I would guess that most of us have experienced that sense of fulfillment that comes when our actions in life and on the world truly align with our declared beliefs and values. Such fulfillment is especially true when the actions we had to take were difficult ones, where we knew we had to do what was right.
In this month’s blog, I want to explore the necessity of how our actions should align with what we believe, particularly those beliefs that we hold at our core, ones we believe that define pretty much who we are. Our core beliefs should dictate and frame our actions. Although we’ll never be perfect in such an alignment on this side of life (speaking as a Christian here), to the extent that our actions align with our core beliefs, we will much more likely find fulfillment in the way we live. Such a way of living can be called many things. Honesty, ethical, dependable, and most of all a life filled with integrity come to mind as apt descriptors.
To seek to act – to live out fully as much as possible – in alignment with our beliefs is a difficult undertaking. To the extent that we do so, we can possibly experience, in addition to a sense of fulfillment, lives of empowerment, efficacy, and the sense that we have pursued well-lived and meaningful lives.
I have written about counseling and valuation more than once on this blog. Suffice it say, what we call our core beliefs, those that define and describe who we are or who we would like to be, can also be called our core values. Core beliefs make up how we would choose to live and act regardless of what life throws at us. That is a tall order. What can sting us to the core, or sink like a sharp blade deep into our soul, are our realizations that in the midst of tough times that life sends our way, we abandoned what we held to be foundational beliefs about how we understand ourselves, the ways in which we hope to act toward others, and how we desire to live in the world. In a word, we have abandoned our worldview.
Now one could offer the legitimate critique that if time after time we abandoned what we claim to hold as true deep in our soul during life’s challenges that test our claims, then we really don’t value what we claim to value. No doubt, we may find at times that we have inculcated values that we claim to hold without really critiquing for ourselves whether or not we truly value what we claim. That’s another concern all together.
I want to take a different angle at possibly understanding what occurs when we fail in the face of life’s difficulties. Yes, we have claimed to have believed something that we deserted when tough times came at us. Welcome to life and its mix of successes and failures. Rather than totally giving up on what we claim to value when such failures occur, perhaps the truth is that what we value entails difficult ways of standing toward life. I know that is true for my own take on things. Why hold a value that doesn’t help me through difficult times? I don’t want to live by the value that hard times require our always backing out and not facing what life throws at us. That is, in fact, a value. It’s simply one with which I don’t want to align. That means when I say I want to live with courage, honesty, and integrity, I most likely will fail at living those values out many times in my life because they are difficult values by which to live. Would we have it any other way?
So the question becomes what do you hold as your core values and beliefs? What do you believe to be true? On what foundations does your view of truth stand? How do you see yourself living in alignment with what you claim to hold at your core? If your beliefs are difficult to hold during the cold, hard, and dry circumstances of life, you should not automatically assume that you don’t really believe what you claim to believe. Instead, such experiences may mean that what you believe and value are difficult paths to tread. Don’t automatically shun your beliefs because they are hard ones by which to live when life’s demands come at you.
A quote by Viktor Frankl has stuck with me over the years. In his work, Man’s Search for Meaning, he stated: It’s not what we demand of life that counts, but what life demands of us. That’s a difficult belief by which to live. But do you believe that it is true?
Faith and Life
I would be lying through my teeth if I said I believe that the power to live in alignment with what I value rests totally in me. I have written more than once on this blog that I am born-again Christian. No doubt that epithet raises many questions for people who might read this blog along with a ton of caricatures that readily pop into their mind.
The Christian life is a tough one by which to live if one truly chooses to live as God would have one live. But there is also a promise that God has made to those of us who have trusted him through Christ for our salvation. That promise is that he will grant us the power to live the way he wants us to live. The last thing that means, however, is that life will be made of easy pathways through which we can skip and play without any trip ups. For the fallen in life, moral failures are facts of life. They occur everyday for me. If I had to believe that every time I failed, then I really didn’t believe what I claim to believe, then I would have given up on my faith a long time ago.
Scriptures, the witness of the apostles and the saints throughout history, and many believers whom I personally know today tell another story. To live as a Christian is a tough battle. I’ve failed at it many times. I’ve even given up on it at times, always to be called back as God promised. Rather than shucking my beliefs, my failures indicate how much more I need the grace of God to live as I should live. Courage, honesty, and integrity are wonderful core values, along with a host of others. Think of what scripture calls the fruits of the Spirit: peace, love, joy, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. If every time I fell short at living out any one of those, I gave up on them, then those nine words would carry no meaning at all and no target toward which to set one’s sights. The truth is that I can’t live by them by my own power. The promise is that by God’s grace via sanctification, I will grow into them. But I do not have to choose that path. There are more times in my life than I wish were true that I didn’t choose that path. Nonetheless, God’s grace abounds anyway.
For the reader who is a Christian, the message is that God’s grace can and will help you live out what you claim to believe and know to be true. In the midst of failures, don’t toss your beliefs to the side of the road because they are difficult ones by which to live. Those difficult times are the ones that God uses to hone who and what we are at our core.
For the one who is not a Christian, then you must choose to live as you will. Still, solid values that people want to live out are difficult. It is easy to believe that because they are difficult, they cannot or should not be held. Everyone has to decide what they hold at their foundation. Then they have to decide if that foundation has any other deeper foundations to it. In this postmodern age where rhetoric rules over the idea of rationality, reason and truth, foundational truths are hard to hold forth. They are mocked, laughed at, and disparaged as backward ways of thinking and living.
Each individual must decide if there are reasons to hold foundational truths. And then he or she must decide if the battles to live in alignment with those truths are worth the struggle.
What people decide will frame, shape, and canalize the way they move through life.
John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/March 14th, 2020