Marcus Aurelius said:
“You have proof in the extent of your wanderings
that you never found the art of living anywhere –
not in logic, nor in wealth, fame, or in any indulgence. Nowhere.
Where is it then? In doing what human nature demands.
How is a person to do this? By having principles be the source of desire and action.
What principles? Those to do with good and evil, indeed in the belief that there is no good for a human being except what creates justice, self-control, courage and freedom, and nothing evil except what destroys these things.”
I’ve met many a person who called themselves a seeker, and seen many shirts and bumper stickers proclaiming “not all who wander are lost”. But I have noticed that wanderers and seekers tend to stay wanderers and seekers, never quite finding the thing they are looking for. In their quest to find meaning in life, they stumble from one thing to another, never focusing enough energy in one place to really make a difference. So, while they proclaim that their searchings are all about meaning, the end result is actually meaningless. I think there may be a few reasons for this.
- Their focus is in the wrong place. They are asking themselves “what is my purpose?”, when they should be asking others “how can I be of service?”.
- They move on too soon, before they can see what direction it is leading and make course corrections, and before what they’ve planted has a chance to grow.
- They have rejected the true answer, and seek a substitute – when there is no substitute that measures up.
When I think about people who I believe have truly found their purpose, they are always people who are working at something that serves others – not only themselves. Whether it is feeding the poor or putting humans in space, what they are working at is bigger than themselves. The other trait they have in common, is that they have devoted their life to what they are working at – sometimes spending many years not seeming to make a difference. But they stuck with it, they learned what worked and what didn’t, they ignored the naysayers, they eventually found others who wanted to be involved, and they never considered the work to be complete.
Those who make a difference are not focused on themselves. When we focus on ourselves, we choose what “feels right”, what feels good. That means we often avoid struggle, pain, and confrontation. But those are the things which are most likely to bring about growth. If we walk away the minute things become uncomfortable, we will be walking away from everything – because life is inherently uncomfortable, something will always go wrong, and there will always be someone who disagrees with us. Life is not all smooth sailing. Growth is about pushing through pain, learning from struggle, building compassion through the confrontations, and ultimately gaining understanding. Only when we have understanding can we know what we have “found”.
I can’t think of anyone I have met who calls themselves a wanderer or seeker, who is seeking Christ. This may be a truly “Western” or “American” phenomenon, but all the seekers I have met are people turning away from Christianity in search of pretty much anything else. This is usually more about the people who have failed them, not about Christ. But people will fail you no matter what you are doing – in relationships, in religions, in workplaces, in schools, in sports, in charities, in politics – anywhere you look. People act out when they are hurt, people do selfish things, people have screwed up priorities. People will abuse power, be disloyal, be deceitful, be hurtful and selfish, lie, cheat, steal…and more. Unfortunately, this is true of people in the church as well. It shouldn’t be, but it is, because people are … well … people. I say this not to excuse them – what they are doing is wrong, and they clearly are not good representatives of the faith, and we cannot allow these things once we see them. But we also cannot confuse the “people of faith” with the faith itself. The Bible teaches that God is love (1 John 4:7-16), and that:
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. – 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
I don’t know any people who live up to that anywhere, but I believe that God does. So I focus on what I can do to serve Him, push through the rocky soil into growth, and seek truth and understanding through Christ. Instead of looking at each puzzle piece of life and concluding that it is meaningless, I trust that the final picture will be more beautiful than I can even imagine, and that every piece – even one as small as mine – will have it’s purpose.