I have a long history of running away from the things I need the most. I used to assume I was the only one who engaged in this ritual of self-sabotage, but I’ve discovered that plenty of others do it, too — standing on the brink of achieving what they need and then pushing it away. Why do some of us do that?
I’ve talked before about how fear keeps most of us from doing the things we want to try, but I’ve also talked about how we can overcome fear to become the people we want to be. What is it that keeps so many of us confused about what’s important in life? Why do so many people end up stumbling through life aimlessly, with no apparent purpose other than to get finished with it?
It seems to me that many people are confused about the purpose of their lives. They’re either trying to live materialistic lives by other people’s standards or else they’ve ended up somewhat nihilistic, feeling that life has no purpose or meaning. Both approaches are missing the point of living, in my view.
I’m thinking about this for an odd reason. I watched a documentary about King Tut Sunday afternoon, and it left me thinking about the meaning of life.
As I looked at the video of this mummified Egyptian pharaoh, I found myself wondering whether his life mattered. We certainly know of him today, but until his tomb was discovered in the 1920s, history had pretty much forgotten him. Even though he was buried with great wealth — and obviously had great power before he died — his life left nothing of substance to show for it. Other than having a fancy tomb, the body could just as easily have been that of one of his servants. His wealth and power meant absolutely nothing in the end.
The biggest preoccupation of modern society seems to be the struggle to gain the wealth and power that Tutankhamun had. What is there that makes modern people think it will matter any more for them in the end than it did for Tutankhamun?
Other people have avoided falling in love with the plastic materialistic suburban lifestyle, but they’re still just as unhappy and unfulfilled. Their lives seem hopeless and empty, because they’re sleepwalking through life simply waiting for it to end. Is it any surprise that so many of this group end up killing themselves?
So what then is it that gives life meaning? I’d say it’s the same thing that religions and philosophies of various kinds have taught for centuries. However you dress it up and make it complicated, any real meaning we get out of life comes from the people we love and who we allow to love us. If you’re experiencing love and expressing love — real love — in healthy ways, I don’t think you can possibly feel that life is pointless. And if you’re feeling that your life has no purpose, there’s something wrong in your life, either in your ability to experience love or in the ways that you have your life structured. Because love gives your life meaning — every time.
There are many types of love. As a Christian, I have to put love of God at the top of the list, but loving other people can take many forms. (In Matthew 22:34-40, Jesus even indicated that all of God’s law depends on loving God and loving others.) Different people are going to see loving others in different ways. Sometimes it’s going to be romantic love. Other times, it’s going to be the love between parents and children. Or between close friends. And in still other times, we might even show love for people who we don’t even personally know. But in whatever ways are meaningful to us, we gain purpose by loving — as long as we’re loving in a way that is genuine and right for us, rather than in a forced and artificial way. (I’ve known plenty of people who worked long hours through their churches, but didn’t get any meaning out of it, because they were doing something out of a sense of duty. The same is true in family relationships and marriages where something is missing.)
We all know instinctively that we want to be loved and we all know instinctively that we want to love others, so what is it that keeps us living meaningless lives instead of loving in genuine ways. Some of us have come from dysfunctional family backgrounds where we were confused about what love was, so we have trouble recognizing it. Others of us have issues with self-esteem that make us fear we’re not going to be loved by the right people. For those facing issues such as those, the singer Sam Phillips speaks of the tendency to run from the love we need (or even anything we really need) in her song, “Libera Me”:
I am so afraid
If I keep hoping
That there will come a day
When my heart is open
That you will walk away
Like you were never there
And I don’t know all the truth
From the lying
But I know that I need you
Because I am dying
From being held by hell
In a cell of blinding fear
For those of us who have lived a life of sabotaging ourselves, we’re really trying to avoid love. Maybe we don’t think we deserve love. Maybe we’re afraid of what others will see when they really know who we are. Maybe we’re afraid we’ll disappoint those who want to love us. There are a million different excuses, but for those of us who have learned the fine art of self-sabotage, almost any excuse will do. Until we learn what we’re doing — and why — we’re going to “run away when [we] come face to face with anything [we] need.”
But that’s the bad news. There’s good news as well. You don’t have to keep living in ways that keep you separated from love. If you’re living for money and power, you can re-arrange your priorities. If you’re living without purpose, you can get honest with yourself about what’s missing from your life — and then get serious about making changes, however painful those changes might be. If you’re sabotaging yourself, you can face your fears of not being good enough. You can choose to take risks and allow the right people to love you, partly by being loving yourself. Whatever your situation, you can take steps to experience love. You just have to get very, very honest with yourself — and you have to be willing to pay any price to get your life where it needs to be.
I can’t say whether anyone will remember me after I’m dead and buried. I don’t want to be like King Tut, so insignificant that he was forgotten until his tomb was found buried in the sand. I want to love enough and give enough that I can leave a mark on enough hearts and in enough places in the world that the love I give will live on in different forms, whether they know it came from me or not.
Don’t ever make the mistake of believing your life has no real purpose. If you do that, you’re telling the God who put your here that He made a mistake in saddling you with this life. You have a purpose. It’s to learn how to love and to learn how to accept love. As Australian Christian speaker Christine Caine says, ”The purpose of life is not to arrive at death safely.”