Meaning…

img_8990-1John and I had just finished our laps and I began to stretch and asked, “So, John, what gives your life hope and meaning?”

He looked at me surprised and said, “Isn’t that a kind of heavy question for first thing in the morning?”

“Perhaps,” I responded, “but never a better way to start a day than with good questions!”

img_1136John’s a retired high school Physics teacher, loves deep underwater dives without oxygen, practices swimming lengths of the pool holding his breath, teaches a beginning yoga class and is a peaceful presence.

After pondering a moment said, “You know, I think I find the greatest meaning in giving.”  He began to list out some of what that means as he gives time to others, volunteers, and loves on people around him.

He then turned the question around on me.

“Well, not to sound all religious, I think the person who gives my life the most meaning is Jesus.  And I think the way in which that happens is through experiences I get to have as I give myself away for the sake of others.  So kind of like you said as far as the giving part.”

“Ah. Jesus,” John responded.  “I used to go to church and stuff, but I gave that up and have kind of embraced a more Buddhist approach to life.  Buddhism teaches to avoid suffering, so you avoid any action that might bring suffering.”  The teachings of Buddhism actually sound much like the last five of the biblical Ten Commandments as a list of actions to keep oneself from suffering.

He continued, “I try to focus on peace, on being a peaceful and loving person.”

“That’s really important,” I responded, stretching my arms now.

John said, “You know, I began to realize that most sufferings came in the relationship with people at church, I think that is what took me away from it.  I think that both hell and heaven are what we experience here on earth.  People create their own paradises or their own living hells.”

“Oh John, that’s sad what you said of your church experience.  Whereas that ought to be the place where you find the most happiness and grace and love.  I’m sorry that that was your experience.  And I can agree that our choices have a huge degree of power in whether we experience joy or sadness, heaven or hell, here on earth.  But I am curious about your Buddhist leanings for you mentioned you pray, but Buddhism does not make a claim of there being a divine.  So, to whom do you pray?”

John laughed, and said, “Well, you might think this crazy, but I pray to God, the Father, and do so in the name of Jesus, every time I pray.”

I laughed: “John, you are a closet Christian!” I exclaimed. “So you pray to God in the name of Jesus.”

“I know, doesn’t really fit, and I don’t really know that I even know what is supposed to happen, but I believe that something really does work in actually remembering and mentioning the needs of people before God so I pray daily.”

“John, this is amazing to me on so many levels, for I think many people who claim they are followers of Jesus, perhaps do not have that regular of a prayer life, even though they ought to have it.  So, I guess I will pray for Jesus to show up in those prayers and surprise you sometime.”

As we exited the pool and headed to the showers, he was chuckling, and I asked about suffering again.

“In Buddhist teaching, you do all you can to avoid suffering, but suffering is unavoidable in this life, really.  It comes unbidden, and without me taking an action which I might call “sin” and you might have another name for it. We always end up with points of suffering.  What about those times?  I mean, you didn’t do something necessarily to cause them, so what do you do with them?”

“For me,” John responded, “those times are to be entered into with a mindfulness of allowing that which brings suffering to drift away.  I guess I view points of suffering as just an issue of focus within my mind which I can change and adjust.”

“That’s interesting,” I responded as we showered, ” for I don’t think I am very good at ‘thinking suffering away.’  But I can say, as I have lived, I have found that the most meaningful times in my life have been those places of suffering, the dark times, the points of difficulty, it was within those time that I grew the most or that God changed me the most.  That is actually said many times in the Bible, like how in the letter to the Romans, Paul wrote: “…suffering produces perseverance, and perseverance character and character hope, and hope will not disappoint us for the love of God has been poured out into our lives by the Holy Spirit whom He has given to us…” (Romans 5:3-5).

“Interesting, isn’t it, that I began asking about what gave your life hope and meaning, and as we come to this point in the conversation, I guess for me, it is trial, tribulation, and suffering that has done so, it produces hope in my heart by God’s Holy Spirit.  I never thought I would be saying that.”

“Where do you go to church?” John asked.  I told him.

I’ll be able to continue this conversation with John again, other days, for we see one another often at the pool.  But I have been pondering our conversation.

Last night we had family night dinner and it reminded me how much hope and meaning I’ve found in our family, in relationship with our kids, grandkids and in my deep love and friendship with my precious wife, Karen.

This morning I came upon these two guys, Ken and Dave, who sit and drink a morning coffee, outside of a local coffee haunt.  They have been so regular there that the manager made a sign for them that says “FREE ADVICE” to put on their table.  This sign was the reason I first spoke with them months back.

Today I asked them what brings them hope and meaning.  It was interesting for both of them had never even thought of that as something possible.

