Moments Loaded With Meaning

It’s 4:30am and I’m sitting comfortably in my chair; it’s dark and my coffee is warm in my hands. The glow of the Christmas tree lights casts colorful shadows across the room and the quiet is loaded with promise. This is my time: sacred, contemplative, renewing. Suddenly, my serenity is interrupted by the call of our week-end guest: our daughter’s new puppy. Yip, yip, yip. Whine, whine, whine.

Hours before, we were driving downtown to join our Northwind family for a Christmas celebration. Traffic was heavy and the slow, the distracted, and the incredibly annoying, seemed to be blocking our path at every turn. Trying to cover my impatience with the cynically non-humorous, I quipped, “I’ve managed to find all of the annoying drivers tonight.” Sitting in the backseat, my sister encouragingly replied, “Perhaps there’s a message in that.”

In C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, the senior devil Screwtape writes to his apprentice, Wormwood, “The present is the point at which time touches eternity.” Screwtape is giving a master class in how to distract, disrupt, scatter, and ultimately, capture a human soul. His point: the choices your human target makes in this moment are bringing him closer to either heaven or hell.

Regardless of whether or not you subscribe to Lewis’ view on eternity, Screwtape’s missive equally portrays the reality of our temporal existence. This moment, and how we respond to it, is taking us closer to our own heaven or hell, right here on earth. We build our own paradise, or tear it down, one choice at a time.

The Weight of Meaning

What would happen if we saw every moment as having meaning? What if the puppy’s interruption of my morning had purpose beyond disrupting me? What if there was a message in my experience with the evening’s annoying drivers? Holding the warm little body of five pound distraction as she chewed on her toy, I wondered about the potential meaning in these moments and my own journey toward heaven or hell.

Of course, not all moments are laden with profundity. There is likely no cosmic implication attached to the crying puppy or the randomly maddening drivers we may encounter. However, my response to them has incredibly deep implications for my own well-being. Anger, impatience, and the teeth-gritting they foster, are not helpful to my state of mind, nor do they bring me any closer to a higher state of thinking, feeling, or being. In fact, they are quite effective of the opposite, degrading me toward my baser self. The self that skims on the surface reacting to the emotional fuses lit by external circumstances.

The irritation fostered by the things that annoy are straight out of Screwtape’s playbook. They distract and scatter while pushing us toward the animalistic within us – the part of our being that eschews our thinking self for the monkey mind that jumps between the moments instinctively and often, irrationally. Here, reason is left behind for the emotionally charged, adrenaline-ridden, reactions that frequently lead to our own personal hell.

In the context of our reactive self, the meaning of these moments can be quite heavy, weighing us down as they hold us back from our best version. But they are only part of the story.

The Gravity of Purpose

Standing in front of our Northwind team at a Town Hall meeting last week, I reminded everyone that there is a reason they are here. Tying our work to purpose is a key part of finding meaning in our lives. Such broad, sweeping calls to meaning are easy to make. You are doing important work. You are changing lives. You are making a difference. However, the real work lies in the thousand touch points that happen along the way. Moments in which we rise or fall in our choices. Moments in which we touch eternity.

What does my ultimate purpose have to do with the purpose of this moment? Looking back on our long road, meaning can be traced along the points marking the moments, and the outline of purpose begins to emerge where we’ve brushed up against other human beings. Meaning is found in those encounters, and the opportunity of our purpose is built, or lost, in how we repeat them. Heaven or hell is chosen along the way.

Standing there last night, talking with team members and their loved ones, I watched as the pattern unrolled before my eyes. Every single person brought something into that interaction, and each walked away with something else. And so did I. The topic of the moment didn’t have to extend to the existential. The casual, the thoughtful, the insightful, and the grateful, were more than enough to sustain their own purpose. However, the meaning of each moment did extend to the existential as it moved me closer, or further way, from heaven.

We often associate the purpose of life with a sense of the grand. Living our purpose should change the world, right? Well, yes, it should. There is a reason you are here. There is a meaning to your life. There is a place where you change the world by living your purpose. One person. One encounter. One moment at a time.

Words Matter

Interruption or invitation? Annoyance or message? Delay or opportunity? Awkward conversation or chance to learn something new? How we see the world makes all the difference. How we see the people around us, and those expected and unexpected collisions, dictates the meaning of those moments, and our ability to find purpose in a lifetime’s worth of them. The words we choose to describe the moments matter.

Standing in a small room last night with music blasting and about 20 revelers joyfully singing in a Christmas karaoke frenzy, I was reminded that every moment is a gift, and my ability to see that meaning in it would forever set the tempo of my own joy. The interruptions, disruptions, disappointments, and devastations, will come, but our response to them in each succeeding moment will bring us closer to heaven or hell.

Thank you, Georgia, and the drivers of the world, for reminding me that it’s not all about me. Thank you for giving meaning to the moments by challenging me to be more. Thank you to my Northwind team for the gift of purpose in so many moments loaded with meaning.

Showing 2 comments
  • Brady Ballentine

    Phil, this is both timely and fantastic. Thank you.

  • Jerry Berry

    Nice piece Phillip.

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