As a pastor, I encounter many persons who find themselves trying to navigate the complex and perplexing waters of life. At times, those waters are treacherous and unyielding, and more than a few people have succumbed to the tumultuous currents of life and have accepted that their role is to be the target of unwarranted and inexplicable assaults. The tragedy of this disposition is that, within this realm of unassertiveness, individuals get consumed and overwhelmed by realities and perceptions that minimize their identity and render their uniqueness irrelevant.
There is also the dangerous possibility of perpetually viewing oneself as a victim as well as a destructive acceptance of a false sense of powerlessness. These defeatist attitudes toward life undermine the possibility of living and give the sense that meaning in life is determined by an individual’s capacity to develop survival strategies. But if living is only about surviving, then there is the real possibility that the joy and beauty of life will be missed.
Several years ago, someone once asked me, “What is the goal of life?” I remember trying to give a response that was laced with deep theological and philosophical insight. I felt that as a pastor, I was obligated to give an answer that displayed years of intellectual wrestling with this profound question. I can’t remember what my answer was, but I know that at that time, I was more interested in demonstrating what I knew rather than what I had lived.
Now, many years later, I realize that being profound is about discovering the depth of that which is quite simple rather than shrouding simplicity in complexity. Today, I have a different answer to that question. After years of joy and pain, highs and lows, success and disappointment, I’ve come to discover that the goal of life is to live. I know it seems simple, but living can actually be one of the most challenging things to do if you are content with merely existing or surviving.
I am well aware that there are a multitude of external obstacles and barriers that make living a quite difficult endeavor. For example, there are people who try to make life difficult for others primarily because their lives may be so shaped by misery that they feel some compulsion to make life miserable for others. There are also tragic life circumstances and situations that are beyond our control that have the capacity to rob life of its joy. These types of external obstacles and barriers are real, but I do not believe that they are the most dangerous. I am convinced that the most dangerous obstacles to living are internal.
The negative attitudes and feelings we have about ourselves are the greatest hindrances to living. When we feel unworthy of joy or beauty or peace, then living is marginalized, and angst and depression shape our days. Sometimes our ability to live is determined by our willingness to confront ourselves and not be afraid of what we discover in the confrontation. We must then be honest about the things we have done, based on how we feel about ourselves, that have participated in the sabotaging of our lives and have thereby made living seem like a distant illusion.
One writer in the Bible said that we are like a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Life is fragile and fleeting. Death is inevitable, but living is optional. Choose to live, for life is calling!