The artist does not see life as a problem to be solved, but as a medium for creation. - Dorothy Sayers
In 2002 I gradually became aware of a longing for a greater sense of purpose for my life. For several months I was very depressed over strains in my relationship with Jeanne, disappointments in my professional career, and my lack of close friends. In counseling, I discovered that I had avoided facing the lack of meaning for my life, and I began to wrestle with how to deal with my frustration. I wrote a lot in my journal and did a lot of reading. One day I decided to research ways in which other people found meaning for their lives, and found a psychologist's web site that discussed the issue of finding meaning in life.
The Existentialists make several good points: (1) to have a deep investment in the meaning our own life we must have thought about it very seriously, it can't be actions merely directed by parents or friends or teachers or ministers or anyone else. We must decide what has meaning for us (although we don't have to be an entirely original thinker about what is meaningful). Until we settle on a purpose, our life is in danger of having little meaning except for self-gratification. (2) Unless we think of ourselves as self-directed—as making choices about our life rather being determined by the genes, the past, and our social environment—we can't take great pride in the good we do. (3) It is pretty obvious that, given our personal limitations, individuals aren't mystically assigned a clear mission that changes the universe 1000 years from now. So, in some sense, we have to decide on and "make" our own life's meaning.
(Clayton E. Tucker-Ladd, Psychological Self-Help, chapter 3, at MentalHelp.net)
These points resonated with me because they made sense with the idea that God gave us freedom because what he wants from us is not lives of slavish obedience, but lives that are works of art.
My feeling was that if God wanted us to be slaves, he would give us moment-by-moment (or at least day-by-day) commands and detailed instructions, and expect us to carry them out without having to do much thinking about them, and certainly without taking any initiative to do anything else. I had been seeking such instructions, and wasn't getting them, so he seemed indifferent to what I did. My reinterpretation of his silence was to begin thinking of myself as a capable, responsible servant, who could be trusted to notice what needed to be done, decide how to do it, and get it done with minimal supervision.
That was a new concept to me, and it felt good, but it also felt like a radical departure from conventional Christianity, because I had never heard much teaching along those lines. The vast majority of the sermons I had heard strongly emphasized obedience, and only a few had even mentioned creativity.
It suddenly dawned on me that God had given me the responsibility of choosing what to do in my life, and that he wanted me to live creatively rather than just doing what other people say I should do. It occurred to me that his seeming indifference to what we do is actually freedom to respond to him with our best creativity. I decided that, contrary to what I've been taught all my life, God has no specific plan for my life, but rather leaves it up to me to decide how to honor him.
As I considered this, I realized that I have the freedom to do whatever I choose, and that of course other people do, too. I recognized that what I had heard in counseling was true—I had indeed damaged my relationships with my wife and other people by trying (usually unconsciously) to manipulate them.
The more I thought about it, the more excited I became about the possibilities for improvement in my life and my relationships. I decided to take responsibility for my own life, and let other people do the same. I was immediately overcome with the joy of that freedom. After that day my depression disappeared, and my relationship with Jeanne improved remarkably.
Next page: On the Outside
Wonderings - my thoughts on life and the story of how I went free of religion
God in a Box – my fundamentalist Christian youth
Out of the Box – my charismatic, ecumenical experience
On the Edge – my own version of Christianity
Going Free – my acceptance of responsibility
On the Outside – my personal, non-Christian relationship with God
In the Real World – my naturalistic world view
New Perspectives – implications of some new ideas
Recommended Reading – books that have helped me develop my new perspectives
I welcome serious questions or comments about these pages.
Copyright © 2004 by Joel Justiss. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise noted, text and photos on this site are property of the author and may not used, reproduced or distributed without prior permission.