Why are we here? What is the point? Does life have meaning and value?
These questions intrinsically reflect doubt. They implicitly challenge the notions that there is a reason for life and that each one of us is significant.
I grew up believing God is good and I am loved by him; therefore, my life would be free from deep heartache and trials. My faith was a gift given to me at birth as a child of a pastor. I never had to question God because my home and my family reflected his goodness.
A letter from someone close to our family came in the mail with an apology for what he had done to me as a young child (things I had repressed), and with this letter came a trickle of doubt. In the same time frame, my uncle passed away unexpectedly while playing basketball.
I was starting to wonder about this God of love and goodness. Where was he?
I was young and questioning. I remember having a brief, small, dangerous thought on the way to church one morning: What if I just let my car swerve into the other lane?
This was the one and only time I ever had a thought of just letting life go. At that moment, the song playing in my car, “He Won’t Let You Go”, captured my attention.
I went off to college, and I grappled with doubt as heartache stacked upon heartache into my adult years. I was so far from perfect, and I crumbled. It was the doubting and the breaking that led to understanding the value and the beauty in the great mess and hurt of life.
It was the doubt that blossomed into understanding. I experienced grace, love, and goodness in such a measure that I finally grasped their full value. It led me to attempt to live life openly and honestly, to be quick to give grace, and to strive to help others understand how deeply they are loved (and worth loving).
Earlier this week, I taught the poem “The Wanderer” in my English classroom, and I asked my students to write about whether or not they believe life has purpose and value.
The number of students who didn’t believe there is a point to life was a bit surprising. Most of those who came to that conclusion arrived there for similar reasons- Life is hard; what does it matter in the end? What could be the point of all my suffering?
A young man discussed his thoughts with me and my collaborating teacher. We talked a long time.
Previously, as part of an example of something I would be mandated to report if it appeared in their writing, I had given my students the information that I had been molested as a young child.
About half way into our discussion on his perspective that life is pointless, this student brought up my childhood experience and asked if it had changed the way I viewed life…. Once, he had also had a thought like I had about letting his car swerve…. He too has battled with his faith…. Do you think, Mrs. Burtram,… do you think that just maybe there is hope for people who have experienced these things to be okay some day?
Then he said he couldn’t find the right words for it, but that he was pretty sure people who have been through more hurt know more about life. They have more wisdom.
I completely agree with him.
The writings of my students were a reminder of how heartache leads to doubt and questioning. I have the rest of this school year to pour love and grace into their lives with the purpose of helping them to understand their doubt is a starting point.
There is hope, my dear students. There is so much hope. The doubt is just the beginning. Keep going. You will one day be wise. Because you have come to the question of whether or not life is worth it, you will understand best how deeply the answer is yes.