Living with Purpose and Significance

Deep within every human heart lays a longing for significance. Yes, it may be deeply buried and unrecognized, but it is there, waiting for release. It is easily obscured by necessity; we will attend to needs for safety, security, food, shelter, health, employment, money and even that elusive security need before turning fully and consciously to the quest for meaning.

For some, securing the basics becomes a life-long focus which never leaves time for the discovery of what makes it all worthwhile. Such preoccupation with the material world can suck the joy out of life, making it a wearisome journey. On the other hand, paying conscious and deliberate attention to this inborn urge, and making choices that move us to life’s deeper meaning can open up a whole new dimension of intention and beauty.

You may want to re-energize this intended dimension of living with more satisfaction. You understand that material pursuits by themselves add little significance to one’s life. If you want to utilize your wealth and your health for creating a satisfying life and legacy, here are some ideas on how to effectively nurture your search for meaning.

INVEST IN RELATIONSHIPS: To invest is to pour time and resources into something or someone for a reason. If an obvious dimension of life satisfaction is to connect with people, to nourish, encourage, or give to them whatever is in their best interest, then why not become more intentional about it? This requires a level of emotional maturity and health. Caring for others requires putting aside one’s own desires and agenda, at least temporarily.

A deeply engrained habit of “me first” is difficult to change. To be caring is not an innate characteristic; rather it develops one choice, one action at a time. Keeping track of your goals and daily actions in writing (call it “self-monitoring), will significantly enhance your chances of success. Start with your family, and begin now to build a living legacy of caring and giving. Get a relationship coach if necessary. The rewards are fabulous. Is there any time like the present to get started?

JOIN A CAUSE LARGER THAN YOURSELF: A life focused on oneself becomes a journey of tedium and boredom. Life closes in on itself becoming ever more confining and dark. On the other hand, life expands and brightens when lived for a cause that quickens the spirit. The joy of accomplishing something worthwhile, shared with those of like mind, satisfies that deep urge for worth. It lifts the soul from the narrowness of self-interest and opens new spheres of light and beauty. To bring help, direction, and hope to others surprisingly brings hope and joy back home again. Talk with a caring friend about how to find a niche that lights your fire.

LOVE BETTER BY COMMUNICATING MORE EFFECTIVELY: To become an expert listener is to give a gift of love to others in your life. Of course you want to love more fully but true love needs arms and legs and feet. Likewise good listening and communicating needs structure; it does not happen by wishing it to be so. Excellent loving is more about how you treat someone than about how you feel. Feelings are automatic and fleeting, but committed love requires consistent attention.

Developing the gift of good listening is powerful because it says “I care enough to take the time to understand you deeply and to accept what I discover about you unconditionally. I want to go to the next level of knowing you more than I want my own agenda”. Loving by listening carefully may require conquering some deeply ingrained habits as the starting point for deeper, more meaningful relationships.

LEARN THROUGH LOSS AND SUFFERING: No one enjoys attending the school of hard knocks, but life gives us all some required coursework. It is vital to have a strong faith to carry you through the tides of adversity without getting swamped. Despair is a possible outcome of serious setbacks, but the narrow and dark places of our problems are potential doorways to bountiful and abundant living. Hope, perspective, wisdom, connection and gratefulness are the generous rewards that can only be seen on the other side of suffering. No “reasons” seem sufficient while the grief or trial continues, but the “eyes of faith” eventually deliver goodness in surprising and magnificent ways.

LEARN TO GIVE AND SERVE WITH HEALTHY BOUNDARIES: It is a sad fact of nature that we are born fully self-centered. As a baby, nothing matters except the getting what I want or need. Some people never “grow up”, living lives focused on self-satisfaction, failing to grasp that personal fulfillment comes from helping others be fulfilled.

