One of the great joys I get to experience in my work as a hospice chaplain is to visit with people of varying ages, life-settings, education, financial standing, philosophies/beliefs, tastes, and so on. In the 19 years I’ve been “vocationing” in this good work of spiritual care, I’ve never met two people just alike. Many commonalities, absolutely. But no two human beings have ever been the same.
Still, one of the most frequent concerns that people tend to have is a preoccupation with what they have done (or perhaps not done).
Just last week I was visiting with a man nearly 90 years of age and he said to me, “I want my life to have meaning.” He’s nearly 90, and he’s still looking to have meaning. I love it!
But then he went on to say, “I think I’ve been pretty productive with my life.” And there it was: he’d equated meaning with productivity. And I grieved. Again. Because another human being, a child of God, was measuring his worthiness by how much he’d been able to do, to accomplish, to show for his life.
Think about it. When meeting someone, after exchanging names, what do we ask? What do you do? ACK! I wonder: Could we come up with some questions that would better reveal what it is about each other that we find meaningful, valuable, cherishable? Is “doing” the best indicator of who we are?
What if we asked, How do you describe yourself? Or, Tell me about some of the things you love?
Or, How do you spend your non-working hours? Or, How do you gauge your worth? Or, What do you hope people are gaining when you’re with them? Or, What’s the square root of nine? (Well, maybe not that last one….)
Are they socially awkward? Absolutely! Because they go against the social conventions that we have extended forever. If we’d been asking all along about these other wonderments, then they wouldn’t be awkward. They would be the conventions.
How easily we become trapped in convention. How quickly we capitulate to the norm. We are each created uniquely in the Image of God, particular and peculiar likenesses of that Image. Do you delight in who you are? (That’s another great question to open with! Or maybe, How do you delight in your life?) If not, ask others how they delight in you.
Hopefully, they’ll tell you a whole lot more than just how you make your bed or form sentences or do your work. Hopefully, they’ll help you see that there’s a whole lot more to you than meets the eye.
Do you see?