Monday, January 17, 2005

What are you living for?

Do we know what are we living our lives for?

If the life you were spending were strictly your own, wasting it would merely be tragic.

But your life is not your own. Your life is a gift that was given to you from a source beyond yourself. That source has invested an entire lifetime, your lifetime, in you, and ought to be repaid. Wasting your life would be ungrateful.

Thoreau said, "I wish to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life. I wish to learn what life has to teach, and not, when I come to die, discover that I have not lived. I do not wish to live what is not life, living is so dear, nor do I wish to practice resignation, unless it is quite necessary. I wish to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life. I want to cut a broad swath, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms."

Here is the singer Paul Robeson's statement of what he will do with his life. "I shall take my voice wherever there are those who want to hear the melody of freedom or the words that might inspire hope and courage in the face of despair and fear."

The poet Adrienne Rich prefaces her answer with a confession of humility, but does not let that lessen her resolve. "My heart is moved by all I cannot save: so much has been destroyed
I have to cast my lot with those who, age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world."

What each of these authors provides is an example of what might be called a personal mission statement. It is a general statement of the transcendent goal they have set for their life.

The statement is specific to their life, although they arise from universal values and thus share some generalities, and the statement applies to their whole life, not to the narrow circumstances of a particular problem or time. The mission statements they write for themselves could be held up as a defining test for any proposed action they might consider.

Our personal mission statement does not need to be phrased so eloquently, we can't all be poets and philosophers, but it does need to be as specific and as powerful.

We need to find and name something of transcendent value that makes our life worth living.

All our actions and decisions need to have am overarching, organizing goal that gives them a reason and a meaning, a something that is as important as our life is itself. That thing, of ultimate worth for us, becomes, by Paul Tillich's definition, God, our own god, the god of our life.

We need to identify a goal for our life so important and worthy that we would be willing to treat it as something of great fundamental importance in our life, ane for it judges our actions as meeting or missing the mark, defines and gives meaning to our lives.

We could always check fromtime to time by asking ourselves, "What does furthering the goal of the mission statement I've taken on for my life demand that I do now?"

For some people, life seems not so much a gift, as a trial. That life came to them unasked, seems an undeserved punishment, not a joy. How one looks at life depends largely on personal psychology, but also, certainly, on outside circumstances.

The life of a beggar in Delhi is as equally amazing as the life of a rich person in the west, but relative hardship and pain do make them different.

But whatever our circumstances and however one regards life, as a gift or a curse, the challenge amounts to the same thing. Those of us who feel gifted by life are called by our sense of justice to repay that gift in pursuit of a goal worthy of the gift.

Those who feel cursed by our life need to answer the same question, "What are you living for?" Given that suicide is always an option, if life is so terrible then why do you go on living? What are you living for?"

I always remember Nietzsche's words, "He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how".

As for you, what are you really living for?


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