Have you ever wondered: "What is the meaning of life?"
My oldest son, Eli, has been asking me this kind of question for a while, so it was no surprise when he suggested I tackle the subject in my next article. As my first bit of research, I asked my son his own question. His response: "To enjoy yourself; to learn; to have fun without getting into trouble; complete freedom with no rules."
Before chalking his response up to the unrestrained Epicurean hedonism of a typical eight-year-old, let's consider our own answer. If we examine our own lives: our actual words, thoughts, and actions, we all spend a lot of time just trying to be happy and avoid discomfort. We might seek meaning and fulfillment through wisdom, nature, popularity, friendships, possessions, or anything else we are convinced will add value to our lives. William Wordsworth said, "Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers," and it is as true today as it was in the early nineteenth century.
I suspect Eli's answer might actually reveal what drives our own lives. True, if we did a quick survey in Barnwell County, asking each person the meaning of life, we'd most likely come up with as many different answers as people surveyed. But happiness would naturally play a central role in our answers. So I paid attention recently when my pastoral supervisor told me, "Life is not about happiness. Life is about growth."
The secret is: we're growing either way. Focusing on ourselves and our own happiness, we grow outward as we absorb, attain, and accrue more wisdom, attention, and property. Getting bigger in this way, we eventually reach our limit and our accomplishments stop satisfying. There is a way, however, to grow upward, and upward growth is limitless.
If we focus our energy, not on ourselves, but on others, then we truly grow as people and use our gifts and talents in the best way. Jesus modeled this way of finding meaning in life: spending time with friends and disciples, bringing comfort to the afflicted, and helping those who needed Him. Jesus' actions show us that life's meaning lies in loving others, giving ourselves for God's Kingdom, and serving in every that we can.
In last week's reading from Micah, we see that this message echoes throughout the Scriptures. The prophet asks, "What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" As Christians, we find the meaning of life when we obey God and serve others. Justice and kindness are what we do when we serve our neighbor, and in this way we are obedient to God, walking humbly with Him.
Rev. Michael Hood is the pastor of Barnwell United Methodist Church.
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