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Focusing on What Really Matters

focus on what matters

As an Evangelical Christian, I viewed life this way:

  1. Life is given to us by God.
  2. Life is a preparatory time for life after death.
  3. Troubles, trials, and adversity will certainly come our way, but these things are part of God’s plan for us. He is testing us, trying us, and developing a longing in us for Heaven.
  4. While pleasure and happiness have their place in the human experience, it is far more important to know the joy of the Lord, and if need be, to deny oneself pleasure and happiness for the sake of God’s Kingdom and the eternal reward that awaits those who run the race God has set before them.
  5. While there is nothing wrong with material things, they do have the power to corrupt and distract us from that which really matters. As the Westminster Catechism says: What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.
  6. Life is to be lived with God, his will, and eternity always in the foreground.
  7. Death is a promotion from this life to the next. While we will leave our loved ones behind for a time, we know that if they are followers of Jesus, we will see them again in Heaven.

As an atheist, I view life this way:

  1. Life is given to us by our parents.
  2. This life is all we have. There is no life after death, no second chances, no do-overs. This is it.
  3. Troubles, trials, and adversity will certainly come our way. These things happen to everyone, and it is the price we pay for being among the living. Sometimes, these things happen due to our bad choices or rash, foolish decisions. However, many things befall us simply due to bad luck. Wrong place. Wrong time. Wrong circumstance. Bad genes.
  4. Pleasure and happiness are to be sought after since this life is all we have. In seeking pleasure and happiness, we should consider how seeking these things affects others, but we should not allow others to stand in the way of our pursuit of pleasure and happiness. Life is too short to allow others to dictate the parameters by which we live our lives.
  5. We should seek after those things which give our life meaning and purpose. While there is a place in the human experience for living for the sake of others, this should not be at the expense of our own meaning and purpose. While narcissism is not a trait most humans value, neither is living a life that belongs to everyone but the person living it.
  6. Since life is defined by the space between birth and death, it is important for us to live each day to its fullest. Every day we live means we are one day closer to death. While death may provide a release from pain and sickness, it is bittersweet. Bittersweet because we are leaving behind those things which mattered to us. Above all, we are leaving behind those we love.

Several years ago, I watched the final show of the acclaimed HBO series Six Feet Under. The show is about the Fisher Family and their funeral home business. For five seasons, viewers are taken on a journey with the Fisher family and death. I found Six Feet Under to be one of the best dramas I have ever viewed. In the final episode, the writers tried to tie together all the loose ends. A few episodes before, Nate Fisher had a brain aneurysm and died at age 40. He left a wife, two children, and a complicated life. The writers focused on Nate, his contradictory life, and its effect on everyone his life touched.

The last few moments of the show were the most powerful moments I have ever experienced while watching TV. I wept as the show moved through the lives of all the Fisher family as they aged and one by one died. All of them dead. No one escaped. While it would be easy to say “how sad,” I found it to a reminder of how important it is to value and cherish the life we have. We spend so much time doing things that are meaningless or add nothing to our life. I know it is very easy to get sucked into normalcy, to just go with the flow. We tell ourselves, Tomorrow . . . . Perhaps a Bible verse is appropriate here:

Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth. (Proverbs 27:1)

Perhaps each of us needs to ask ourselves:

  • Am I happy?
  • What is it I want to do with my life?
  • What brings me pleasure and happiness?
  • What do I want to do that I have not yet done?

What are your answers telling you? What are your thoughts on what I have shared here?

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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15 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Brian

    Six Feet Under! Yes! Very fine series.
    A life lived that honestly faces your final questions here, Bruce, is a well-lived one, I suspect.
    We must somehow realize we need to do what we want very much to do, in order to have any satisfaction and peace that is lasting and does not need to preach or be preached to… Allowing others to be, to be as they are, is a skill learned by being loved. When we are loved, we can allow others to be as they are, even though their choices are not ones we might make ourselves. This is called peaceful co-exsistence, something American Christianity knows very little of, for all their verses.
    Our parents give us life but they do not love us first if they follow the Bible. They claim to love God first and they actively put their children and spouses behind their first choice. This is a human fault that can be corrected with love, as I said. When we are truly, humanly loved there is no need for magic. When I saw my children, I loved them beyond all God-talk. It was not something I did on purpose; it was just there.

  2. Avatar
    Connie

    You know the secret to life – love in all it’s flavors and colors. I am happy for you.

    Of course love is sometimes not enough, especially when the pain is riding down like a thunder cloud from Thor – just saying…

    • Avatar
      Brian

      Yes, for sure. Pain when unbearable steals the heart from life. It is to be endured, or not. When Christians imply that pain is from God, and is His to understand and not ours, then I part ways with woo-woo. When I have suffered, having someone care made a difference to me… that being said, I agree that love is sometimes not enough. What is enough in human life?

  3. Avatar
    Jerri

    Well done, as always. I’m on board whole-heartedly except I have trouble with 4 & 5. Mainly, I think, because of my chronic depression. I shit you not that I spend 50 – 80% of most days really fucked up in the head and hating myself. People think I’m a happy person but I fake it all the time. Contentedness is the closest I can usually feel to a positive emotion. The only thing that helps me to forget for a moment is doing something good. So I throw myself into my menial job. I give until I’m spent, then collapse at home. I was taught that hard work is the only way to prove your worth and that no one wants to hear you whine.

    Well, dang it. I lost my train of thought.

    Thank you, Bruce, for helping me process some really big stuff. I’m a huge fan.

  4. Avatar
    Maggie

    “Am I happy?
    What is it I want to do with my life?
    What brings me pleasure and happiness?
    What do I want to do that I have not yet done?”

