Why Should we Live a Good Life?

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Everyone wants to live a good life.  The problem is no one appreciates why living life well matters.  Most writers on this subject begin by telling you what a good life is (i.e. living a healthy life, having money, developing a spiritual life, etc.), but I think we need to ask ourselves a more basic question.  That basic question is why should we live life well, particularly if it means not satisfying our need for pleasure?  Instead of defining what living life well is, we’re going to start our discussion by thinking about why living life well matters at all.  Let’s remember, there really is no mandate stating you have to live life well.  In fact, if you follow your heart, living life well might even keep you from living a pleasure filled life.  If living life well means living in a way that promotes physical health, you may not be happy with that plate of vegetables and prefer to just have ice cream for dinner.  Sure, eating those vegetables is living life well, but it certainly isn’t living life happily, at least not in the immediate sense (Unless you prefer vegetables over ice cream, and in that case, we need to have a serious conversation about savoring life’s treats).  So why should we live life well?

First, it provides us with a sense of meaning and purpose and allows us to function as we were intended.  Human beings are meant to live life well because living in a way that’s more than just surviving is what humans do.  We’re living creatures and therefore living creatures should live well.  We’re not merely like the other creatures in the world, we’re human creatures.  A human life is one lived in such a way that it has meaning and purpose and transcends the mere natural laws and instincts of our bodies.  My first suggestion is you spend time thinking about the meaning and purpose of your life.  Too often we just float through existence without ever paying attention to the fact we indeed have a life mission.  For me, its teaching and sharing psychological and spiritual wisdom to help people live balanced, resiliant, and passionate lives.  That’s my life mission and it drives everything I do.  Spend some time reflecting on what yours is.  You have talents, the question is what is your personal vision statement that focuses those talents to make the world a better place?

Secondly, we live life well so we can be resilient people.  We know living in this world is going to bring trouble, sorrow, setbacks, and disappointments.  Just look over the span of human history, there’s never a period in time that human beings don’t suffer.  We’re vulnerable creatures and natural disasters, human ignorance, hateful people, and a myriad of other causes of suffering find their way into our lives.  Yet, amidst this suffering we have two choices.  First, we can just take it and allow life to beat us down to be victims of our circumstances.  By surrendering we have in a sense elected to die and sometimes that death is nothing more than a slow soul killing experience in which the body continues but the rest of who we are has been buried in a deep cold grave.  Our second option is to meet our challenges head on and find creative ways to shift our perspective from being a victim to being a survivor.  Resilience allows us to adapt to the situation, be creative, muster our courage, and do something other than just allow life’s difficulties to destroy us.  Living life well helps us be resilient people.

The third and final reason why living life well is important is it creates balance and harmony in our life.  We are holistic creatures consisting of a body, mind, emotions, relationships, and spirits.  Each aspect of our life impacts the other.  If we don’t care for our bodies we can’t think well with our minds.  Poor physical health can limit the amount of blood flowing to parts of our brain thus impacting our ability to create and recall memories, process information, and perform a number of cognitive functions.  Also, our emotional life can impact our physical well being.  If we’re highly anxious we create a cortisol excess in our blood stream negatively impacting our bodies and leading us to suffer from disorders like PTSD.  Living life well provides us with a balanced approach to cultivating health in all five of the previous mentioned dimensions of being human.

A life is lived well so we can live with meaning and purpose, balance, and resilience as holistic creatures.  Creatures provided with a body, mind, emotions, relationships, and a soul.  The greatest lie most people believe is that human life is only different in degree from other forms of life.  Don’t buy into that argument.  We’re capable of so much more than the rest of the natural world because we’re different than any other living creature on the planet.  Some might call this a type of arrogance, but perhaps it’s a type of healthy arrogance that’s good for us in the end (if there can be such a thing)?  If we see the value and uniqueness of human life, and I mean “ALL” human life, perhaps we’ll be less inclined to view other people as objects and be more willing to treat them with respect and dignity.  If having some level of arrogance about who we are facilitates the humility required to love other people, maybe, just maybe we can say that’s okay.  Slavery might be less attractive if we view people as something different than domestic animals, prostitution might not be as attractive because other people are seen as something more than an object to be used.  

