Pesky questions

On my birthday, during communion at church, I made a commitment for the coming year: Develop a better understanding of God, so I can fulfill God’s purpose for my life, discern what my values should be, and live accordingly.

My husband and I attend church almost weekly. I’ve read the Bible from cover to cover, along with a shelf full of books on religion and spirituality. I’ve developed a morning meditation ritual – sitting in my recliner in front of the fireplace with a cat in my lap and a cup of coffee by my side while I journal about my priorities for the upcoming day. For years, these activities have helped center my thoughts and keep me focused on what’s important.

But lately, I have found myself journaling about the “big” or “ultimate” questions: What do I actually believe about God and why? What is God’s purpose for my life? What are my values, or what should they be? How do I live my life in a way that is consistent with my beliefs and values? Apparently, these are not questions I’ve been able to answer for myself once and for all.

When I detach myself from the daily drama of my life long enough to think about it, I realize several factors have led to this renewed questioning of beliefs I’d previously taken for granted:

My recent retirement – a major transition. I know one thing for sure. Now that I no longer punch a time clock, I want my life to mean something more than sleepwalking through my days while I rush-rush-rush to meet one deadline after another so I can spend my paycheck accumulating more stuff than the neighbors have and wind up at the top of some proverbial heap. I’m entering a new chapter of my life. What should it look like?

The increasing divisiveness and polarization in our society. Neither the liberal nor the conservative ideologies align completely with my own worldview. However, I’ve felt more and more pressured to adopt positions I don’t totally agree with on a variety of issues so I can be ideologically correct and fit in with the people around me – or at least avoid being the target of shouting and name-calling. As people on either side of the political/ideological divide – including people who are close to me – pressure me to take sides, I’ve come to realize how much my own belief system has been shaped by the people around me. Now I’m asking myself: Should I continue holding onto these beliefs and values? Should some of them be changed or discarded?

Reading the Bible from cover to cover. As I read through the entire Bible a couple of years ago, I kept encountering passages that prompted me to say, “So that’s where [Lutherans, Catholics, Pentecostals, fill in the blank] get their beliefs.” In some ways, this only raised more questions than answers.

Serving on my church’s Evangelism Committee. The committee’s (and congregation’s) priority seems to be attracting more young families to join our church so we can increase the number of members by a certain percentage. But are numbers and demographics the appropriate areas of focus? What is a church’s purpose, anyway? What should it be?

The “time is limited” epiphany that comes with being 60-something. While I’m back to discerning God’s will for my life, I know my purpose consists of much more than eating, sleeping, mindless Internet surfing, getting sucked into other people’s dramas and endlessly checking items off to-do lists. Lately, it seems even church has become an item to cross off the to-do list as soon as the service is over. This needs to change.

I plan to use my Morning Meditation sessions to journal about my beliefs and values, why I hold those particular values and what impact this should be having on how I conduct my life, so I can answer those questions in a way that satisfies me. I want to develop a value system that works for me, rather than simply a value system that lets me fit in chameleon-like with my surroundings.

For me, this starts with questioning a lot of things I think I know, along with values other people want me to hold – whether those other people be liberals or conservatives, Lutherans or evangelicals or some other religion that is Christian or non-Christian. I’m not interested at this point in what various philosophers or other academic “experts” think. I want to come up with answers that I can honestly believe.

To help me sort through these questions, I’ve decided to engage a spiritual director. According to Liz Budd Ellmann, M.Div., former executive director of Spiritual Directors International, spiritual direction helps us “learn how to live in peace, with compassion, promoting justice, as humble servants of that which lies beyond all names.”

I must admit the idea of working with a spiritual director makes me a bit nervous. While I would encourage this person to ask the hard questions, I don’t want someone who will merely push me to adopt their own belief system. I need this person to be nonjudgmental and open to the idea that I’m questioning all kinds of dogma from the spiritual to the political to the ideological.

A couple friends of mine have gone through this process and reported that it was a positive experience for them. Since number one on my list of priorities for the coming year is to improve my relationship with God, I’m going to take a deep breath and give it a try. Wish me luck on my journey …

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