One of my ulterior motives to leave home and travel across the world to America was to find the meaning of life. Growing up, I was not satisfied with life. Later, I discovered I was not alone. Every teenager and young adult has an innate desire to figure out the meaning of life. Everyone has a hero’s journey. Some people discover their destiny sooner, but others take a lifetime.
In his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” Viktor Frankl discourages people from pursuing happiness, but if you pursue the meaning and purpose of life, you will find happiness. I would argue that if happiness is the ultimate outcome of meaning, then the pursuit of meaning is equivalent to the pursuit of happiness. However, knowing that the pursuit of meaning is the path to happiness is helpful.
What’s the meaning of life, then? Initially, the meaning of life comes from usefulness. The Burmese describe an unuseful person as someone who “consumes rice and cumbers earth.” ဆန်ကုန်မြေလေး (San Gong Myay Lay). It means a person who knows only about eating and pooping is useless to society. To be called a person who “consumes rice and cumbers earth” is probably the biggest insult in the Burmese language.
We notice even children want to be useful. They want to help their parents, siblings, friends, and teachers. They feel proud each time they find themselves useful. As we grow up, we want to be more useful. Some want to become doctors because helping people to stay healthy is the most meaningful profession. Some become teachers to develop leaders for the future. Some want to be firefighters to save lives.
As we grow mature, our search for meaning becomes deeper. We begin to question our destiny. Why am I here on earth? Is there a divine purpose? Is there more to life than what we have achieved trying to achieve? Is there more to life than accumulating possessions, pleasure, power, and prestige? Jesus said,
“For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” (Mk 8:36).
That’s a good question. Are we climbing a ladder only when we get to the top to discover it’s leaning against the wrong wall? Maybe we should lean the ladder against the right wall before it’s too late.
Dr. Edwin Friedman said the meaning of life comes from knowing what you want to die for. If you know what you want to die for, you know what to live for.
In fact, from the moment we are born, we are headed to the grave. As Benjamin Franklin said, there are only two certainties in life, “death and taxes.” Since we know we are dying for sure, why don’t we die meaningfully? That is our destiny. In fact, our destiny is predestined from the foundation of the earth.
John the Baptist is one of those who is clear about his destiny and is willing to risk his life to fulfill it. Jesus’ disciples also discovered their destiny and gave their lives for it.
So, today, we will explore the meaning of life by studying the life and mission of John the Baptist. Let’s begin!
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