No One Has Meaning Alone

“Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another” ~ Thomas Merton.

Have you ever solicited feedback from others about how you’re doing in life?

For instance, asking your children “How am I doing as a parent on a scale of 1 to 10?”

Or, “How am I doing as a co-worker?” Or a boss, a son or daughter?

In our individualistic culture, we tend to think that we can get by just fine without this kind of feedback. Many of us desperately want to live by the phrase “I don’t care what they think of me.”

But let’s be honest, you do care. That’s why you’ve probably never asked all the closest people in your life to rate how you’re doing in your various roles. It’s the reason why I haven’t.

The age of self-empowerment

For much of the modern era, we’ve been living in the age of self-empowerment. Collectively, we’ve gradually woken up to the truth that we create our own realities. And if we can claim this truth, we can regain much control over our emotions and feelings. We can reframe experiences and create our own meaning.

We can take charge of our lives.

I am a firm believer in the idea of self-empowerment. But I also believe that pushing this idea too far can lead us toward isolation. If I can create my own meaning, I need not bother with how others are experiencing me.

I need not bother with the opinions of others, especially if they get too close to exposing my blind spots or shortcomings. We hide most of our fears under the guise of exercising our right to privacy.

If we don’t allow those we love and respect most to speak into our lives, we miss out on the full richness of who we are.

No one has meaning alone

The writer David Dark cuts through the illusions we have about our self-contained empowerment with this sentence:

“I’m not, as it turns out, the best or final authority concerning my own meaning.”

Think about this for a second. This goes against much of what we stand for in the age of self-empowerment. It might even seem unreasonable or even downright illogical.
How can it be that I am not the “best” or “final” authority about how I experience my own life?

He continues:

“Everyone needs at least one or two people asking them – sometimes begging them – to tell them specifically how they’re doing in this unfolding tale of trying to be true….

We get to put the request to folks every so often: ‘Tell me how I’m doing. Tell me the truth about where you think I am.’”

Hearing the truth

Most of us don’t have the stamina to hear the truth. We’re terrified of it.

But there is nothing more self-empowering than being humble enough to hear the truth about how we’re doing.

Because in the end, to use the words of David Dark, no one has meaning alone.

What is Your ONE Thing?

“If you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one” ~ Russian Proverb.

What is your ONE thing?

I found myself asking this question recently after reading The ONE Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. The goal of this marvelous book is to help readers achieve extraordinary results by focusing on the few things (or the ONE thing) that matter most.

The theory sounds so simple, but it’s not how we live in our day to day lives. We’re often about many things. We chase multiple dreams and goals hoping that one will eventually lead us to success. The authors cite a well-known Russian proverb that shatters this myth:

“If you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one.”

And you know what’s even more sad than chasing two rabbits? Chasing three, five, or ten.

This is how we live. We chase dozens of rabbits in order to hedge our bets. If you’re chasing multiple rabbits, you already know it doesn’t work. But if you’re like me, you still can’t help yourself.

So I began pondering the question:

What is my ONE thing?

As I pondered, I heard Bishop Robert Barron reflect on Jesus’ temptation in the desert. In his homily he said that the “sacrifice of the Cross was the one thing Jesus was about.” In citing the work of the late Bishop Fulton Sheen, he goes on to say that though Jesus was a great teacher and wonder worker, he was not primarily these things. His primary identity was “the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world.” His primary mission was to die.

It turns out that the powerful idea of the ONE thing preceded Keller and Papasan by at least two thousand years.

My ONE Thing

After hearing the homily, I was inspired to ask again:

What is my ONE thing?

The answer finally came:

My ONE thing is to die to myself.

This made sense. In the Christian context, dying to self is how one embarks on the journey to God.

Almost all my suffering comes when I pursue many things and forget about my ONE thing. But when I remember my ONE thing, I remember that I am not primarily here to impress people. I’m not primarily here to “get ahead” in life. I’m not primarily here to have an easy, comfortable life.

I am here to die.

Because it is only in dying to myself that I find my true self. My true self can enjoy earthly goods without becoming attached to them. My true self can allow others to shine without feeling threatened. My true self can relinquish the ego, which is all about fear and self-preservation. My true self can love others authentically.

Are you suffering?

If you are, maybe it’s time to discover your ONE thing.

What, in the end, is your life about?

Don’t boil it down to a list of three or even two things.

Force yourself to discover the ONE thing.

On Rejection

“Do not worry about being rejected and alone. It is the real you that everyone falls in love with–and that God adores” ~ Neale Donald Walsch.

There is almost no end to the ways we can feel rejected:

  • You didn’t get called back for the job interview.
  • You were not acknowledged at a social gathering.
  • Your best friend stopped calling you.
  • You were dumped.
  • You’re not receiving appreciation for your outstanding work.
  • You didn’t get any “likes” or shares on social media.

We all know what it feels like to be rejected. We know the searing pain of this unavoidable human experience. In doing a little research, I learned that we process emotional rejection and physical pain in the same part of our brains. The difference? It’s easier to let go of the experience of physical pain than it is to let go of emotional hurt. Many of us carry around these emotional hurts, unaware of how they are affecting our lives today. One wrong word or move can vividly take us right back to something that happened decades ago.

But have you ever considered that you have rejected others?

Don’t remember? Take a minute to stop and think back to how were the “cause” of someone’s emotional pain. Think back to the reasons why you may have rejected someone. Here are some possible options:

  • You may have had a very good reason for it.
  • You may have been going through some personal struggle and lashed out.
  • Maybe you were simply not aware.

What does the awareness of this do for you? Does it give you more compassion for yourself when you are rejected? Does it help you understand and even forgive your rejecter?

One of the best ways to overcome rejection is to understand that your rejecter is a human being just like you. Understand that you are more similar than you might think.

So let go of your self-loathing, your anger and bitterness, your unforgiveness. Let go of the hurt and become vulnerable again. Wouldn’t you want your rejectee to do the same for themselves?