The young man in my office had come to talk about tensions in his life and a growing anxiety that was developing about life-path decisions. He felt pretty clear about the sort of material success he was after but uncertain about everything else. So I asked him what he thought he was committed to. What path did he think he was currently on? Could he describe it?
Notwithstanding he had come to speak with a minister, he warned me that he wasn’t going to fall for some sappy religious angle. There was cynicism in this but also evidence of an inner conflict with whom he had no one to authentically share.
Sappy or not, I countered that everyone has a religion. Everyone functions from a grand operating principle, whether or not they admit it. Mostly, that principle can be inferred by the wake they leave as they pass through their lives. The tangible content of our commitments tells the tale for all of us, regardless of what we say. I suggested he check out the wake he was currently leaving behind, or, if he was brave, ask a couple of others what they saw there. Did he want to hear the evidence of what his wake revealed?
We can’t build a meaningful life with clichés and banalities—and if that’s what he meant by “sappy religious angle,” I agree with him. On the other hand, sometimes it’s useful to hold up a mirror as a kind of personal test. I offered the brief testimony of Geronimo, the famous Native American who spent much of his life fighting against the relentless encroachments of European Americans: “While living, I want to live well. I know I have to die sometime, but even if the heavens were to fall on me, I want to do what is right. There is one God looking down on us all. We are all children of the one God. God is listening to me. The sun, the darkness, the winds, are listening to what we now say…”
I suggested he live with that for a week. Recite it each morning and evening as a mini-discipline and see what came up for him during the course of the day. Was it sappy? I suppose it depended on attitude and frame of reference and whether cynicism was well ensconced on the throne.
Of course, thinking Geronimo’s wisdom has merit and having it show up tangibly in one’s life were different things. Again, his wake will tell the tale…