The quest for a “life of meaning” has taken quite a few turns for me over time. I succumbed when young to the same phrases I see today–the call to change the world and to make a difference. In the 60’s it was about being a revolutionary, marching, joining the Peace Corps, dropping out, and refusing to sell out to “the system”. Later, it was the search for purpose or significance or strategic impact and importance. Many of us read Viktor Frankl’s observation that it was not a matter of asking what the meaning of this life is, but of discerning what life asks and requires of us. For me that was a turning point even though I was not then a Christian. It focused me on something outside myself and what I had discovered is that so much of our search for meaning is merely narcissism.
Only later and as a Christian have I grudgingly and slowly discovered the truth of Paul’s counsel to the Thessalonian church to make it our ambition to lead a quiet life, work with our hands, mind our business so that our daily life will win respect. It was reading the Quaker author Thomas Kelly that helped me discover I am called to take up a particular cross, and not every cross I see. And only recently have I begun to absorb the truth of “give us this day our daily bread” and not to think so much about heroic causes or even achievement.
Do I still struggle with wanting to have some kind of “capstone accomplishment” in my life? Of course. But, I would say at this point my “ultimate purpose” around which my life revolves now is not nearly as ambitious and expansive as before. It is not about doing something great for God or even an extraordinary self-sacrifice. It is not a contemplative life that looks inward for self-examination. I have simply found my place and, as Wendell Berry says, it has a claim on me and I on it. It is daily discerning that “this is the day” and to rejoice in it.
Fred Smith is President of The Gathering.