I enjoy listening to TED Talks while I’m at the gym. I heard one the other day from Emily Esfahani Smith about the pursuit of happiness, which struck me as being particularly useful, especially as we think about the role of Church in our lives.
Smith suggests that while many of us think of happiness as a worthy goal for our lives, the data shows that chasing happiness often leads to anxiety and aimlessness. The things we think will make us happy (toys, success, etc.) often do not; their impact is short-lived and they leave us wanting more or something new. Eventually, we find ourselves asking, “Is this all there is?”
Smith offers the pursuit of meaning as a much more fruitful effort. A sense of meaning, she argues, emerges when we belong to and serve something beyond ourselves. She identifies the four pillars of a meaningful life as follows:
- Belonging: Our lives have meaning when we are part of a community that values us for who we are, not for our beliefs or even for the functions that we fulfill. Our lives feel meaningful when we are part of a community that honors our intrinsic value.
- Purpose: We discover a sense of meaning when our lives are driven less by what we want and more by what we give. Smith gives the example of a nurse who is driven by her passion for helping and healing others.
- Transcendence: We discover meaning when our sense of self fades away and we find that we are connected to a higher reality. Smith experiences this as she writes. She talks of others experiencing it in worship or in the appreciation of nature.
- Story Telling: How we tell the stories of our own lives helps us discover identity and purpose. A key point here is choice. We can choose to narrate our lives in ways that grant us a meaningful self-understanding.
Smith concludes her talk with an emphasis on the influence of community to provide meaning in both productive and destructive ways. For instance, both gangs and churches rely on the 4 pillars, but they clearly have different interests. Smith argues for the cultivation of positive communities and for these communities to take seriously their role in giving people something to live for.
I share all of this because we’ve made community-building a priority for this next program year at TCC. We’re shifting from looking at church as an event to looking at church as a network of relationships, a family. In this family we discover our place in the story of a God who endlessly loves her/his people. We receive ourselves by realizing that we’ve been adopted into something greater and realer. We find our lives imbued with purpose as we participate in this God’s ministry in the world. And, we discover a sense of belonging as we share our lives with one another and learn to value one another as God does.
In other words, what we are doing here really matters! I hope you will be a part of it. I hope you will encourage others to be a part of it too.