It was a difficult reality for me to accept, at first. The idea that the key to living a meaningful life lies within me. That at the center of my life are just a few simple choices. Ones I must make. Choices that cannot be outsourced. They cannot be changed, avoided, or made for me.
The three choices are whom do I trust, what is my perspective, and what am I going to do? When it comes to a meaningful life, these questions are at the center of everything. The way we answer them, creates an orbit around which everything else in our life spins.
The Cycle of Discontent
I think most people live a linear expression of life that goes something like this. First, recognizing a feeling of discontent. Second, seeing external circumstances that remind them of that discontent. And third, a desperate scramble to change those circumstances, assuming that by removing the reminders of the discontent, the discontent itself will go away.
Not only does this not work, it makes things exponentially worse. And seeing as it doesn’t work, people get stuck at this third hurdle – trying to change their circumstances. It’s impossible, which proves to be increasingly frustrating, which magnifies the feeling of discontent. Which, in turn, amplifies our desire to try to change circumstances. And so the cycle goes.
To make things worse, we start to stretch beyond reason, kindness, and good sense. We start to think we need to control everything around us. It is the only way to get those circumstances where they should be. And we become hyper focused, sure we have the answers and vilifying anyone with an opposing view. When we (inevitably) find that we cannot control circumstances on our own, we start demanding others control them on our behalf.
This is a slippery slope. It causes us to blame, to shift the discontent within us and the ability to address it to external forces – government, friends, mentors, society. An unidentifiable and royal “They” become responsible for all the ills of my experience and all the discontent I live with on a daily basis.
All the while, those three little choices are begging to be made. Not by others for me. But by me.
When we start to believe the circumstances dictate the answers to these questions, we are in a quagmire that is difficult to escape.
The Incessant Circumstances
One of the reasons this is so tempting and so prevalent is because there are so many unpleasant circumstances. You do not have to look very hard to find something truly terrible happening in this world. It is a place of pain, chaos, and confusion.
And it is right and good to want to change circumstances. We ought to do so. It is part of our Biblical mandate of stewardship to combat injustice and strive for a better world.
For much of my life, this vision of a better world was the key to my plans for abundant living. I have to solve this practical manifestation of evil. This circumstance has to change.
I am all about bettering circumstances. I spend much of my day considering how to do it. How to make things better in my own heart, my community, my country, and the world at large.
This is a noble pursuit. But it cannot be where my hope lies. I cannot control circumstances, nor do I fully understand most of them. I certainly cannot control people, although my demand that they change circumstances toward my preference is my attempt to do so. Because of this, the things I can control (those three little questions) are the center of everything in a meaningful life.
It doesn’t mean I don’t try to change circumstances. What it means is that I am not dependent on whether or not circumstances change.
Here is the tragic irony. When we focus on changing circumstances, most solutions will be another imperfect circumstance. Because we are hyper-focused on what is wrong now, we form blindspots in our thinking. We start to imagine that relief in the way we see it will be an everlasting solution. It rarely is. Most often, relief in one area turns into a new abuse. We do not know how to balance circumstances because we hold them too tightly.
The key to a meaningful life and the key to balancing circumstances begins with answering these questions: whom do I trust, what is my perspective/attitude, and what am I going to do? If life orbits around other people’s answers to these questions or I imagine the circumstances of the day dictate my answers, I am off center. If I can reach into the true core around which everything centers, I not only find the key to a meaningful life, I am also more prepared to combat and resolve the circumstances of my community in love and truth.