The search for a meaningful life is certainly a worthy goal for all of us but it can be a particularly elusive quest for young people growing up in these materialistic and often spiritually challenged times.
This year at Trinity United Church we have chosen to build our senior Sunday school program around the Paradoxical Commandments, which were first written by a 19-year-old Harvard student in 1968 as part of a youth ministry handbook. The paradoxical commandments quickly were shared between spiritual communities worldwide and translated into numerous languages. Mother Teresa thought that the paradoxical commandments were important enough that she had them posted on a sign at Shishu Bhavan, a children’s home in Calcutta.
The ten paradoxical commandments were based on an observation by their author Kent Keith that the central paradox of Christianity is that it asks its followers to act in ways that will often cause a person adversity in the secular and commercial world but which will also provide personal meaning and true happiness. Each of the commandments notes that by leading a meaningful, spiritually rewarding life, a person will likely pay a price, but that it is a price worth paying. One of the commandments is “Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.” The commandment concludes “Give the world the best you have anyway.”
The message of the paradoxical commandments is echoed in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, which is about a man who through hard work and diligence acquired every material possession imaginable in third century B.C., but found that everything he had obtained ultimately was meaningless, “a chasing after the wind.” Instead, Ecclesiastes realized that true happiness and deep satisfaction come from meaningful relationships with others and by the doing of good for those in one’s community.
Recently, myself and Fanshawe student Macey Seguin, with whom I am leading the senior Sunday school program, asked the young people at Trinity to list things that they wanted and also to list things or events that had recently made them happy. Their list of current wants included a new laptop, a driver’s license, a new video game, new clothes and attendance at a professional football game, which are all reasonable requests.
But for things that had made them happy, the young people listed their recent participation in team sporting events or in charitable activities, gatherings with their friends or positive developments in their current relationships. Rather than provide the ‘moral of the story’ we asked the young people what they thought the significance of their answers had been. It did not take them long to determine that while most of the things they wanted could be bought at a store or paid for with a credit card, the things that made them truly happy were not items that can be purchased, and it was these activities and events that were actually the most meaningful in their lives.
Trinity is blessed by an amazing group of young people who take time from their busy lives to participate in our church community. They are just beginning their journeys and will no doubt face challenges and personal trials in the years ahead, but I am hopeful that their involvement in the Trinity family will help them choose life paths that while at times leading them into adversity will ultimately provide them with deeply meaningful lives and true happiness.