking about their future made me sad as well. Why did I have them if there was no point to anything? Would I see their curiosity and wonder and love of discovering the world fade into jaded cynicism and miserable boredom as well? How could I save them from that if I couldn’t save myself?
I can’t emphasize this enough. I really didn’t think there was any reason to go on. Suicide wasn’t an option – I couldn’t leave my children alone in this stinking world. At least we had each other. Plus, there was the fear of the Bad Place always kind of lurking around behind the scenes.
I filled my days with distractions. Most started out fairly exciting – a new, interesting “something to master”. Photography. Programming. Drawing. Web 2.0. Blogging. Of course, none of these things had any meaning or satisfaction to me. I was always the same old me. Unhappy me.
Work was no help either. All the projects I were on seemed to be the same old thing. Nothing I was especially proud to produce. Even the times I did work well and produce something of “value” were followed with a profound emptiness afterwards. I procrastinated, surfed the web. There really was no point to it.
The truth that was unspeakable to me even in my own mind ws there was no end to it either, until death, that is. No relief from the sheer boredom of it all. Only days that were to be gotten through. And as I got older, I’d be aging, have fewer options for distractions, and probably be in more discomfort.
I wasn’t really thinking of all this when I came back to Christ. I didn’t come back seeking a point. It’s odd, but it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what prompted it. If I had to put my finger on it, I guess I was looking more for answers about truth and goodness, and love and compassion. Not my existential dissatisfaction with the lack of a good reason to be here.
(I’ll go through my long chain of events quickly so I can get to the point of this entry. I have more to say about each thought in the chain, though – never fear, dear reader!)
It started out with thinking about evil. And thinking about evil lead to the thought that much of the evil that exists in the world could be prevented if people actually did something about it. It occurred to me pretty quickly that I personally have done almost nothing to help my fellow man. So I resolved to do something…uh…soon.
Then a few days later, that thought flitted through my brain. Oh right, I was going to think of the people in the Sudan, and what I personally could do about it (beyond donate – that was a pretty obvious first thought). Oh, but I’ve been so busy, I started to think. And then it occurred to me. How much time do I actually spend even *thinking* of others, much less doing anything for them? How much time do I spend thinking about *anyone* besides myself?
I decided right then to spend the next five minutes thinking about other people without relating it back to me.
I could not do it. I had to redirect my thoughts over and over and over, and I still don’t think I hit five minutes.
Wow, what a shock!
The next Sunday at church, I prayed to the Holy Spirit to show me how to think about others. To help me do it. To direct me.
Later that day, it ocurred to me that thinking about others and performing actions or doing things for others is really serving others. And oh yeeeaah…that’s one of those things Jesus told us to do! Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Serve God and serve your neighbor.
I was at home about that time, and my son wanted to practice learning to ride his two-wheeler. Now, I’m not much of an outdoor person, and it was fairly warm out, and I wasn’t in the mood to sweat. In addition, the last time we practiced, it didn’t go very well, and I ended up getting frustrated although I tried to be as patient as I could. But it still wasn’t much fun for me. So my first thought was to try and delay him or get him distracted with something else inside. But instead, I decided to serve him.
I put my whole focus into helping him learn this skill and find the joy that comes with riding a two wheeler. Into being a parent that helps their child.
He learned. He had fun. And I learned. And I had fun, although that was not the point. (hmm…there’s that point concept…)
So I kept doing it. I kept catching myself grumbling about some duty I had to do, and trying to remember how in doing it, I was serving. My family. Going to work the next day, and serving my employer. It felt odd, almost archaic, thinking this way, but I stuck with it.
And time flew. And I got so much done! My attitude in my interactions with people was so much more pleasant. More Christ like you might say, without even really trying. And what was best, was that I wasn’t thinking about myself.
I came to realize what a burden thinking about myself has been. It’s a HUGE, HEAVY weight. Constantly trying to serve myself – a master that is never satisfied. All this distraction and noise and boredom and procrastination and misery in my head is the result of being centered on myself. Ugh.
It came to me suddenly, that living to serve God and living to serve my neighbor IS the point. And it’s a reason to live, and by that I mean really LIVE.
Paul says this in Galations 5: 19-23 (The Message)
It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on.
This isn’t the first time I have warned you, you know. If you use your freedom this way, you will not inherit God’s kingdom.
But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard – things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.
Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it ony gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good — crucified.
Things aren’t pointless. I killed my old self and was reborn as a Christ self. I thought it would be hard, but really, my old self was the heaviest responsibility.
Don’t live for yourself, it’s futile.