You've been in the room. Several other people gathered with you. You were all asked to be there to discuss something important. As the meeting progresses, and others take the conversation in a direction that is neither relevant nor important for you, you mentally mull some questions: Why am I at this meeting? What's the point of me being here?"
"Why am I here?" We've all been in situations that begged the question.
When the purpose is clear, we derive a great feeling of motivation. We've been in that kind of meeting, too: a meeting that is clearly relevant to our individual work and defines some clear action steps for moving forward.
If only life operated so clearly. But generally, we tend to live vacillating between the two types of situations: moments of clarity and moments of aimlessness.
So what about life? What is the point?
Many of us avoid that question. Asking such a question is intimidating because we don't readily see an answer.
The book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible represents that tension. It's not a hugely popular book--one that is not often quoted in worship services. It's most famous lines have been song-ified by The Byrds: "To everything, turn, turn, turn. There is a season, turn, turn, turn…"
Ecclesiastes asks the unsettling question: "What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun? A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever." (Ecclesiastes 1:4)
Such questions don't lead to strong feelings of significance. And if we're so insignificant, what's even the point? Perhaps what is most unsettling about Ecclesiastes is that it poses the question of significance without posing an answer.
Does that mean there is no answer? Some would posit: "No--but the answer is unknowable." Does that really help someone who is struggling for significance? It doesn't help me much. Nor do I think it helped the writer of Ecclesiastes.
Instead, the writer of Ecclesiastes suggested we not focus on the endpoint, and instead focus on enjoying the present. "There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil." (Ecclesiastes 2:24) So, according to Ecclesiastes, it's best not to focus on the point, but to take pleasure in the toil. Yay!
Actually, that is solid advice. Our lives are much more agreeable when we take pleasure in our work. But wouldn't we love to know that our work is for something? Wouldn't it be wonderful to have some assurance that our work has a point?
In Good to Great, author Jim Collins introduces the idea of a Hedgehog Concept. The Hedgehog Concept is an idea or practice that an organization relies and focuses upon. As an example, Pepsi Co.'s Hedgehog Concept might be making quality Pepsi.
In looking at the entirety of the Bible--from Ecclesiastes and beyond--we may discern a Hedgehog Concept for our existence. There is a point.
As a story, the Bible moves from unity in creation (Genesis), to injustice and separation (much of the Old Testament), to redirection (the Old Testament prophets), to the re-establishment of wholeness and justice (Jesus, as represented in the Gospels, through Revelation). The path through which this happens is love. God's will and action in love become ever more obvious as a reader progresses through the Bible. We see love being revealed through scripture like we see a plot twist slowly revealed in an M. Knight Shyamalan movie (like "The Sixth Sense"). The Hedgehog Concept of the story is love.
The point, then, is love. We are here to experience, share, represent, and overcome in love. That sounds so incredibly simplistic that I am reluctant to write it. But clarity requires simplicity--and simplicity is often the path to wisdom.
How do you live the point?
You're probably doing it already. Perhaps in order to feel more connected to the point, we merely need to express and expose love in more deliberate ways. Even for those of us who feel forgotten and unloved, we are invited to experience love by expressing it to others who experience the same.
- Check in on someone.
- Disconnect from digital distractions for a bit and be available to the people around you.
- Recognize the importance of every individual by learning the names of people you see often.
- Don't miss a chance to say "thanks."
- Donate used items, new items, or money. The best donation, however, is often time. If you're feeling disconnected from others, a donation of presence is incredibly meaningful.
- Share something positive on social media--and tag somebody.
- Brag about somebody else.
- When people are gossiping about someone, counteract by offering something nice.
- Smile often. Laugh as much.
- Talk to someone you don't normally talk to.
- Make a conscious effort to be the person you would like to be around.
Written by Rev. Ryan Dunn, Minister of Online Engagement for Rethink Church and United Methodist Communications. He is a father, spouse, and spiritual pilgrim.
[Posted May 28, 2019]