This brief essay about one of the big questions of life recommends four quick points:
1. We are here to flourish.
2. Ask: “Does my next action take me closer to or further from flourishing?” I personally ask “Will my next action take me closer or further from God’s heart?”
3. When things break down, we need a way to get back to a place of flourishing, where enemies no longer have power over us. One path is the path of reconciliation.
4. All this happens in God’s time, not on our timeline.
I’ll be as brief as possible with this big question:
The answer I’m most satisfied with about why we are here is this:
Point 1: We are here to flourish.
Flourishing means we have and know how to deploy the necessary reserves of resilience, positive emotion, accomplishment, meaning-making, self-compassion, and engagement. We also must have each other. It’s impossible to flourish alone.
How do you move towards flourishing? I like the simple statement:
Point 2: I believe we are all made in the image of God/Love and are destined for communion with God/Love.
(I am clear that not everyone believes this. I’m giving my point of view and respect that yours may be quite different. You may feel more comfortable replacing God/Love with “Flourishing”)
This statement has a sweet clarity to it for me. Life becomes organized in a series of yes or no steps. Each step I take I ask, “In my best judgment at the moment, does this next step take me closer to or further away from God’s heart as I best understand God?”
Compare this to interminable, bewildering discussions people can have over life’s purpose. (Alasdair Macintyre wrote about this simple concept in his nearly impossible-to-read book AFTER VIRTUE.)
This explanation does not tell me what all the suffering and beauty are about. I don’t suddenly escape the human condition and find life easy. There is no prosperity Gospel in my world. We live in a broken world with broken people.
But I believe God is love. I trust I flourish best when drawing closer to that love. And that in this mindset I am relieved of the false pride of perfection. It’s just each day a little step in the direction towards God’s heart as best as I can understand it.
Point 3: When things break down, how do we flourish again?
We need a mechanism to renew our spirits and reconciliation is one good mechanism. We have free resources to heal in good ways, and this is a very good thing!
Our mindset should be to be should be good stewards of the lives we are lent. That means healing as best we can from past wounds so that you are free to move forward being your best self.
Some feel that this means there needs to be a statement “I forgive you” to a person who has hurt you. This is where you do eventually want to get, but it could take decades of work for you to have this be a credible truth. (See the essay “Not Forcing Forgiveness“).
The reconciliation mindset also does not mean hanging out with toxic people who caused you harm. Someday the toxic people may change – that is beyond your control and until you have evidence that they have changed you are wise not to stay around for a second helping of their toxicity. But even if they do change, you are not compelled to be in a relationship with them.
Having a mindset open to reconciliation helps us make room for the possibility that a “a new we” can be possible. You don’t even have to like the idea. But you should make room for the possibility that one day you will be able to be in the same place as a person who did you harm and you will not feel anger, bitterness, or much of anything. That is a huge win. You will be able to move forward in your life on the basis of what you want to be and do, not in response to “what they did to me.”
Grace has to do the rest. And in the meantime, take the best care of yourself as you can.
And this is the point. This is God’s ministry (2 Corinthians 5:19): the gift of renewal, the ministry of reconciliation – of making things new. We can play our part at the right time. This is a beautiful and encouraging thought. It’s the hope that things can be made better through a mix of what is mortal and what is divine.
Point 4: We live in kairos (God’s time), not chronos (human time).
As much as we love quick fixes – and when we are in pain this is especially true – grace appears in its own time, not ours. I wish it were different. And it’s not. It’s brutal to have people shame you for not forgiving when you have honestly prayed about it but have not been given that healing yet.
For the purpose of helping people heal well I have compiled and written language resources to support you on your path whereever you may be. The practices of awareness, lament, and hope will not erase scars. But they can rebuild broken spirits in healthy ways, something our world, and we, desperately need.