-from the Jewish Learning Institute course
“Toward a Meaningful Life”
I gratefully thank You, living and existing King for returning my soul to me with compassion.
Abundant is your faithfulness. –Modeh Ani
Before continuing to read, if you haven’t done so, go to yesterday’s morning mediation Struggling in the Dark. The conversation about meaning and significance really starts there.
Do you have a purpose in life? Does your life matter to others or even to one single other human being? Would it make any difference if you had not been born? Why are you here?
I suppose everyone has asked those questions about themselves at one point or another. We can look around us and see a gifted teacher, a compassionate doctor, a brilliant scholar and know immediately why God created them and why they are here. For a lot of people though, it may not be immediately apparent. We live ordinary lives. We work ordinary jobs. We don’t seem to be special in any way whatsoever. Would the world turn any differently if we weren’t here on the planet?
That’s hard to say. It comes down to the fundamental question of whether or not each individual person matters in God’s plan, as opposed to only certain key individuals being part of God’s plan, and existing within the mass of the rest of humanity.
Simon Jacobson, author of the book Toward a Meaningful Life asks that question and answers it by saying, “Birth is G-d saying that you matter.”
“Birth is G-d saying that you matter.”
By Rabbi Jacobson’s definition (and hopefully God’s), if you were born, you matter. More than that, you matter specifically to God because He created you to have a special mission to accomplish with your life.
I’m sure a lot of people would be. For most of us, we can’t imagine what we can do that would be special to God. What’s more important is to realize that we have that importance in the eyes of God no matter what anyone else thinks or feels about us.
That part can be difficult. It’s easier to imagine we are important to God when we’re important to other people. It can be more difficult to imagine we are important if we feel as if we don’t really matter to other people, beyond their obligation to say that we matter. Do we feel valued for who we are intrinsically as a person, or only for the role we play (employee, parent, child, family wage earner, taxpayer, and so on)? If we stopped doing what others expected of us, would they still care about whether or not we even existed?
Remember, I’m not talking about people who expect you to show up at work every day or to pay the bills on time. While those activities are certainly important, do you think God created you just to pay bills? Isn’t there something more to your life in the plan of the Creator of the Universe? I’m not particularly talking about something “flashy” or “fantastic”, but I am talking about something meaningful beyond the mechanics of everyday existence and particularly in terms of what God considers valuable, rather than the values of the world around us.
Through all that and more, as human beings, we struggle to find significance in the eyes of God, whether we really believe in that significance or not.
When Jesus (famously) said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) was “so loved the world” a generic reference to people in general, or did he mean “so loved each and every individual in the world across all human history”? If birth is the criteria, then the latter must be true.
That means when you get up in the morning, you have a particular mission to accomplish. This first chapter in the JLI lesson I’m reading (no, I’m not taking the course, my wife “gifted” me with the lesson book from the class she previously attended) guides the student into creating a mission statement: a one to two sentence statement of goals and purpose, usually for an organization. According to the class material, people need mission statements as well. Without one, a person will be about as successful in discovering their purpose in life as a company without a well-stated and defined reason for existence.
Here are a few examples of the original mission statements from now successful companies:
“To produce high-quality, low-cost, easy to use products that incorporate high technology for the individual. We are proving that high technology does not have to be intimidating for noncomputer experts.” –Apple
“We create happiness by providing the finest in entertainment for people of all ages, everywhere.” –Disney
“To make the world’s information universally accessible and useful” –Google
But what is your mission? For that matter, what is mine?
Maybe you know exactly what yours is or perhaps, staring at a blank piece of paper and expecting to write it down, you have come to the abrupt realization that it will take you a lifetime to figure out.
One of the main reasons I created this blog is to provide a platform for me and others to start the day exploring something about ourselves and the world around us that gives meaning and purpose to our lives. There are days when, looking at the web traffic to my blog, I feel as if I’m talking only to myself. If just one other person reads my blog and benefits from it, is that a sufficient fulfilling of my existence in the eyes of God? Am I fulfilling my purpose, or have I lost my way? Do I have a path or am I wandering aimlessly.
I found something said by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks that addresses this query and that has provided the main theme for today’s morning mediation:
One of my favorite contemporary phrases is “mission drift”. First used by the military, it’s what happens when in pursuit of an objective people forget what objective they were pursuing. You get sidetracked. The territory turns out to be not like the map. The going is harder than you thought it would be. You lose your way. The car breaks down. On the brink of departure, it looked so simple. But then, as someone (no one’s quite sure who) once said, “In theory there’s no difference between theory and practice. But in practice, there is.”
In a single chapter in one lesson book, there’s probably material for half a dozen blog posts or more, maybe because the lesson is that good or, more likely, because the questions of purpose and “mission drift” are just that fundamental to humanity.
If we are only human and God is a God who needs nothing, what can we do on Earth that He needs from us?
There’s more to discover in subsequent morning meditations. Like the topic of depression brought up in yesterday’s missive, exploring your meaning and purpose may not be a comfortable journey, but I invite you to join me on the trail. Let’s see what we can find together, starting in tomorrow’s morning meditation, “The Prophet and the Shade Plant”.
As you keep reading through this series we will continue to ask one challenging and terrifying question: “Who am I and why am I here?”