Ken pondered it and at first said, “Nothing that I can think of, but I like sitting here, I like the smell of the morning and like conversing here.”  He was thinking about just this part of life, and then realized something, “Relationships. They give my life hope and meaning.”

“Absolutely,” I agreed.

“I think that’s why we love sitting out here,” Dave piped up. “You won’t believe the people that come here and what they say. Once this whole van load of people got out and asked to take our picture and everything.  They were here from South Carolina.  They were the nicest folk.”

“Did they sing for you?” I asked.

“Nah,” he said, “but that was ok. And they sure didn’t ask me to sing!” he said laughing.

“Some people look so sad as they walk from their cars to the front door of the coffee shop,” Ken said, “And we just greet them, and suddenly their whole face brightens.”

“It is amazing,” I agreed, “how much we can impact someone’s life just with basic kindness, a greeting, a gesture, some sign of care.  Sounds like you find great meaning being here, in this place, greeting folk and chatting with one another.”

They both looked surprised and said that was true. This morning routine of theirs gave their lives meaning and hope because of the friendship they share, and the stories they got to share with people going in and coming out of the coffee place. These guys also share faith in Jesus, a love for life borne of faith. I’m certain Jesus is in the mix.

So, what might you say?

What brings your life hope and meaning?

About Camino Way 2016 Shimer

On August 22, 1981 I married this wonderful woman, Karen, who has consistently blessed and changed my life and days. We are still in love, all the more with the years. We have four daughters, two sons by marriage, and three delightful, wonderful grandchildren. So, that makes me a husband, father, and grandfather all in those sentences. But mostly just a guy who loves my family. Today Karen and I planted beautiful plants in numerous pots. She had come home with the plants and that experience reminded me how much I enjoy simple things and simple pleasures -- like digging in dirt to plant a flower, like sunlight through glass on a spring day, like clean windows -- just washed ours today -- like a melody that won't escape from my heart. I've been a local church pastor for 30 years as of this June, a number that staggers me for I feel about that age on the inside, but clearly that's not the case. Back in 1988 I graduated from Asbury Theological Seminary with an Mdiv-- a time of schooling that has been a foundation for years of ministry. But it is mostly in the building upon that foundation, that has most changed my life. I love people, love seeing Jesus work in people's lives. One of my favorite joys is to pray with someone through some horrible place of memory and see Jesus walk right into their memory world, and turn on the lights in a way that sets their soul free and brings healing. There's nothing like this privilege and I have been there to watch it happen more times than I can count. Between 4 and 7 the associate pastor of my family's congregation sexually abused me, first grooming me, then repeatedly violating my young self. This marked my life. It changed my bearings. It ripped at my faith. It wounded my image of what it meant to be a little boy, and later a man. It has been a point from which I have been in the process of healing for many years now. I'm a survivor, but more than that, I am one who lives beyond what was done. For in the middle of all that stuff, Jesus was calling me, speaking to me, bidding me to follow him to bring change to people's lives within the realm of the very office that was used to harm me. Only Jesus can make light from darkness, hope from despair, and healing from brokenness. I love Jesus. He really is alive, no matter what others may believe. And his life, his presence, his words into my world, his healing power have continued to be the foundation point of what it means to experience life to the fullest. I love writing. I don't really know why on that score for really writing has never been a central tool in my world, nor has it come easily. But I love seeing how words released heal. And I love the way words can connect me to other people's worlds. So, that's why I started blogging. It began because I was planning to blog on a weekly basis when I went to walk the Camino de Santiago last fall. And in order to be able to blog while walking, I knew I had to begin to practice blogging before I was in another country. A friend told me that. Friends are good to help us find ways to live more authentically into our daily lives! So, I started. But what I have discovered is there is something powerful about sharing the story of life with others. So, I have continued. And I love the connections being built through those words. In 2011 I experienced my first seminar in Simply the Story, a bible story telling method that involves those listening in discussion and I decided then -- "this is what I plan to do when I retire." But really-- "why wait until then?" -- so I use this method while I continue pastoring. It sets people free and allows the Word to take root in ways that preaching never has. So again and again I am practicing asking questions and that is good practice for me, because I am frequently better at "telling" than "asking." This has been such a freeing gift. I love training others in this skill. So, a storyteller would certainly be true of me too. Years ago I discovered my mission in life is "the joyful transformation of people's lives through the person of Jesus Christ." And that continues to be where I find my home base, in joy. Where there is joy, I find, there is Jesus, and there is the possibility of transformation. Of course Jesus is in places where there is no joy as well, and once He is there, the place kind of changes because of Him. I love that.
Gallery | This entry was posted in camino, Encouragement, Faith, family, Fellowship, follow, Friendship, hope, Jesus, Joy, meaning, Presence, Steps, Thanksgiving, Trust and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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