I am not asking about life in the sense of eating, sleeping, or even breathing. Nor, am I asking what life looks like within the constructs of interpersonal relations on the societal, familial, or intimate levels. Although, I suppose that those constructs might be involved to some degree. What I'm really asking, or at least looking for, is what does a fulfilling life look like. A life that has value and significance. A life that leads an incredible story that when "read" by others inspires them to be greater than themselves. This life cannot be conducted by the individual alone. It comes from both internal and external influences. And if you would allow the term, a super-external influence as well; the influence of a supernatural being that we have titled by the name of God.
To clarify, I believe in a creator God who, in love, created a world full of wonders and beauty, among which humankind is one of them. This same God also gave humankind free will so as to allow them the opportunity to choose Him, which makes their devotion and love that much better. The previous statement concerning the title of the being named God was more of an objective approach than anything. Perhaps, I am attempting to sound more intelligent than necessary. That is not my intention. Moving on...
I think I would like to look at the super-external influence first. The foundation to the message of Christianity is that human is innately sinful and that the first sin committed by the first humans are what lead to physical and spiritual death. To counter the schism between God and people that this sin created, God sent his son Jesus, from which Christianity gets its namesake, to die upon a cross. This action performed by the Christ, this sacrifice, took the sin of humanity and placed it on one perfect, sinless, and holy man. This sacrifice gave humanity an opportunity to be redeemed in the eyes of a God, who cannot look at evil, through bloodshed of Christ, and thus giving them a new life. In a very real sense, when we accept Christ as our savior, we are raised from the dead.
Jesus gave us life so that even though humanity still experiences the physical death, they will have a life after death; an eternal life. However, this life does not begin after death, but rather begins the moment it is given at the confession of Christ as Lord. Like joining a company of a good reputation, it has good pay, but also great benefits. So this new life then, leads to a fulfilling life because now there is a purpose behind the madness. Where there was hopelessness, there is now a hope that can't be squelched; where there were sorrows, there is now a joy that goes beyond just the emotion of happiness; where there was chaos, there is now peace; and where there was hatred, there is now love. And these are all things that make life so much more satisfying than just going through the daily motions of whatever rituals and traditions you follow (rituals in this sense would be regular practices, and not strictly religious in nature).
The reason I started with this influence is because I strongly believe that any type of life that is had outside of the life Christ has given to us, and given us the ability to have, is not a complete and truly fulfilled life.
The second type of influence I would like to look at is the external. This type of influence is interconnected in some ways to the internal influence, but more on that in a minute. External influences are where the interpersonal relations I had mentioned early come into play, because it is by the people we surround ourselves with that we are influenced. To give an anecdote, my mother has always told me that we pick up the traits of those we choose to befriend; thus, surround yourself with people that have traits that you desire. Or, to put it more succinctly with a cliche phrase, "garbage in, garbage out." Essentially, a fulfilling life from the external standpoint comes from surrounding ourselves with people who themselves have a fulfilling life.
At this point, I believe it is important to state that I believe that we cannot have a perfectly fulfilling life until we have reached perfection in the afterlife with Christ (which is another topic all together). However, I will say that different aspects of our lives can be quite fulfilling; just as everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, so too are different aspects of our lives more fulfilling than others. That being said, I think its important to surround oneself with individuals who inspire greatness. Search for people who make you want to be better than you are. Because when you aspire to be greater than yourself, the super-external influences begin to shine through. We cannot be more than we are without the help of something that is already greater. Surrounding yourself with friends, family, and loved ones who make you aspire for such greatness will keep you from growing complacent with where you are at. When you stop learning and stretching and become comfortable with where you are, then your life is no longer fulfilling. Instead, it becomes a half-life full of dull and asinine motions that are repeated regularly with no hope for something more, something new.
Which brings us to the final influence: the internal influence. This is probably the most difficult influence to control. I hesitate to use the word control, but I feel like it is the best word for what I am trying to say. Internal influence is based solely upon one's own discipline, desires, hopes, fears, beliefs, and everything else that makes a person "tick". No matter what type of influences you encounter externally, nothing will happen to give you a fulfilling life until you decide that you want to have one. A resolution, if you will, that leads to going beyond a mere decision and into action. Nations were never changed on ideals alone, there has always been an action to push those ideals through. The same is true for an individual. For instance, I can tell myself all I want that I want to be thinner, but until I put in the effort of controlling my diet, and regularly exercising, then I might as well have had no thought at all. The effect would have been the same, and my mind may not have hurt so much from the thinking. In the same way, I can want to live a life that has significance and value, but until I act upon the influences around me, and find things to do that are seen as significant and valuable, then all I am doing is wasting my potential on something that will not happen.
Obviously, there is much more that could be said on the subject. Things that I have considered but have not pondered through, or things that I would not have ever thought about, but that is the beauty of exploration. I dare to be wrong in the hopes of being right. The most beautiful and painful thing about having a fulfilling life (and perhaps the hardest aspect of internal influence), is that to truly live one must die. One must cast away their own hopes, dreams, fears, wants, needs, sorrows, and joys to take on those of another. Which brings us back to the super-external. When we take on Christ's aspirations, we discover what it really means to love. To live is to give all of yourself to this selfless, unconditional, gracious love. A love that can be defined by the term Altruism, and one I have not used in some time. I suppose, if I were to wrap up all that I've said into a sentence it would be this:
True life begins when you die at the hands of Altruism, because when you are more concerned about others than yourself you begin to see what life is all about.
These are just thoughts of a 20-something year old trying understand life as he sees it now. And that is where I end this post. As always, you are more than welcome to post your own ideas and opinions. After all, discussion is great for refining thoughts so, who knows?
Grace and Peace