Life can leave us fragmented and without cohesion. Society often has communicated a not-so-subtle message that we have multiple selves; there’s the self we are at home, the self we are at work, the self we are with friends, the self we are at the gym, and even the self we are at church or temple.
Joyful living is more likely found when we embrace a holistic, multi-dimensional approach to each of our endeavors and responsibilities. Much of what wears us down across a busy week relates to the effort we put toward not just wearing various hats but various identities—attempting to be one person in a certain set of circumstances, and someone else in another context. It gets exhausting.
There are steps we can take to embrace transparent living, rather than this ongoing shuffle of identities. One step is an intentional choice to identify our values—with care and tact, mind you—in whatever dynamic we find ourselves, whether with family, friends, at work or out in our communities.
The second step goes beyond making our values clear—it’s living true to those values, so that no one can honestly say that we are inconsistent, false, pretentious, and so forth.
The latter does not imply we never make mistakes that give the appearance of hypocrisy or value smog. Human beings are on a journey of deepening understanding and motivations, and our character takes its greatest leaps forward when we fail. Showing self-awareness, determination and perseverance actually amplifies the evidence of our value structure rather than casting doubts about it.
But values themselves are more clearly developed when grounded in a certain philosophical vantage point, or world view, about the nature of people, relationships, good, evil and the like. Every person has values per say—but for many, they have not been clearly examined and thought through, understood in terms of origin and implementation, or intentionally practiced with cohesion.
For me, I have learned that what provides the glue to tie together sometimes-disjointed components of a value system…what gives a larger perspective…is cultivating a life of faith.
What is Faith?
Faith is one of those societal buzzwords that can mean many different things. A person can have “faith” in just about anything and everyone, from a neighbor to a spouse to a jar of peanuts. Faith itself is value- and-quality neutral; it is the object and direction of one’s faith that provides the substance and degree of transformation.
Some have faith in a system of living that makes sense to them. Others have faith in institutions, in governments, in organizations, in movements. Some have faith in mystic practices, some in proven or even unproven techniques, some in a being they call Creator or Higher Power or perhaps even God.
Such faith is foundational for persons who embrace it. It is what inspires the desire to serve people well, to accomplish things of lasting value. It is what protects our minds and hearts against the onslaught of temptation, distraction, and materialism. It is what under girds us during times of tragedy, fear, uncertainty, loss, rejection.
For me, a key component of faith is its relational dynamic. Faith from my experience is not grounded in “karma” or abstractions or decisions engineered by people, circumstances or events, but is placed in a transcendent person who stands apart from time and the fickle things of this life.
As complex human beings, I believe we are hard-wired to connect with someone bigger and beyond ourselves, who guides and sustains, who sees the larger picture, who makes sense of the senseless. Someone who can relate to our needs and circumstances, and provide guidance for how to thrive in the midst of them.
I experienced what I considered to be a beautiful image of this person’s faithfulness one early September morning in 1999, while I was in my final year of seminary in Wilmore, Ky. As I was power-walking toward the gym located at a nearby college campus, I was covered by a half-moon autumn sky dotted with a collection of stars. The sidewalks themselves were rather dark, and I was quite alone in my pursuit of fitness.
As I made my way, I suddenly could see the shining, lit-up cross that sat atop the campus water tower located near the gym. As I progressed I would occasionally catch a glimpse of it without the hindrance of the many trees that decorated the bluegrass hills; and at other times I could see it only partially. It shone brighter as I got nearer, and it gave me a clear sense of my destination that morning.
Faith involves being able to see our hopes, goals, destinations, and so forth during the clear and murky moments of life—with eyes of the heart. I believe we all need someone or something to guide us on this journey called life. If we embrace the Life of Faith, it becomes a journey of deepening inner joy…a sprint of peace and perseverance…a marathon that communicates the best of what life and beyond have to offer.