John 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!”
John’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?