I have a new side gig as team chaplain for the Pepperdine Cross Country team. Go Waves! My friend, “Coach Rad,” graciously offered the opportunity to join the team at an early morning practice each week to share a five-minute devotional message. I like both running and talking, so I feel confident that my messages will live up to the compensation package (as a volunteer).
This week, I shared my suspicion that the team was an ordinary cross-section of humanity so that some of the athletes appreciated a devotional message at dawn while others were ambivalent but would kindly listen and still others wished that I would go to the wrong practice location.
Regardless, faith, religion, etc. is an historic attempt to develop a framework for meaning in life. From births to deaths and all the in-between major moments in our lives, we have an inherent need to make some sense of it all, so even if my morning devotionals fall flat as a running track, deep consideration of meaning in life is worth the trouble.
I then shared the foundational-yet-downright-disturbing Bible story of Cain and Abel. Geographers cite the domestication of plants and animals as the launch of civilization, and Cain and Abel represent this great beginning. In the story, one of the brothers (Abel) pleased God while the other brother (Cain) did not, so guess which one bled out in a field at the hands of his brother? Yeah, I guessed wrong the first time, too. The Bible’s editorial department could have used some marketing experts at least in the first few pages.
But here we are, trying to make sense of it all, realizing from an early age that sometimes the bad actors win while the good folks get the shaft. Welcome to life as we know it. Instead of filing a formal complaint with the Fairness in Life Committee that never seems to respond in a timely manner, the necessary question shifts from How do I always win? (which I voted for but apparently is not on the menu) to What is worth living for? (which is on the menu). Or, maybe better stated in the negative: What is worth dying for?
I have my answers.
You may remember from middle school the wonderful book by Lois Lowry, The Giver, a compelling science-fictiony story that challenges our assumption that a pain-free world is best after all. Nobody without a masochistic personality disorder prefers pain, but a well-formed framework for meaning in life allows one to endure it when it comes—and those meaning-full things are even worth the pain.
These cross country runners have a pretty good handle on enduring pain for a greater goal, so I think they have a pretty good shot at getting a handle on this old life, too.