What the future is holdin' in store
I don't know where I'm goin' I'm not sure where I've been
There's a spirit that guides me, a light that shines for me
My life is worth the livin', I don't need to see the end
~~ John Denver
Irvin Yalom, an existential psychotherapist, has had an enormous influence on my emerging career as a mental health professional. He explores some of the most fundamental dilemmas which have faced humankind from the moment they became sentient until the present time. These dilemmas are namely: 1) freedom, 2) aloneness, 3) death, and 4) purposelessness. This post focuses on purposelessness, and finding a purpose which makes life worth living. Religion purports to supply answers to these four problems, but when religion fails and falls apart, one is left to wrestle with these issues outside the umbrella of faith.
When I left organized religion over five years ago, I experienced what many ex Mormons experience. I had relied on Mormonism to define my life and my role for me. My grand purpose was to be a wife and mother, to live faithfully, to raise my children to be Mormon, to serve the church, and eventually to leave mortality and to stand by my eternal husband along with his other wives as he created a world of his own, and then to help him populate it with spirit children. When Mormonism crumbled around me, so did my purpose and my identity.
If religion does not provide a grand purpose for one's life, it is left to each individual to discover or create a purpose that makes life worth living. Individuals process this reality in different ways. Some feel the need to leave behind an important contribution to humanity, whereas others are content with small, everyday joys, and most people are somewhere in between those two. I know many who seek a purpose, especially those who are in the middle years, who have successful careers, whose children are grown, and who suddenly have no eternity in the Celestial Kingdom to work towards. That search can be overwhelming and disheartening.
In ensuing years since leaving Mormonism, I, personally, do not have the need for a Purpose with a capital P. I am flooded with joie de vivre every morning when I see the sunrise, each day when I drive through farmland and vineyards, each evening when the sun sets, when the moon shines through scattered clouds, when I cook a meal for my family, when I sit with a client and make a human connection. It is enough for me that I am free from the guilt, fear, and shame of Mormonism. Each day is a beautiful gift, each flower is magical, each rainy day is cleansing, and each cup of coffee with a friend is cherished. As I listened to this John Denver song this morning, it occurred to me that others may be seeking and searching for the Purpose of life. During this search, remember these words, "My life is worth livin', I don't need to see the end". You do not need to have the answers now.
I end with the words of Rilke: "Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer."