For Meaning Addicts: An Achilles Heel

You and I are in the “meaning” business. We get our “highs” from someone’s, “Wow! I see what you are talking about. Or, this makes such sense! That is so helpful!”

Of course, we don’t make meaning, but we sure love being around when meaning happens. We like to fan the flames of a person’s passion for understanding. And as they struggle to make sense of a life situation, we are not averse to throwing in a question or two, maybe even a suggestion. What fun. What a privilege.

“Purpose” was the first word that marked my becoming a Christian as a young adult. I was bored, unmotivated and headed toward a job scripted from early days. But the “lights came up” when following Jesus was introduced to me as a grand adventure, as a huge purpose for living, exciting enough to awaken my motivation to learn and serve. I remember the amazement of studying beyond mid-night—just because I wanted to. Then, so seamless it seemed, this curiosity about life’s meaning drew me into our vocation. A journalist once asked me what I liked about being a pastor. My answer came quickly: “I love having a close up, ringside seat to people’s struggle to find meaning in their life experiences.”

But in the spirit of—light has a shadow and every strength has a weakness and every powerful person has a vulnerable Achilles’ heel—within the search for meaning there is a danger for us who love the quest. I felt “ouch” when I read this quote recently.

Treya Killan was blessed with friends, including her husband, Ken Wilbur, people who were profoundly curious about the meaning of life. So, when she discovered the aggressive cancer cells in her body, her friends rushed to help by convincing her of ways to understand her illness and find meaning in her suffering. She writes:

“I needed to be around people who loved me as I was, not people who were trying to motivate me or change me or convince me of their favorite idea or theory.”

Hence the challenge: to love without condition, even meaningful conditions.

4 Responses to For Meaning Addicts: An Achilles Heel

  1. Mike Thomas says:

    Thanks, Mahan
    That is a meaningful blog.


  2. jerryhaas says:

    Thanks Mahan. Good thoughts. I’m experiencing some of this now with the passing of my mother on Christmas Eve at age 97 and 3/4! We head to South Dakota tomorrow for the memorial service. Minus 30 yesterday there.


    • deborah suess says:

      Yes! like Jerry – i too am experiencing folk trying to make sense of my stepmom’s passing and now my mother-in-law’s illness. Note to self – keep my brilliant insights to myself a little bit more. thanks Mahan – very helpful.


  3. Joyce Hollyday says:

    You’ve hit a tender place, Mahan. Thank you. I had a spiritual director once tell me that meaning was crowding out joy in my life. I’ve never forgotten it, maybe because it still remains too true.



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