Among all the wonderful cartoons that Charles Schultz created with his beloved character Charlie Brown, there is one about searching for the meaning of life. Charlie goes to Lucy and asks how he can discover the meaning of life. After some thought Lucy responds – “Charlie life is like a cruise ship on which some people think that if they reflect on their past they may discover the meaning of life and so they put their deck chairs facing the back of the ship. Others think that if they look forward to their future they will find meaning for their lives, so they place their chairs facing the front of the ship. “
She then posits this question to Charlie: “So Charlie, on this great cruise ship of life which way do you want to place your deck chair?” After a few moments of thought Charlie replies – “Lucy, I can’t even get my deck chair unfolded.” Can you relate? I know that even though I have been on a dedicated spiritual and personal growth path for about 25 years now, there are still days when I struggle to get my deck chair unfolded.
Growing up I had a desperate desire to fit in, to be accepted, to be part of the in crowd, and yet I also found myself longing to be alone, not wanting to be bothered by others. I oscillated between behaviors that either attracted people to me or caused them to leave me in isolation. The relationships in my life were very dysfunctional: either I was very co-dependent or I tried to be the dominant partner. I put a lot of energy into trying to please others or being an absolute obnoxious rebel.
But whichever the way the wind was blowing in that particular department, the base line or predominant desire in my life became a quest for pleasure. And when I found it, in whatever fashion that was, then my main goal was to get more, more, more. And Western culture in general was on a path in the same direction – of more, more, more.
At this time in my life, age fifteen through thirty five, I was not consistently practicing my faith. I had been “force fed” religion from cradle through College. So when I was free from parental guidelines I moved as far away from my faith as I could. I became totally caught up in a way of life that was founded on me, me, me-ism, and neither church, nor religion, nor things spiritual touched me. And yet, every once in a while, when moments of pure bleakness came over me (as they are wont to do in that kind of lifestyle!), I would creep into the back of a church and “fox-hole” pray (you know: God if you get me out of this, I promise I’ll do that), to some God of whom I had no real concept.
I had absolutely no idea at that time that my soul was thirsting for wholeness. I was just aware, barely, that the more I tried to fill the gaping hole inside of me with material things, bad relationships, and other false gods, the more empty and abandoned I felt. By age thirty five I was on the edge of a deep, black hole of despair. Somehow, I had a rare moment of sanity, a God-incidence, and I was able to seek and get help.
I clung on, like a drowning man clings to a life raft, to a group of people who seemed to care unconditionally for me. They encouraged me to find a God of my understanding and in the mean time “loaned me their God”. I was able to clear the wreckage of my past, make some amends, then begin building a firm foundation for my future. Now let me go back to Charlie Brown and Lucy for a moment.
Lucy talks about looking backward or looking forward to find the meaning of life, and to a certain extent I did need to look back. This was so I could learn some lessons from the past and also see to whom I needed to make amends. But having achieved those two objectives I do not dwell too much in the past. Nor do I look too far down the road or allow myself to get worried about “what if”. Personally I’ve learned to put my deck chair mid ship and focus on what I have right In front of me. But that’s just my particular slant on that cartoon story.
Today the state of me, me, me-ism is no longer a part of my life, and I am able to to reach out to others and try to be of help. I focus on taking care of myself and living an honest, God-centered life. With the help of many amazing mentors who have enriched my life immensely, I have created a deep and personal relationship with my God which in turn leads me to desire more relationship with Him. And funny, the more I am in relationship with Him the better my life is.
As some icing on the cake, I have learned to turn to scriptures, to read books written by spiritual authors (Max Lucado is my personal favorite). I give myself the gift of attending retreats and spiritual workshops; sometimes I facilitate them!! I have created a faith based community for myself and I enjoy healthy relationships today. In another posting I mentioned my husband – a wonderful man who brings many blessings to our marriage and who is also my spiritual partner. And despite today’s frenetic and sometimes unbearably sad and cruel world, the empty and falsely satisfying life that I used to live has become a life full of meaning.