People will have a unique dignity that animals don’t because people are unique.  In the end people don’t want to simply live life well, they want to live a “Human” life well; a life transcending  natural drives and laws; lives filled with virtue, truth, goodness, and beauty.  This is what the great thinkers of the ancient world believed and I think one we need to recapture.  Ask yourself this, are you comfortable believing your life is nothing more than one reflective of an advanced animal ?  If so, why do you live your life so differently than other animals and why do you want other people to treat you as if you have some higher dignity?  Live a human life of virtue because in the end it creates a better world for you, others, and yes, even the rest of the planet.  Let me close this reflection with the words of one of litterature’s greatest poets, John Milton who wrote the following about human beings in “Paradise Lost”

“A creature whom not prone and brute as other creatures, but enbued with sanctity of reason might erect his stature and upright with front serene govern the rest, self-knowing and from thence magnanimous to correspond with heaven.”

Are you merely an evolved ape grasping at fruit in a tree or are you “magnanimous to correspond with heaven?”  I believe we need to live life well because we were created for so much more than we think ourselves capable.

 

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Get Over Yourself – You’re not Important

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I was visiting a mentor and friend in my hometown this past week.  He’s a good man, a humble man, and someone I describe as both wise and kind.  He served as a leader in his church denomination and it’s from him I learned many things; spiritual things, practical things, and those things that make the mystery of life a pleasure.  My friend has been retired from ministry for some time and his health isn’t very good.  It’s tough to see him in such a feeble state, yet even in his weakened condition, he maintains a certain dignity which I’ve always admired.

In our conversation together my friend made a comment in jest that struck me.  We were discussing that fact because he’s retired he’s not in charge of anything anymore.  No one seeks his advice or asks him to serve in any official capacity.  Because of his current situation he said, “I’m not important anymore” and chuckled to himself.  I know he certainly wasn’t lamenting a lost state of importance he believed he deserved, he has always been a service minded humble individual.  Yet, after he said those words I was compelled to reminded him being important is an illusion of the young and arrogant. I reminded him he had something greater than importance; he had love.  This man was truly loved by the many people he served throughout his life.  He was there for people when their children were born, ministered to families with prayer and counsel during difficult times, and celebrated the joyful times of new marriages and family growth.  He was invested in the lives of numerous people and selflessly gave of himself to others, even those who didn’t often treat him kindly.  In the end, for many, he was there to bury a parent, a partner of many years, or in the hardest of situations, the premature death of a child.  My friend knew what it meant to invest in the lives of other people.  He loved with a heart of charity in times and for people where charity was often the last response they expected to receive.

When I left my friend that day I made myself a promise.  I promised myself to never be drawn into the illusion of importance.  While I’m not one to advocate for extreme self-deprecation, I do think sometimes we make more of ourselves and our role in life than we should.  I think like many arrogant and foolish people, we frequently think what we do and our place in this world is much more significant than it is.  The one remedy for getting over ourselves is to give ourselves away in sacrificial love.  C. S. Lewis wrote in his popular book Mere Christianity, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”  We can defeat the illusion of importance by finding ways to invest ourselves in others, thinking less of ourselves, and loving people who often never experience true acts of charity.  Being loved and loving others is a cure for so many things.  In the end, when we lay our heads on that pillow for the last time, we won’t be adding up the level of importance we’ve achieved as if we’re earning tokens in a videogame, we’ll ask ourselves two simple questions.  The first is, “Was I loved?”, and the second will be, “Did I love others enough?”  Avoid the illusion of importance and embrace the reality of love.  It’s in love our lives matter more than anything else.  It’s in love importance is consumed by a burning flame and turned into the ashes it really is.  Love is eternal and you live eternally when people are impacted by the love you’ve given them.

The Christian Vocation of Forgiveness Living a Life of Peace and Grace BY Dominick D. Hankle

9781532605680“Every soul carries within itself pain caused by the hurtful words and acts of another human being. How can you find peace and heal from these wounds? How can you live a Christian life reflective of Christ’s command to be a forgiving, loving person? By integrating the work of psychologists and the deep theological truths of the Christian faith, Dr. Hankle answers these questions and more so you can live a healthy, flourishing, resilient life. He provides you with practical steps to incorporate in your daily spiritual practices so you may love and be loved as God intended.”

