Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Appreciating the Journey

When we witness something truly magnificent, such as the birth of a baby, a full moon over the ocean with a warm breeze, or the flutter in your chest when the love of your life enters the room; it is easy to believe in a powerful and loving God. Some things are just too powerful and too beautiful for us believe that they “just happened”. It just makes sense that someone is up there orchestrating these phenomenal happening.

I’ve mentioned before how I’ve grown to appreciate the tragedies of life for the purposes they serve and how I’ve become “almost ok with it”. However, I’ve begun to realize that there must be more to it than that. Why do we have suffering on this planet? Why does God allow it; and is me being “almost ok with it” as good as it’s going to get? Is that God’s big plan?

One can certainly make a valid argument for instances throughout history where something beautiful has come out of tragedy. Sadly, we often must lose everything in order to realize what really is important to us. The loss, or even near loss, of a loved one, can completely change the trajectory of your life. You realize for the first time how important that person really was to you, and you think, “I never showed her how much I love her. Did she know?” And you think, “I could have been a better friend (or cousin in my case). I could have served her more. Why did I take our time for granted? Why didn’t I help her? Why was I so selfish?” And as these reflections and regrets race through your mind, you vow to invest your time in what really matters; people, relationships, family. You vow to seize each moment as if it were your last; to never take a loved one for granted again. This will not; could not happen again. Suddenly, the idea of “ubuntu” seems of utmost importance.

You’ve gone through a significant transformation now, never to return to your previous state. And as a result, you believe yourself to be a more caring, more giving and ultimately “better” you. You’ve had a powerful “life changing” experience. What would your life look like without this tragedy? Would you have chosen this career path? Would you have married this person? Would you have invested so heavily into the relationships you now consider to be most important in your life? Look at how different your life is as a result of this tragedy. Could you really be “you” without this life changing experience?

The answer is very likely, “no, I would not be who I am today if…” Would you dare say that this great loss served the purpose of changing the course of your life? Do you believe that? Does this give you some greater responsibility to live a “good” life? Was it a wakeup call for you? Or was it actually intended to change someone else’s life and some good karma just happened to ricochet in your direction? Is it all just a coincidence? Are you just making things up in an effort to make sense out of life? What does it all really mean? Could this possibly be the same God that created something as inexplicable and powerful as love? How could He create something so beautiful one moment, and then allow it to be destroyed the next? What sense does this make? Is it dichotomous or purposeful? Why do bad things happen to good people?

The truth is I just don’t know the answers to all of these questions and I will never fully understand this dynamic between life and suffering.

Most of us have come to grips with the fact that life is a journey, and not a destination. Fair enough. I don’t believe God just put us here on earth to wait it out until we die and go to Heaven, or otherwise. I believe our life is about a series of decisions we make here on earth that have just as much importance as where we go when we die.

If I am truly to love my life, I have got to believe in the purpose of the journey. I’ve got to believe there is divine purpose in the beauty God creates, as well as the tragedies He allows to happen. While I do not wish for, or claim to understand, death or any other tragic loss, I have learned to recognize its purpose in our lives. Without it, we would cease to witness things like the phenomenon of “beauty from ashes” that have made life such a mind blowing experience. Think of those stories about the concept of “from rags to riches”. They wouldn’t be so compelling if they were called “I’ve always been rich”. It’s the idea that someone was destitute or poverty stricken and then overcame all of the odds against them that is so compelling.

I believe the realization and embrace of this powerful journey throughout life just might be the proverbial “secret to life”. If we learn to love, or at least appreciate every stage of our lives as a journey and not just a momentary happening, there is very little left to disrupt our peace and fulfillment.

While the mastery of this ideal is certainly attainable, it is no doubt a journey in and of itself. I certainly don’t pretend to have this all figured out. However, the more I train myself to view life as a journey, full of necessary failures and tragedies that form my character and personality, and generally end up making me a better person, the less I am devastated when something seemingly tragic happens. I’ve learned to stop, step back, look at the big picture and realize that maybe it was necessary, even if I don’t understand it. Fortunately, the happenings of life are not dependent upon my understanding of them. Believing there is purpose in it all gives me peace.

*This was admittedly more of a lengthy stream of thoughts and questions than my usual posts.

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