Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Finding Joy and Meaning

I posted a question today on and The question, "what makes a life meaningful if all the things that brings a person joy are taken away?" has provoked some deep and thoughtful replies. I posted it in a slightly different way than it was asked of me. The question has had me deeply pondering my reply.

I have certainly been asked that question in different ways before. Someone in a long term care facility who is in a wheelchair, or lost their sight or unable to live alone any more have asked that question to me. It often comes out, "What good am I?" "I don't want to live like this anymore."

This question was given to me by someone who is not in that position. It was asked by someone with health concerns, certainly. This person listed the things that had always given life joy, which were now unavailable. Then the response, "I am sure that God has a plan." This was not said as a cynical aside or a trite comment, but with conviction and faith and hope. Yet even with that response, the question was posted and a "comma" was added to our conversation. It is certainly not over.

When I was a much more inexperienced pastor, I often had a quicker response. In a care facility I might have said, "you can pray, for me, for the church, for the world, for your family and friends and neighbors." That would be a true statement. Certainly our world needs people who pray, not for a certain outcome, but just pray that the Spirit might surround and encourage and challenge people to be the best they can be and for nations and governments and institutions to do what is right and good and just.

Perhaps, I am at an age when the above response is not enough. I do not know what it is like to lose the things that give my life joy. I have not had things systematically denied to me. I am hypoglycemic, I have to watch my sugar intake. No medicine is involved, but too much sugar is like a drug and causes me to fly high, then hit a low. I, sometimes am not as "good" as I ought to be, and I pay for it in terms of how I might feel for several days if I "binge". So I gave up "real" soda, and most desserts unless they are shared.

So what! There are worse things. Without my glasses, I am officially "blind as a bat", but glasses make it possible for me to do everything I want. I do not know what it is like to lose my hearing or my sight or my mobility or my ability to do most of what I want to do. It is some what easy for me to say to someone a simplistic answer about how faith sees us through, or that the things that give our lives meaning or pleasure are "temporal".

I love to cook. The ability to taste and smell make it possible for me to create dishes that bring pleasure and joy to others. My sense of smell and taste are keen enough that I can often tell what spices and ingredients are used in a particular dish. It's not perfect, but it is keen. I can not imagine what it would be like for me to not taste and smell and experience the joy that cooking and serving and feasting with others brings to me. I am sure others would tell me food is not that important, that good food and drink are a waste. Yet, when people gather around my table and eat and drink and know that God is good and life is good, it is enough for me.

I can see, I can hear, I can walk, I can talk, I have my mind. I can show love in all the ways that matter to the ones I love the most. If I lost it all tomorrow, what would I have? Who would I be? What would make my life meaningful and hopeful and faithful and joyful?

One of the responses to the question I posed was "love", "I stick with love." To that I would add grace. I know and I tell folks all that time that our worth is not dependent on what we do, or what we accomplish or how we succeed. Our worth is based in the gift of grace and love in our lives. Certainly all of us want to make a difference, but the real worth is in how we another, ourselves and however we understand God. We all fail, we make mistakes, we fall short of our abilities and do not make use of every opportunity we are given, but in spite of all these things, we are loved and in the words of Paul Tillich, we are accepted.

When I am not driven by my own need to be productive, to succeed, to work hard, I know this. I believe it. In the end, all there is love and grace and God's Spirit that sees us through the good, the bad, the ups and the downs, life is all its experiences.

It may sound trite, but I believe it, I know it in the depth of my being. And if and when the time should come that I do lose some or all of those things that give me joy and help me find meaning, I will lean into that knowledge that life is good, God is good, that in the end all of us are loved and that grace will see me home.

With that, I am Graced to Serve.

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