A couple of years ago my wife, Laurie and I had a chance, very random, truly enjoyable dinner with two adorable, hopelessly in love (at the time) newlyweds, whom you might have heard of – Sandra Bullock and Jesse James. We ran into them at Bess, an Austin restaurant owned by Sandra and named after her grandmother. Sandra and Jesse joined us while we ate at the bar and the four of us ended up having a lively, fun, and wide ranging conversation. I have to admit that I struggled a bit to add any value when the table talk turned to tattoos and fast cars.
I share this random fact with you not only to (hopefully) enhance the Google ranking of this blog, but more important, to lift up just one current cultural reference point that is indicative of the self-indulged, ego centric, values optional world in which you and I struggle to find meaning. When the values of our culture repeatedly drill into the core of our being that power, wealth, beauty, and success are the key to happiness, questions like, What is God calling me to do? and, How do I lead a life of significance? can seem very strange and even eccentric.
As chief executive officer of Lutheran Social Services, I have witnessed first hand the negative multi generational impact that neglect, cheating, abuse, divorce, drugs, and alcohol can have on children and families; the horrific pain that is caused when people don’t live out their callings. I have also been blessed to work with people who truly understand what it means to live a life of significance. For example, a foster care couple living in San Antonio who care for small, terminally ill children, knowing that these babies will one day die while in their loving care.
Intentionally wrestling with and answering the question – “How do I live a life of significance?” is of immense importance because if we get it right we, individually and collectively, have the power to change the lives of those that are placed in our path, and in the process, to change the world.
As we embark on this quest together the good news is that you and I, as Christians, come to the starting line with an advantage. When our relationship with God is strong we intuitively understand that it is indeed our faith that influences the intensity of our daily living. It allows us to look beyond our ego. It compels us to go beyond ourselves in ways that no other energy can. It is the force behind what we do. It defines why we are. It provides our life with worth and meaning in a world that so often seems void of values, justice, and even simple right and wrong.
From my perspective, living a life of significance is at its core pretty straightforward. This type of life is in essence a spiritual undertaking in which we keep Christ in the center of our hearts and consciously reject becoming a slave to our egos. In doing so we begin to grasp Jesus’ daunting words, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take his cross and follow me.” We become equipped to care for each other – our families, friends, co-workers, clients, community, even the least of these.
We discover anew how to serve and sacrifice for each other. We gain deep satisfaction doing this in a myriad of unsexy ways day in and day out, over and over, knowing that this is how we are to serve in this particular moment. Wearing the mask of God we bring our spouse a cup of coffee, build a well in Ethiopia, care for an aging parent, teach a student, serve in Afghanistan, paint a picture, become a mentor, plant a garden.
It appears from recent headlines that the happy couple Laurie and I met that night at Bess are currently struggling and in need of our prayers. Let us hope that Sandra will add value to the life of the child she recently adopted and Jesse will discover the peace and redemption of our forgiving, grace-filled God.
Living a life of significance is not a destination but rather an ongoing journey. During this journey there will be days that we fail miserably. There will be days that we become exhausted to our core. No, this is not easy work. However, as we participate with God in this journey we will also experience something better than the greatest momentary pleasure imagined – we will experience “a peace that transcends all understanding” – a phrase that means just that.
I look forward to participating with you as we continue in our shared journey of living a life of significance.
Dr. Kurt Senske is chief executive officer of Lutheran Social Services of the South and author of The Calling: Live a Life of Significance (forthcoming, November, 2010)