…and keeps you going through the day? I have in mind those things that add spice and meaning to life, rather than those daily humdrum quotidian tasks we all endure. Several days ago I caught the tail end of a TV commercial. The program concluded with "What are you living for?" That question has been on my mind for some days now. As an about-to-be octogenarian, I found it an interesting question to ponder because getting out of bed is much more difficult lately. In the abstract the question was perplexing. I didn't think it could have referred to health—that is, why am I still alive? There is a perfectly good generic answer to this question if it addresses health: in my case I am still alive because of fairly good genes; I exercise regularly, eat healthy, have a good health plan, and admit to being a bit lucky. On the other hand, I didn't think it was a "politically incorrect" question about a deliberate termination of life: that is, why don't I just surrender to the inevitably of death? At my stage of life it should be no surprise that such a fleeting possibility about the question crossed my mind.
Quite logically, that left me with a purpose question to consider: what is my purpose in life—perhaps better stated: what gets me up every morning and keeps me going through the day? I immediately wondered, however, why I should need a purpose for living—why can't I just live and enjoy being alive? I don't know why, but it appears that in general people do seem to need some kind of a larger purpose than just "hanging out and doing the living thing."
For example, Dustin Hoffman's character Rizzo in the movie "Midnight Cowboy" lived off the grid, and had to scrabble out a meager existence on the streets of New York. What sustained him through that difficult existence, however, was his larger dream, which was finding a way into the Florida sunshine; something he never achieved. Lack of a larger purpose may even have had something to do with the "alarming suicide numbers" among "young veterans just out of the service receiving health care from the government." Among those in this group suicide is "nearly three times the rate of active duty troops" (Springfield News-Leader 1/11/14). Human beings seem to need a purpose larger than "just living."
There is no one single answer to the question about what gets one up each morning and sustains one. The answer is unique to each one of us. An individual may have several purposes in life at the same time, which may change over time. It is a good guess, however, that what sustains many of us would likely be related in some way to family, work, or faith—or perhaps any number of other things.
The prophet Micah suggested that what sustained him was doing what the Lord required: do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God (6:8). For Koheleth, the rationalistic author of Ecclesiastes, the sustaining purpose of life was rather secular: What is good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in life's few days of toil—it is the gift of God (Eccl 6:18-19), so eat your bread with enjoyment and drink your wine with a merry heart (Eccl 9:7). Enjoy life with the wife whom you love all the days of your vain life (Eccl 9:9). For Paul, the rather intolerant apostle of Christ, the purpose was deeply religious: for me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If it is to be life in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell (Phil 1:21-22).
Using these three statements as points of reference, I discover that I am not motivated by the spiritual humanism I find reflected in the statement of Micah, however worthy it may be, or by the edgy sectarian religiosity I find reflected in the statement of Paul. I am surprised to find that my ideas at this stage of life are more akin to the mildly religious secularism in Ecclesiastes. Specifically, what gets me up in the morning is the prospect of engaging new ideas, and what sustains me through the day is the opportunity of articulating them in a well turned phrase. My purpose in living does not need to be some grand ideal, like "tilting at windmills," for example—just something that gets me up, adds zest to cotidiana, and keeps me engaged in life.
What gets you up every morning?
Charles W. Hedrick
Missouri State University