This is an unpopular concept in our “you deserve it”, self-esteem, self-fulfillment, self-everything cultural milieu, but undeniably true. Historically, those who have been the greatest champions of justice, the greatest leaders, the most successful in business or good causes of any kind, have consistently been humble servant-leaders. Of course there are exceptions, but the trend is clear and compelling. This genre of givers and lovers has hugely impacted our world, leaving heritages of untold goodness. The paradox of their lives is that, in caring for others, they have created living examples and legacies of satisfied, fulfilled living.

Every good thing has its excesses and perversions. The divine potential for nobility can be diminished or derailed by greed, emotional wounds, bent motivations, or others’ agendas. Healthy boundaries, healthy thinking and solid spiritual anchors are necessary to maintain successful and healthy giving.

PRACTICE GRACE: Grace is amazing because it is counter-intuitive and counter-cultural. It is compelling, hope-filled and redemptive. Yet at the same time grace is a huge stumbling block to humanity. Human foibles and sins demand justice. We are all about fairness, justice and consequences and so it “should” be. How can life function without these? This is never more clear when we or those we care about have been wronged.

Yet . . . something is missing from this formula. Just consequences often lead only to despair, resentment, or retaliation. It is when consequences are clearly deserved, and in the presence of genuine remorse, that undeserved forgiveness and favor can be deeply and functionally restorative. Despair turns to hope, doubt turns to faith, and indolence turns to motivation by a “debt of love”. This is not a guilty kind of debt, but an energized deep desire to “pass it on” to others this surprising and undeserved release from the debt clearly owed.

FORGIVE WRONGS: Can you forgive those who have wronged you, or do you find yourself holding grudges indefinitely? Un-forgiveness is an abortive attempt to hold others in the jail of obligation for wrongs committed. But the prison intended for the wrong-doer closes more surely on the “victim” holding the grudge. Life becomes narrower and darker in such a prison of one’s own making.

All “fairness” arguments aside, only letting go and healthy forgiving opens the door to significant and zestful living, regardless of how it “should” be. Releasing a wrong requires a fair amount of emotional maturity, and perhaps a touch of divine inspiration and ability. It is smaller, and more human to demand justice.

Most of the religions of the world are oriented around rules and good behavioral performance. We clearly have this penchant for earning our way to heaven. The great objection toward grace and undeserved forgiveness is that they assault our notions about the economy of justice, and overturn our insistence on earning our rewards. There is only one “religion” among perhaps thousands that upsets the false pride of earning one’s own salvation. It levels the playing field and for these reasons it is a stumbling block to many.

BECOME A SERVANT LEADER: A life well lived takes responsibility for the development of effective leadership skills. This is an area of relationship that, if properly developed, can bring great satisfaction and purpose. Successful leaders do not throw their weight around; rather they lead skillfully from the humble position of a servant. They are centered on helping others get what they want and need.

TUNE IN TO THE “ENHANCERS” AND “KILLERS” OF PURPOSE AND SIGNIFICANCE. Emotions like anxiety, guilt, and anger can sap energy and create distractions from living the meaningful life. Chronic or excessive stress can overtax the adrenal glands and sap your initiatives and purpose like a hole in a watering can. Energy is not only essential to purposeful living but also to many aspects of health and longevity. Do an inventory on your own enhancers and killers of purpose. Take charge of this arena of your life by taking advantage of the many excellent resources available.

GET IN SYNCH WITH GOD: You and I have within us a “god-shaped vacuum”. Put another way, human beings are made for relationship with God, and don’t function optimally without him. To fly through life without this vital spiritual connection is as foolish as trying to fly an airplane with no knowledge of how it works. And yet human arrogance, independence, and ignorance conspire to detour us. Our culture lauds the mindset of “I did it my way”. Although meaningful things can be accomplished without recognizing or nurturing a divine connection, why would anyone want to flirt with mediocrity when it is so close and possible to move into a whole new reality, one in which truth, love and faith direct and empower toward ultimate fulfillment and significance? When you join God’s plan for you and your world, you relinquish your own limited perspective and resources, and plug into the power and wisdom to re-create a fulfilling new vision of significant living.

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