    As a believer, I used to think those concerns were ‘selfish’ and ‘ungodly’. You remember the adage I’m sure, “God first, others second, yourself last”. That’s a crock and in my life, doesn’t work! Once I realized how Christians use the word ‘selfish’ to manipulate and control, I deleted it from my vocabulary. Once I did, I found a deep and abiding sense of joy and gratitude in the moment…not some far off sweet by-and-by, but now. This is all I have and I’m gonna make the most of it while I can. I’m no longer just passing through! I’m actually LIVING!!!

    Thanks for reminding me that I did the right thing!!

  5. Avatar
    Steve

    Beautiful, as always, my brother!

    I’d like to add a few, if I may 🙂

    What do I do with my life now that I’ve pissed most of it away with the folly that is Christianity?

    Why is it that what brings me pleasure and happiness, I so rarely get to do?

    What do I want to do that I have not yet done, that’s even feasible? At my age & with $0?

    (And to Jerri: stop posting on here & get back to being the bane of Bob Gray’s existence!! Haha!! )

  6. Avatar
    John Arthur

    Hi Bruce,

    I sent Spaniard viii this Christmas greeting (if I can remember it, properly). It went something like this.

    Hi Spaniard,

    This is your apostate, John Arthur, that servant of the devil sending you Christmas greetings. You know! That guy who has a demon in him. No Kidding! He sends you his kindness, but you know that it is the devil transforming himself into an angel of light.

    This evil guy called John who loves to bask in his sin is, I no kid you, leading others from the true narrow path that only you, Spaniard, and your small band of followers hold to.

    Yours sincerely,

    666.

    Have a wonderful Christmas Spaniard!

    666.

    Hi Bruce,

    May you and all your readers have a wonderful Christmas!

    from a voice for reason.

  7. Avatar
    Yulya Sevelova

    Bruce, thank you for writing about these points. In these dangerous times, this really applies now. I’m thinking of you and your family, and wishing you the best. Happy Christmas Eve to you and yours. I’m at least not homeless for Christmas. I’m having Chinese food with a person I’ve know for rears. We have no family, so with record cold, plus some rain to boot, we are grateful to be inside today. DVDs and carry- out suits us just fine. The neighbor next door has COVID, and no family to visit him. He’s staying inside, so we got him a card and made cookies. We wish a safe and happy Christmas season for all of you. Certainly the last four years have us perspective, and for me a time of Deja’ Vu. Stay safe, everyone.

  8. Avatar
    Yulya Sevelova

    Bruce, thank you for writing about these points. In these dangerous times, this really applies now. I’m thinking of you and your family, and wishing you the best. Happy Christmas Eve to you and yours. I’m at least not homeless for Christmas. I’m having Chinese food with a person I’ve know for rears. We have no family, so with record cold, plus some rain to boot, we are grateful to be inside today. DVDs and carry- out suits us just fine. The neighbor next door has COVID, and no family to visit him. He’s staying inside, so we got him a card and made cookies. We wish a safe and happy Christmas season for all of you. Certainly the last four years have us perspective, and for me a time of Deja’ Vu. Stay safe, everyone. I remember ” Six Feet” from when my late friend and I watched the motel TV with it’s HBO, along with “Game of Thrones.” “Six Feet” was quite unusual as shows go. Funeral homes struck us as frightening because of hauntings, like “A Haunting in Connecticut.”

  9. Avatar
    Brian Vanderlip

    Bruce et al, wishing you peaceful breathing, comfort and well-being as we find our way into the New Year. I wish you these things with the gratitude for what you share here and allow me to share; it brings me to a fuller life.
    Thank-you, Bruce, for continuing to offer this forum, to freely give and thank-you to all the writers here. I greatly appreciate what you do.

  10. Avatar
    DougK

    I’d like to share one of my favorite quotes. “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” –Howard Thurman

    For me that’s writing, guitar, learning about history and seeing what weird tales I can spin out of it. And being myself.

  11. Avatar
    apostatedaughter

    Good questions. I wrote them down to savor them.

    Funny that after decades of thinking true “purpose” was found solely in JESUS (and our brand of it all), the simplicity of the questions you ask get at the most satisfying aspects of our lives.

    It took me years to realize the church elbowed in on everything, claimed IT was our PURPOSE, the REASON for taking the next breath. When the busyness subsided and everyone finally went home nothing remained but more planning, scheduling, more trying to get people to come. Yet our parsonage was, behind it all conflict-ridden, dysfunctional, sad, heavy and full of discontent in our ordinary lives. Even when the church finally broke that elusive ‘100’ ceiling and dad seemed to have achieved some level of success in the ministry it felt increasingly like a facade as I struggled to help him keep going, to make it better, to convince ourselves that it was THE BEST THING IN THE WORLD. Ugh.

    I’m now realizing its the most basic things that bring purpose; that cup of coffee or tea and the morning routine that brings them about, getting outside for a walk with the rescue dogs, being near my spouse without having to control or talk if we don’t feel like it, supporting my children in the way each one appreciates it, helping things grow (so important tiny things like bees continue), cooking good food, reading, discovering how to keep friendships I value, not having to be around people I can’t abide, and never having to go anywhere because I’m expected to do so. I don’t need another life in the hereafter to dilute the reality of this wonderful one I am plodding through.

    Here’s to a more hopeful year ahead as we all do what we can (accepting our mortality) to lead satisfying lives–and to help others do the same.

    Thank for reminding us, Bruce. All the best to the whole family.

  12. Avatar
    angiep

    Bruce, you took the words out of my mouth regarding the finale of Six Feet Under. I wept, almost uncontrollably, watching the wordless plunge into the future of the family members, that served to wrap up the series. In fact, the morning after viewing it, I found it on my mind when I awoke, and I re-watched it probably three or four times. It was extremely powerful, as you said, I think because it so poignantly, beautifully, and artistically portrayed the true meaning of life.

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