The great Scottish writer George MacDonald isolated three essentials for leading a meaningful life
Someone to love. Something to do. Something to hope for.
When I first came across this list, I was surprised that the first item isn’t “someone who loves me.” We all long to be loved, so it must be essential to have someone who loves us, right?
True. And yet, when we focus on getting people to love us, guess what happens? It turns into something other than love.
But when we focus on loving others, we find ourselves loved in return. And in the meantime, we find our souls expanded.
When we extend ourselves toward others in love, we are ourselves extended. We become more than we were before. So, in the process of devoting ourselves to loving others, we become more lovable ourselves.
Second on MacDonald’s list is something to do.
We are physical beings, not angelic spirits who can be content with mere being. We are doers. And if we don’t have meaningful work to do, we recede.
Retirement isn’t an option for us. Sitting on a beach is a nice vacation, but then we need to get back to real life. Watching TV and surfing the internet can definitely fill up a lot of time, but not much of it can be called meaningful existence.
We need something to do. Purposeful action. Meaningful work. Thoughtful engagement. Playful interaction.
Boredom is death. As is inactivity.
Finally, we need something to hope for. Without a hopeful view of the future, life shrinks down, just as it does if we are loveless or inactive. But just like love and good work, hope is expansive. Where love expands us relationally and activity expands us into the world, hope expands us into the future.
Hope is what enables us to love and work without giving up, for so much of love is the hard work of pushing through relational tangles and so much of work is exertion against obstacles. Without hope, we give up on these tangles and obstacles.
But hope is a fragile thing. It flees with the breeze. That is unless it is established on something much more solid than itself.
Hope that is built on hope itself isn’t much of anything. Hope that is built on personal ability is only as strong as I am. Hope that is built on romance or the economy or politics or sports teams is notoriously fickle. They lift us up at one moment and then drop us to dash into pieces on the floor the next.
To live a truly meaningful life requires something substantial to hope in. This is where God comes into the picture.
The one who is more solid than the creation he fashioned with the words of his mouth is one worth hoping in.
The one who has tirelessly worked for the salvation of the world is one worth hoping in.
The one who has kept all of his promises from the foundation of the earth is one worth hoping in.
The one who is nearer than air and larger than galaxies is one worth hoping in.
The one whose compassion knows no end and has proved it by laying down his life for us is one worth hoping in.
The one who has conquered the grave is one worth hoping in.
The one who has bound himself to me for eternity is one worth hoping in.
For those of us who have found our lives by offering them to Jesus and following him, we have someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for.