It’s All About Connections
The Good News of Easter is that an eternal, life-giving connection with God has been won for the whole world. The season of Lent gives us the opportunity to reflect on what that means for our lives and to set aside time to focus on the one who made that connection possible - our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
In baptism we hear that we are connected in an intimate and very real way to the death and resurrection of Jesus. We are called to claim that connection to the Son of God and to consciously live our lives knowing that, accompanied by the risen Lord, the little and big deaths that come our way will not defeat us but will lead us through to new life experiences until, ultimately, we walk through the gate of death to eternal life with our God. For nothing “in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39). This is the way, our faith tells us, to life and life abundant.
What does living in this world of death and resurrection look and feel like? There are a number of ways to talk about what it’s like to walk by baptismal faith. As I was thinking about this, I ran across a contemporary discussion based the question: What is the good life? I couldn’t help but take a look to see how the tenets of our faith hold up to current secular thought.
In an article entitled, “What is a Good Life” written by Emily Esfahani Smith in The Week magazine she discusses this question by comparing two approaches or attitudes to life: the pursuit of happiness and the pursuit of meaning.
Revisiting the writing of Viktor Frankl in “Man’s Search for Meaning”, Ms. Smith takes Frankl’s reflections on his experience as a holocaust death camp survivor as her starting point. Frankl concluded that “the difference between those who had lived and those who had died came down to one thing: meaning….those who found meaning even in the most horrendous circumstances were far more resilient to suffering than those who did not.” The difference between those who withstood and those who succumbed to the suffering in that crucible of horror came down to whether they had a sense of purpose that went beyond the self. It wasn’t the instinct for survival that enabled people to make it through that degree of suffering, it was the issue of whether or not there was a reason to survive, a reason that transcended the suffering.
Researchers have looked at this issue and have ended up concurring. They have concluded that the ability to pursue meaning or a purpose for our lives that transcends the self provides us with the ability to deal with and overcome suffering far better than the pursuit of happiness. This ability is also what distinguishes us humans from other animals.
While those who choose to pursue meaning are not completely different from those who pursue happiness there are some major differences. The pursuit of happiness is about feeling good. And it is attractive. It has to do with being able to provide the things one wants and needs. Therefore, not having enough money or having ill health has a significant impact on happiness. The happy life is defined by its lack of worry and stress. It focuses on the self. Those who pursue happiness tend to be takers and not givers. Bottom line: people become happy when they get what they want and so the pursuit of happiness focuses on fulfilling personal needs and desires.
What does this most sound like? The way of our Lord or the way of American marketing principles?
On the other hand, pursuing meaning (having a purpose for your life beyond yourself) is not stress free. It means not only taking the focus off oneself and directing it toward others but it also means transcending the present moment. The pursuit of meaning can come at the expense of happiness but happiness is an emotion that is felt in the here and now and, just as all emotions do, it ultimately fades away. It certainly can’t hold up in the face of life’s crises. People, who invest themselves in something or someone other than themselves, by virtue of that higher purpose or responsibility, find that there is more to the good life than making themselves happy. They find that meaning flows from caring for others.
The psychological scientists who have explored the difference between these two approaches or attitudes toward life have confirmed what Frankl learned from his experience: pursuing happiness as a life orientation does not prepare you for nor help you overcome encounters with suffering and death.
See, it’s all about connections! Secular research is showing that it’s through our connections with others that we find true meaning and purpose for our lives. As Christians, we know what that purpose is: to live as faithful children of God. We know that our God desires to be connected with us and has sacrificed to make it so. It’s through our Jesus connection with the source of life itself that we receive the help we need to live our lives in connection with others, for we know that doing so is not easy and is itself full of challenges and sacrifice. We also know that no matter what life brings our way….the good and the bad…..the delightful and the awful….God will provide us with the ability to rise above all those forces that work to destroy us and we will live. With that promise of eternal connection with God, we can commit ourselves to living our lives in loving connection with others, finding meaning that leads to the good life and a hope, joy and peace that surpasses understanding.
That is why, during this season of Lent and beyond, we talk about and reflect upon our connection with the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus shows us the way, through suffering and death, to life and life abundant. Not only does he show us that living for God and each other provides us with the good life, he promises to walk with us, leading us always through struggles, suffering and death to new life.
Let our Lenten prayer be one of heartfelt thanksgiving to God for the saving connection won for us in the death and resurrection of Jesus and for the purpose to which we have been called, to live out our lives in caring connection with others, that we may have a meaningful, abundant, and good life.
Pittsburgh Lutheran United Ministries (PLUM), 405 Kennedy Avenue, Duquesne, PA 15110 412-466-7773