UNderstanding the Longing of our Communities
Part 1 of 4 - Longing for Meaning
In my last blog in May 2016, we looked at boundaries that can separate people and communities. Barriers that bring division and prejudice. If, however, you find you are able to jump a fence, what do you do then?
This is the first of four blogs, which I hope helps you see the opportunities to know and serve your communities better.
Ros and I have been married for 31 years, and one thing I am still rubbish at is listening to her. When she is relating a story while I am watching sport on TV, there is often only one winner, the television. The fact that it’s been 31 years is more down to Ros’ grace than my ability as a husband. Listening is crucial in a relationship.
I was at a lecture presented by Sheridan Voysey, an apologist and broadcaster. entitled ‘Listening to the Soul of your community’. In the lecture, Sheridan asked us to consider: What our community earnestly longs for?, What is it, that people are seeking most of all? And he encouraged us to listen out for the big questions people are asking. Sheridan suggested four primary longings are; Longing for Meaning, Longing for Guidance, next the Longing for Liberation and finally, the Longing for Love.
In this first of four blogs I will cover the first, the Longing for Meaning.
Longing for Meaning
What am I here for? What is the Meaning Life? What’s the point? This is a crucial question for us all. When I was 16, I remember being excited about my future and what was in store for me. Then one day, through the post, I received my National Insurance Number. I felt like this was a kick in the teeth. It was so depressing as it seemed to me that this number etched into this small card was all I was, just a number, just a statistic with no value, no purpose. What was the point.
The author, Michael Crichton said this ‘’The purpose of life is to stay alive. Watch any animal in nature - all it tries to do is stay alive’’. This sounds so stark, but recently, I had the privilege of talking to a man, who through bad choices had lost everything, family, home, job and his only purpose right then and there was to just stay alive. He was asking what’s the point?
The question, ‘what is the meaning to life?’ will sound different depending who is asking. The middle aged man sitting on the train 4 hours a day, working up in the city, trying to keep his family in the affluent standard of life they have come to expect, will sound very different to the single mother, heroically fighting every minute to keep her children fed and clothed at her own expense.
A growth area in the Tourist industry is ‘Adult Gap Years’ where professionals, well qualified people take a year out. Often fed up with the rat race, they want to do something more worthwhile. So they travel to the ‘third’ world or disaster zones to ‘put something back’. Now I think this is to be encouraged, but it shows that people feel a need to do something worthwhile to bring value or meaning to their lives.
Helpfully the bible does not leave us alone with this question, it honestly addresses it full on. Look at the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes to see that this is an age old question.
‘’…all is meaningless, What does a man gain by all his labour at which he toils under the sun?.... All things are wearisome,….What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again, there is nothing new under the sun. …. There is no remembrance of men of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered’’
Ecclesiastes asks ‘what is the point’ but it also answers its own question. As you read through this book it shouts out loud that meaning is not found in hard work, popularity, education, reputation or pleasure, wealth or knowledge; no, it is found in identity and being known and primarily being known by God our heavenly father. Being a child of God removes the need to strive for meaning and purpose, because we are known.
We also find the New Testament reinforcing this, when we read the first chapter of Ephesians, our identity and belonging are wrapped up in a Father God who chose us, adopted us, paid for us and amazingly took pleasure in doing so. We were all individuals who were trying to find meaning and purpose, through our own efforts, but He stepped in to change that.
I would ask you to do two things in response to this blog:
Consider the question for yourself. Where do I get my meaning or purpose and what does that look like? Consider how being a child of God sets a very different agenda for you personally
If your neighbour or colleague asked the question ‘what is the point?’ or ‘what is my purpose?’, would you recognise the question, and if you did how would you answer them. Maybe you start the conversation, ‘well this is where I find my meaning and purpose….’
Look out for the next blog in this series entitled, ‘Longing for Guidance’