How does each one of us find value to our lives? Is it as simple as how much pleasure we manage to enjoy? Is it a matter of how long we live? Is it a question of how much good we have accomplished or what status in business we have risen to? All these things are the way many people recognize success and fulfillment. But is that all there is?
“You can’t take it with you” is a popular slogan and it is true enough. Material possessions can become a burden that robs us of time better spent on more important things, we might realize in retrospect. Henry David Thoreau once wrote about how to live as simply as possible when he authored his classic book, “On Walden Pond”. He must have seemed impractical and anti-social even when he experienced his withdrawal in 1845-1847. He took two years to think, write, do without and decided what was important in life. A transcendentalist, he believed in the inherent goodness of people and nature. At the end of his long retreat he became an activist as an abolitionist and environmentalist. He converted thinking, believing and verbalizing into actions. When we take away all the distractions that divide our attention and focus just on what is most important, clarity may come with wisdom. What do we take with us into the great beyond if anything, or better yet, what do we leave behind?
Humans have an inclination to believe in an afterlife. They certainly have a sense of legacy as a primary motive. Both of these add meaning and purpose to life as things that will persist after death. It is natural to think of ourselves as spiritual with souls that supersede our bodies but what becomes of them? People would ask Jesus questions like that a lot. “What must I do to gain eternal life?” he was asked one day. “What do God’s laws say?” he replied. “You must love God with your entire mind and heart and your neighbor as yourself”, the man said. Then the man asked “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus told a story about a robbery of a socially inferior man whom no one would help until another man, out of compassion, stopped and cared for him. Compassion overruled prejudice and love was given, as to oneself. The letter of the law, which some strictly adhere to confines, while the spirit of God frees us to all manner of kindness.
Life’s significance comes not with egotism but with altruism. Consider the spiritual realm for a moment as the only eternal reality. The idea is not so far fetched if one believes in heaven or miracles or intangibles of almost any nature. There remains only positive and negative force when all we perceive as material is removed. God loves and cannot be contained, for love has to be shared. Conversely, lack of love sucks energy inward, like a black hole with no escape. Legacy for eternity or oblivion is worth considering. If this is the case, you can take it with you but you have to give it away first.