Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Spirituality: Making Sense of Life

I lead a group that meets every Monday.  It is a delightful group of people to join weekly.  Our purpose is to discuss life and hear how each other is engaged in making sense of life.  That may seem too general to be interesting, but I can assure you it is not too general.  As a matter of fact, people bring their real life experiences to the group and we all prosper by hearing each other share what we know about life, as well, as listen to each other’s questions about life. 

I think we all have assumptions about life.  One assumption I have about people is that all of us in our own way are trying to make sense of our lives.  When I say make sense of life, I mean we are trying to figure out our purpose in life.  Another way to put it is we are trying to find meaning.  I am confident that the core experience of living a life without meaning is despair.  Despair literally means to be without hope. 

A second assumption I have about life is there are many, many different ways to make sense of life.  And any attempt to make sense of life is inherently a quest for purpose or meaning.  So if I say the point of life is to get rich, I have just admitted that is my purpose in life.  And I have confessed what I deem will make my life meaningful. 

Of course, I could disagree with this purpose.  I can marshal all sorts of reasons why getting rich is not a good way to make sense out of life.  I can clamor that there is no way that can be a meaningful life.  But what I am really doing is telling you that getting rich is not my way to make sense out of life.  In fact, I may be saying that is a senseless way to go about it. 

So my group is a wonderful opportunity for me to listen to people in process.  All of us are in process of making sense of life.  I am convinced it is a process because life is open-ended.  Even if I feel absolutely certain how to make sense of my life, something may happen tomorrow that challenges that.  I cannot establish my beliefs---determine what is meaningful---and then lock the door.  Of course, I think there are people who try to do this.  Religious fundamentalists come close to this certainty.  But I see this as rigidity, rather than certainty. 

I am leery of the person who has it all figured out---who has made sense out of life and has no need to think any more about life.  Lazy people choose this option.  And rigid people choose this option.  The problem with this position is new or unscripted life scenarios cannot be factored into the equation. 

This is why I think making sense out of life is a process.  Even if I nail it today, I want to be open tomorrow to new experiences, to new learnings, and to new revelations.  My knowledge is not absolute.  I don’t think there are absolute answers in the realm of faith.  Faith is trust, not a guarantee.  If I have faith there is a God, I cannot prove it.  I cannot guarantee to you there is a God.  I trust there is a God.  I can tell you why I trust there is a God.  I can explain to you why I make sense of my life and my future based on that trust there is a God. 

The function of my little group is to gather and to share these kinds of stories.  For example, if you think there is a God and that trust helps you make sense out of your life, I want to hear your story.  I want to hear about your experience.  I want to know how and why you interpret your story the way you do.  I want to hear the strength in your voice as you tell your story.  I want to listen to where you waver---to where you may not be sure or where you have questions.   

All this is what I mean by “spirituality.”  Spirituality is one specific means humans employ to make sense out of their lives.  It was during my teenage years that I become aware that meaning in my life was not a given.  Of course, I knew what my parents had taught me and I was aware of what my own Quaker tradition was telling me.  But is was not “mine.”  It was “theirs” and they implied it could be good enough for me.   

But faith---meaning-making---is not a hand-me-down like the clothes an older brother wore and handed them down to me.  I needed to find out whether the religion of my parents and my tradition “fit.”  Religion was not the same thing as faith.  They could teach me their religion.  They could not give me their faith.  That I had to manage on my own. 

As I thought about it, making sense of my life is simply a way of talking about that which I put my faith in.  It might be God; it might be getting rich.  Actually, I am glad there are options for making sense of life.  It makes life more interesting.  I am actually glad there is a range from despair to hope. 

I hope I am opting for a way to make sense of my life that is enduring and brings some sense of joy.  I know that when my group comes together, I experience joy.  And when someone can share how they are making sense of their lives, I enjoy.  I am confident that joy and enjoying are signs of a healthy spirituality.  And for me, it is a good way to make sense of life.

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