Available at Wipf & Stock the Publisher at:

http://wipfandstock.com/the-christian-vocation-of-forgiveness.html

Endorsements & Reviews

“Dominick Hankle has given us a moving narrative of what it means to be a forgiving Christian. Dr. Hankle’s empathy and concern for others from his years of psychological counseling and Christian ministry is compelling. His deep theological perspective throughout the text from his training as a theologian orients our actions. And his clear and accessible presentation of every aspect of forgiveness keeps us reading and moves us to a life of forgiveness. The Christian Vocation of Forgiveness is as practical as it is insightful.”
C. Eric Jones, Associate Professor of Psychology, Regent University

“In his comprehensive new book, the Rev. Dr. Hankle thoughtfully addresses the subject of forgiveness, providing relevant biblical, historical, and theological perspective throughout on this vital topic. Most importantly, Hankle offers practical insights as to how his readers can apply the principles presented in the book to their everyday lives. I can say without reservation that through this very readable and engaging book, I’ve grown significantly in the virtue of forgiveness. I highly commend this work to laity and clergy alike!”

Doug Gray, Episcopal priest and chaplain in Virginia Beach, VA

Spirituality in the Profane – True Christian Spirituality

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The most troubling aspect of people’s spiritual lives is how disconnected they make it from everyday living.  Spiritual practices, disciplines, and all things Godly are made to feel important because they seem to belong somewhere other than in our present worldly condition.  We pray for a world “out there” to come to a world “right here” or we seek a lifestyle next to impossible to live given our present circumstances.  Spirituality becomes something foreign to our current condition and only developed by men and women dedicating their lives to non-worldly lifestyles.

The separation of what’s spiritual from what’s “profane” (i.e. lived everyday) is a late development in the history of Christian spirituality.  Because Christianity is an “incarnational” faith; one that uses bread, wine, oil, people, touch, etc. to convey spiritual things, the profane and natural have always been inseparably connected to the holy and supernatural.  Benedict of Nursia always made this connection clear to his monks and that type of spirituality is deeply ingrained in his his rule of monastic living.  For example, his directives regarding the cellarer in chapter 31 states the following:

As cellarer of the monastery, there should be chosen from the community someone who is wise, mature in conduct, temperate, not an excessive eater, not proud, excitable, offensive, dilatory or wasteful, but God-fearing, and like a father to the whole community. He will take care of everything, but will do nothing without an order from the abbot. Let him keep to his orders. He should not annoy the brothers. If any brother happens to make an unreasonable demand of him, he should not reject him with disdain and cause him distress, but reasonably and humbly deny the improper request. Let him keep watch over his own soul, ever mindful of that saying of the Apostle: He who serves well secures a good standing for himself (1 Tim 3:13). He must show every care and concern for the sick, children, guests and the poor, knowing for certain that he will be held accountable for all of them on the day of judgment. He will regard all utensils and goods of the monastery as sacred vessels of the altar, aware that nothing is to be neglected. He should not be prone to greed, nor be wasteful and extravagant with the goods of the monastery, but should do everything with moderation and according to the abbot’s orders.”

In the words above we find a very down to earth description of a very practical job in a monastery, but this very everydayness is infused with a spiritual significance.  In particular, this chapter of the rule states the cellarer must “regard all utensils and goods of the monastery as sacred vessels of the altar”!  This sacredness found in the everydayness of life is an essential aspect of Christian spirituality.  It keeps Christianity from becoming a faith that disdains the ordinary and natural, in particular the corporeal, and reminds us Christ lived and breathed in a human body making all that is created a means of experiencing a supernatural grace.

It’s my hope those of us seeking to live Christian lives will do so as people embodied and living in the world.  We need not fear that by engaging in everyday activities such as cooking, playing games, laughing with one another, falling in love, and caring for the lawn that somehow we’re kept from our spiritual lives and caught up in the secular. We shouldn’t worry that by making love, cleaning the bathroom, or completing the most everyday jobs we’re somehow “unholy” and in need of purification.  We can do all things with heavenly intentions.  All of creation is ours to use in a redeemed manner and in a grace filled way.  When the Christian engages in the everydayness of life, the everydayness becomes part of the eternal and what is good, holy, and true becomes part of our immediate experience, not something we wait for to drop from heaven.