Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Search for Significance

Excerpt from Soul Cravings by Erwin Raphael McManus

‘We are strange creatures, we humans. We strive for success, search for significance, look for purpose and dream of our destiny. Why do we need it? Shouldn’t we be able to live without it?

Over the years, I have been asked to speak at conferences on this very subject. Each time in the middle of my lecture I would ask one of the more well-known speakers to come up and help me for a minute. I would try to choose someone the people saw as a symbol of success. Someone who, in a transparent moment, the audience would confess they wanted to be like. I would begin an interview and explain that the only rules were that the person had to be honest. The dialogue would go something like this:

‘Elvis, it’s good to have you today. I want to ask you a couple of personal questions. Is that all right?’
‘Sure, that’s fine.’
‘What I need from you is for you to just be perfectly honest.’
‘Of course. Yes.’
‘You’re a pretty successful guy, and everyone admires you. A lot of people would rather spend their lives imitating you than actually finding their own unique voice. Has there ever been a time when you felt insignificant?’
Long pause… ‘Yeah.’
‘So there’s been a moment in your life when even with all of your success, you’ve wondered if your life had any value, any real significance? In spite of all of your success, these insecurities have haunted you? In other words, you’re nothing but a hound dog?’
‘That’s right.’
‘How did you get through those moments?’
Not mentioning alchohol or prescription drugs, he responds, ‘Love. People around me. Priscilla, you know, the people who care about me helped me through those moments.’
‘And they told you what?’
‘You know, that I’m the King.’
‘In other words, that you’re significant, that you have value, that you’re important?’
‘Well, Elvis, I do some counseling sometimes – not often, but occasionally – and I’d like to help you through this. You know that moment when you felt insignificant, that moment when you wondered if you had any value at all, if your life really meant anything? That was the most honest moment you ever had, because you are insignificant. You’re just a speck of dust against the backdrop of the cosmos. You are an evolutionary tragedy, a gnat with self-awareness heading straight toward the windshield of inevitability. All your future holds for you is splat and then it’s over.
‘I know what you’re thinking, but look at all that you’ve done. You’re the king of Graceland, the king of rock and roll, the king of rhinestones. And what about all the people who tell you that you’re so important? That’s because we all live in this illusion together. If you’re not significant, then what are we? We affirm you’re important in hopes that we are too. But we’re all deluded by the same drug. If we all came to our senses, if we could all sober up, we would see the truth – we’re born, we rock, then we die. Welcome to my own version of reality therapy. So, Elvis, how are you feeling?’
‘Not good.’
‘Oh, by the way, everything I just said is absolutely true if there is no God.’

Maybe you can’t prove God in a tube, but you can find him in your soul. When he’s missing, you can feel it in your gut.

One universal phenomenon I’ve discovered each time I’ve had this conversation is the reaction of those listening. The moment I tell a person he is insignificant, you can feel it in the room. The crowd feels I have done something unthinkable, something even immoral. Maybe you felt it just a minute ago: something in your gut went tight and a voice inside you said, Wait a minute; this is wrong. Most likely you have already picked up on the fact that I’ve never actually had conversation with Elvis, but even that didn’t matter.

Something inside tells you it’s wrong to say to another human being that he or she is nothing. But again, the question begs to be asked, If there is no God, if we’re just drifting through time and space, if we’re actually not going anywhere, if there is no progress, why should it matter and why should we care? If it’s the truth, isn’t it best for all of u to come to grips with it, to come face-to-face with this harsh reality? Even if we are at the far end of the continuum with God on the other side, it doesn’t change it at all.

Atheist, agnostic, existentialist, humanist, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Christian – we all need to believe that somehow our lives matter.

There is reason for our existence, a reason to live, and if we can’t find it, we’ll just make it up. And if we lack imagination, then we’ll just medicate ourselves, sedate ourselves, intoxicate ourselves, indulge ourselves, deceive ourselves, or just simply come to the end of ourselves. Without a reason to live, we don’t even have a reason to get out of bed.

If there were no God, if would be inane for us to search for significance or to be ambitious for success. Our need to become points us to where we’ve come from. The reason we struggle with insignificance, the reason we fight to accomplish something, the reason we aspire and dream and risk is that God created us with an intrinsic need to become.

This thing that haunts you, that never seems satisfied, the cravings in your soul that you are unable to satiate through all the success that the world can bring – this is your soul screaming for God. Only God can take you where you were born to go. There are a lot of roads you can choose, but one path chooses you.’

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