How One Human Life Matters

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Some days we wake up, we go through our routines, and are reminded that life is just one repeating event that happens day after day. We think there is little we’ve done that matters and realize we will never be on television or have articles written about us in some well known newspaper. We most likely will never write a great novel and no matter what we’re told by the well meaning people in our lives we cannot be whatever we want because we have to be what we need to be for the people depending on us. Most of us are mothers who care for our families and fathers who provide for those depending on us. We work jobs that make money so we can pay our bills and we have to maintain our homes through tedious tasks such as doing laundry, cutting grass, shoveling snow, and fixing those simple devices meant to make our lives easier. Life goes on like a ship headed out to sea and we simply stand on the shore and watch it move further and further away from us. Certainly there are moments of joy and happiness among these routines, but there are also days of mere repetitive necessary tasks. For many people it leaves them with the impression that their life, while important, really doesn’t matter to that many people. And it is that belief that is woefully wrong.

I’ve often quoted a friend of mine who was a Roman Catholic priest. He was an only child and while close to his cousins, he had little family that he associated with. As a Roman Catholic priest he couldn’t marry so he had no children and no wife to share his life with. He once told me that many men in his situation say “There is nothing more dead than a dead priest” to capture the life they live. He believed no one really remembers them because they have no one to carry on their memory. Yet this man has had a continual impact on my life as well as my whole family, He was so wrong about the impact he had on me and mine; he was a friend and I loved him very much.

My father was also taken from us unexpectedly when he died in his sleep. He had dinner with me and my family, went home with my mom, kissed her goodnight, went to bed, and then died of a major heart attack in his sleep. My dad never thought he was anything special. He was a retired police officer who died believing that he simply did his duty as a father and husband, nothing more. He never believed he did anything more than what a good dad and husband needed to do and took pride in the fact he was a simple officer of the law for a city he loved.

Both these men were very important to me but more than that, I don’t think they ever realized how much their lives mattered, even though they lived these lives in the simplest and most ordinary way. Every life matters because it impacts the lives of others in ways the one who lives it never imagines. The simplest courtesy can unburden a desperate soul looking for one act of kindness. The kindest smile can give someone that one glimpse of what is good in humanity they needed to experience that day. Your life matters and you should live that life as if it does. No matter what you do for a living or how you spend your time throughout the day when you live it being reminded how much it matters you impact people in ways you could never imagine or may never know.

My fear is that most of us living today are living as if what we say, do, or how we live doesn’t matter. Don’t do that. Choose your words wisely, be mindful of what you do and how you treat others, and take care that the work you complete is done in the most excellent way you can do it. By living that way you may inspire the next great leader of the nation, show a person love when they feel most unloved, and keep someone from taking their life because they despaired that no one cares for them. Those men I spoke of earlier died. Their death has left my life emptier than when they were in it. However, my life is also much better and fuller in many ways because they lived the most ordinary lives in the most inspiring ways and shared their lives with me. My friend the priest has helped me understand the importance of faith in human living and that service to my fellow human beings is a noble cause. My father inspired me to care for my family and sacrifice my wants, desires, and needs so that they may flourish. He taught me that happiness in a family isn’t getting everything I want from those in it, but rather seeing those in the family find success and reach their dreams and goals because you are willing to sacrifice some of your own. Neither of these men will ever have a movie made about them and like most, after about three or four generations their name may be nothing more than a carving on a gravestone. But that’s not what matters. They have touched and inspired me to be a better man than I would have ever been if I never knew them, and hopefully I have given that same experience to others, and so on, and so on. One life really does matter, choose to live yours in a way that impacts the world in a positive inspirational way through the most ordinary and mundane tasks. Be that pebble that strikes the still water of human existence and sends ripples through it that make the world a little better than if you were never in it. Your life matters, believe it.

Building Healthy Communities

Sometimes, when the world looks like it’s falling apart, our first impulse is to pull away from it. We feel as if we’re exiles in a world filled with people from another planet. We see people rioting, ignoring basic common sense and forgetting how to interact with one another at a most basic courteous human level. We need to appeal to the “Better angels of our human nature” as Abraham Lincoln once stated when trying to find a way for a war-torn nation to reunite.

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Our experience of exile is not unique; it can also be found in the Jewish Babylonian exile experience in the Judeo-christian bible. God asked the Jews to respond in a particular way to their exile and it’s in this Jewish response we can learn how to respond to our own contemporary situation. Remember the Jews experienced a tremendous loss of everything after their defeat by the Babylonians. Their kingdom was destroyed, and they were carted off to live in a foreign land. I bet their first impulse was not very different from our own. They most likely just wanted to pull back, become disengaged, and protect themselves. God, speaking through the prophet Jeremiah, gives them a different mandate (Jeremiah 29:4-7):

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have set you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

This is a powerful lesson to consider when reflecting on how to build healthy communities regarless if you’re religious or not. The Jewish people saw themseves as living icons of the divine presence in a fallen world. God gave them a law they believed made them a holy people set apart for God’s purposes allowing him to dwell among them in a transformative way. Through the prophet Jeremiah God tells the exiles he wants them to be set apart but exist within a foreign city as leaven and light making it a better place for everyone. God tells them, “I want you to live there, flourish there, and prosper but not simply for your own benefit, for the benefit of the city as well. By being active agents of prosperity and goodness, you too will flourish.” Basically, God is saying by being the presence of the living God these exiles will cause this foreign city to be a special place. When the city flourishes, they will be blessed, and everyone will know the God of the Jews is a powerful God. This self understanding of the ancient Jews drove them to be something transformative in the communities they ocupied. It’s this vision of being a positive force in your community that I want you to think about.

Over the next few posts I want to help you develop into a powerful icon of what is good and beneficial for your community. There is an interesting paradox surrounding the focus on service to others and volunteering in a community setting. The more we focus on service to others the less we focus on our own fears and problems. We find meaning and purpose in our service to others and this meaning and purpose gives us a huge psychological boost. Serving our community is the best thing we can do for ourselves.

So how can we become an icon of what is good and beneficial for our community? In this series of articles, I will explore the following topics: 1) Becoming other focused through gratitude 2) Maximizing relationships in your community 3) Why compromise isn’t a bad word, and 4) How we forgive one another and restore our relationships.

I look forward to engaging you in this journey. Remember, if the communities we live in don’t flourish, we can’t either. However, to fix what’s wrong in our communities really starts with one or two people willingly engaging one another and envisioning a better future. Let me help equip you to do that very thing.

(This series was originally posted on the website A Race to Healing)