In this three-part series, The greater good, you and I can think together about how our decision-making reflects the Christian values of empathy and community. The matter is complex enough to warrant more than just a few words! Today we start with the obvious: Our lives are not are own.
The lectionary texts a few Sundays ago included this familiar statement by Paul: “And he (Jesus) died for all, so that all who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.” (2 Corinthians 5:15, NRSV). That one sentence brought to mind a subject that has been following me down a variety of thought-paths for months: What does “seeking the greater good” mean for older adults?
This is not just a theological or ethical question. This matter—living for the good of others, like Jesus did—can lie at the center of our entire way of life. As we make decisions, we put aside the immediate impulse to maximize only our own benefits. Yes, we want to increase our safety, health, enjoyment, relationships or longevity—but there’s more to life than just ourselves!
These greater-good ideals are attention-worthy. At this stage in life, we like the idea that we can accomplish more with our lives than just dying with most toys. As we move through these later stages in life, keeping others in mind seems kind, gracious, selfless, humble and honest. We want to live like that. Keeping the greater good front-and-center also helps us transcend self-absorption and self-worship—eventually destructive ways of considering ourselves. Seeking the greater good seems like a higher calling—a better way of accomplishing something important in life. (One or more of our greater-good decisions could even become the key factor in a larger change in society!)
What compels that frame of mind, that approach to our decision-making? It’s a spiritual matter at its core—this greater-good idea—so it makes sense that we can encounter this mindset in the places where our spirituality is shaped. That includes worship, where we meet and learn from a transcendent God. The fellowship of other believers sculpts us further, providing a setting for practicing the traits that come from Jesus’ example and teaching. (I love the King James Version translation of 2 Corinthians 5:14—the part about Christ’s love constraining me!) Scripture is a primary source—both in study and in personal devotions—where we learn the habits, virtues and disciples of Christ-like living. Prayer—as conversation with God—settles and strengthens our resolve to live beyond selfishness and self-idolatry.
A personal note: Part of my realization about seeking and living the greater good has come from encounters with the natural world. This is where I still learn how small I am in comparison to the totality of creation. Awe and wonder quiet me enough that other introspective thinking has a place to settle. Knowing that I’m connected to the natural world, that I’m vulnerable or fragile—that knowledge inspires humility, perhaps a prerequisite attitude for any seeking/living of the greater good.
In the next blog, I’ll dive into some of the complexity that arises when we put “greater good” thinking into action. And in the final part of this series, I’ll share some ideas about how older adults may be especially suited for—and called to—living with these thoughts in mind.
For now, this invitation: See how the attitude and practice of greater-good principles work as part of your self-image. As part of your purpose and meaning in life.