Of everything that Jesus said in the New Testament, there is one simple phrase that I have found especially helpful: I came so that they could have life—indeed so that they could live life to the fullest. (CEB) I think this verse resonates with me so deeply for two reasons. The first is that I believe that human beings are hard-wired to seek fullness of life. Many of us may have grown tired and cynical as a result of suffering, abuse, and the daily struggle of living, and we may no longer be aware of the desire for a richer more meaningful life. But I can guarantee that, given the offer of more, we would all jump at it. And so in this statement, Jesus addresses one of the most basic, universal needs that we can ever experience.
But there’s a second reason that this phrase speaks to me. I believe that at its most fundamental, the work of spirituality is to lead us into fullness of life—or abundant life as the older translations put it. Indeed, if Jesus was comfortable to summarise his mission in this way, it shouldn’t be hard for us to see the quest to be fully alive as the focus of our spiritual work.
I cannot remember where I first encountered this idea—it may have been a quote from Thabo Mbeki—but despair never accomplishes anything. Ralph Waldo Emerson expresses the opposite belief when he says that “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” In spite of the pandemic of depression that plagues our world in the 21st Century, human beings are naturally optimistic creatures. And we cannot help but move toward whatever we believe will enable us to flourish, to live fully.
Our challenge is not whether we want abundant life or not. It is how we are to define that abundance. There is no shortage of gurus who will offer us their key to living fully. But there is no one-size-fits-all version of being fully alive. What lights one person up will sound like hell to another. So how are we to define abundance if that’s what we seek?
One common mistake I have encountered in my life is to view abundant life in financial terms. I’m not here to disparage the quest to be financially secure and even comfortable. But I do believe it is a mistake to equate abundant life with abundant wealth. I don’t even have to offer examples of miserable rich people or happy poor people to prove my point. We are all aware of those who fall into each of these categories. Money may help us to attain what helps us to feel most alive. But it cannot, in itself, bring us abundant life.
So, if there is no easy definition of abundance that we can all use as a guide how are we to find what enables us to experience fullness of life? I believe that is exactly the purpose of a spiritual practice.
FULLNESS OF LIFE—YOUR WAY
I don’t believe we can ever find a truly abundant life without a deep and flexible spirituality. When we are intentional about growing spiritually, we are far less likely to fall for versions of abundance that may appear attractive but leave us frustrated and empty. Too many ways that we define fullness of life in our society end up leaving our souls, and our planet, impoverished. And they are too often rooted in desires that can never be satisfied because they’re not what we actually need or want.
A healthy and effective spiritual practice enables us to identify what our truest and deepest desires really are. But it also enables us to consider the impact of our view of abundance on other people and on the world. Because nothing can truly be called fullness of life if others must pay the price.
All of this means that the first step in finding abundant life is to identify what abundance means for us. And the second step is to evaluate whether our definition of abundance really lives up to the name. Once we have done this, it’s fairly easy to create a plan that helps us to experience the abundance we seek.
CLINGING TO LIFE IN THE DARKNESS
A few years ago I was working in an extremely stressful and dysfunctional environment. For the first time in my life, I found myself waking up and dreading going to the office. My health, both physically and mentally, was taking a huge toll. And my family felt that they had lost the me they knew.
In the midst of this dark season, I knew that I had to do something to feed my soul and provide some buffer against the negativity I was facing each day. Since music has always been a balm to me, I joined a rock band that friends had started a few years before. Each week I set aside some time to practice with them, and on the odd occasion, we would play gigs when the opportunity arose. I am not overstating the case when I say that this band kept me sane and gave me a connection with the life I longed for. I was still stressed and struggling, but I managed to retain at least some sense of myself until I was able to leave the situation.
FINDING YOUR ABUNDANCE
I believe that it is possible to stay connected with an abundant life even in tough times, even if we’re not experiencing the degree of fullness we need. And the following ideas may be helpful as you seek to move toward your most fully alive state:
- Find what excites and inspires you. Take note of what makes you laugh and what fills you with wonder. Work out how to bring more of that into your life.
- Be aware of what makes you jealous, angry, or frustrated. Often these things are connected with deeper desires that are being ignored or neglected. For example, as Julia Cameron suggests, the jealousy you may feel as you watch someone drive past in a fast sports car may not be about the car. It may be more about a freedom or non-conformity that you long for.
- Be aware that we often have conflicting needs within us. Our path to fullness of life is not direct or without choices. So it can be important to identify needs and desires that work against each other. And then we may have to choose between them or find a way to adapt them so they no longer conflict.
- Finally, think about your quest for abundance holistically. There is no one magical thing that will satisfy all our needs. We will need to consider how we can best address our longings for relationship, personal fulfilment, meaningful work, creativity, fun, and making a contribution to the betterment of the world.
OVER TO YOU
Becoming fully alive is a lifelong quest. And, as we age, what we need to experience abundance changes. Which means that our spirituality needs to be able to adapt to our ever-changing lives. But it’s definitely worth the effort.
What brings you to life? What have you done to empower yourself to experience abundant life? What frustrates your quest to be fully alive? I’d love to hear your story and learn what works for you as you seek to live a richer and more meaningful life.
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