It all matters.
Every intentional act.
Every moment of “presentness.”
Each day we engage-however bold or quiet, we impact our world, and we alter the lives around us, and our own lives.
Saying this is not terribly difficult. Believing it is.
Finding significance is frightening.
Each of us has or will have those terrible, shaking moments when we confront the hollowness of circumstances, rhythms, and routines of our lives. Maybe there are obvious good things and good deeds. Looking a little beyond the surface, we may find a few more. We find hints of meaning and purpose, often enough to satisfy our longing for significance and purpose. I am prone to stop there. Satiated and okay.
If I have courage, beyond that, I discover an abyss. A few degrees of separation and a desperate, mortal confrontation awaits.
I spend large parts of my days engaging people. It is part of how I am made, and even though I am introvert, I love it.
Even when I don’t love it, I still love it.
There are many untold and, until those moments, wordless stories to be heard. Many guarded longings which begin to chisel escape tunnels in complicated, broken, dirty, dusty sentences and uncomfortable, unsettled pauses. I often hear the struggle to articulate why any of this around us matters-more importantly, why the precious one in front of me matters.
The real conversations are desperate. Happy words often mask terror. The questions that are never far away (but often encased in unconscious or deliberate concrete) are versions of, “Does any of this mean anything? Will anyone ever know I was here? Does my life matter? What is the point in any of this?”
I’ve had many of these conversations.
Many of them with myself.
I know the hopelessness of a void instead of an answer.
A younger me tried to fill, but then numbed the nothingness with whatever could fill in the cracks produced by tense questions. It was dripping liquid (both literally and metaphorically) which ran off quickly.
An older me filled and fills it with visible markers. Most of them good things, with value and meaning.
Many of them pointing clearly to purpose.
But what happens on the quiet days and seasons? What about days and weeks turning to months when engagement is inconsistent, irresponsible, and often close to impossible? What if the fruit of my labor is not visible?
To extend that metaphor, if I cannot sow seeds of goodness and see the fruit known as good things, how will my life matter? Am I just shuffling in the dirt, moving earth around, trying to be busy and avoid the terrible meaninglessness of my stillborn work and, more disturbing, the futility of my life?
I am too easily satisfied with values I ascribe to my goals. Again, many of the obvious things I would count as good are indeed good. But are the smaller, quiet, less noticed things less good? Are they less meaningful? Are they any less markers of purpose or meaning?
I don’t speak the language where we live. There is a pandemic which has severely altered the world and its structures. The little spot on the globe which I currently occupy is no different. We are only a few months here, but I don’t know what it was like before we arrived. However, closed shops, restricted movement, and many other things tell me that our town has a pronounced limp. My ability to interact with people is limited, and my opportunities to “do good” are few and almost none-at least according to my easily satisfied sense of goodness and meaning. The markers for a “successful day” are absent.
What else is absent in all of this is what is in me. More precisely, Who is in me.
I am not offering this as Sunday School answer.
This is a hard-won revelation in my life, in my mind, and in my heart. This was and is seed watered in tears, anger, and unbelief. It is something I struggle to believe some days. I don’t mean to say that I am struggling with my faith.
I am not.
I struggle with brokenness. I am moved by vulnerability. I can be overwhelmed by the pain around me.
I can hardly handle stray, abused, or neglected animals. I have an affection for the outsider. Weak, frail, and lonely older people break my heart.
I don’t feel pity for people with disabilities, but I am not sure I have the vocabulary for what I feel when I encounter them. Almost every time, I feel an urge to do something, but I have no idea what or why. When I talk to God in the mornings, I ask for the forgotten to be remembered. I try to look for them, but I don’t know what to do. What can I do? I can’t make any of this better. The markers I have set for goodness are too high. If my purpose is to bring hope or to offer help and I cannot do it, what am I doing here? Even if I can help, will it ultimately matter?
I have to stop.
I have to remember that whatever I do, even sitting in that moment and “seeing” them, matters. In me, the Spirit of the Living God lives. When I am overwhelmed by the pain and brokenness around me, I can’t help but feel that this is a sliver of what He felt and feels. Yet, He is not overwhelmed. When I want to run or hide my eyes so that I cannot see it, He remains. His overwhelming love is present in that moment.
My expectations for myself are almost never met.
But there I find meaning and purpose.
I am present to see it, embrace it, and share it with Jesus. In a few instances, I am a witness to physical results. More often, Jesus prompts me to share a quiet, eternal moment with Him and with them.
Something changes whether I see it or not.
Yesterday I saw two disabled women helping each other down the street. One struggled to walk with braces as her knees turned inward with every stride. Every step was slow and labored. Her companion took heavy, pronounced, diagonal steps, but somehow managed a light bump into her friend, and this steadied her for the next step. Her friend received it each time and then stepped forward herself again to prepare for the next bump. Each step for them was deliberate and multipurposed. It was beautiful and heartbreaking. I wanted to run up to them, call them a taxi, tell them God loves them, tell them they are beautiful, anything to affirm their value, worth, and beauty, but I couldn’t. I don’t have the language skills, and, even if I did, my words to them could disturb this holy moment.
I walked away, not immediately recognizing the beauty of that moment. I did not understand the privilege of what I just witnessed. Actually, I stifled tears as I shouted at God under my breath.
My shout and the other words thereafter became a prayer.
I don’t know how it all works, but my prayer mattered.
Our pained and our joyous prayers matter. Our presentness in those moments of pain, when we are stunned with our own inability to influence or make things better, matters.
My quiet, crowded, broken, confused, disjointed words to God make an impact. There is something eternal in them. Again, I don’t have the ability to explain it, but something is changed in those moments.
This is how we discover that there is meaning and purpose in our lives and in our days here. There is something sown in those moments when we are aware that we matter. Our lives here matter.
Nothing motivated by love, no matter how simple or complicated, clean or messy, spoken or unspoken, broken or happy is meaningless.
It all matters and it is eternal.