(Author’s Note: This article was originally posted in The Oakdale Chronicles on February 23, 2013 while I was still incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution in Oakdale, Louisiana)
While there have certainly been very significant moments throughout my life, one of the issues that I had to come to terms with early on was the fact that the majority of my years prior to coming to prison were lived in a very insignificant way.
What I mean by that is that my life had no focus that went beyond my own selfishness; beyond my own self-indulgence; beyond my own urges and impulses; or beyond my total lack of concern for anyone or anything around me. I bounced through life aimlessly, much like that little silver sphere in a pinball game. Certainly that ball does fulfill a purpose, but it is a random one, dictated by luck, chance, and the whim of the “flippers” that control its direction and ultimate fate.
A human life – mine, yours, anyone’s – should be more than a pinball game. I am certain that about this time, most who will read this will surely say, “Well, speak for yourself! My life has purpose and I certainly am not like you!” Close examination would prove this to be the case for some but surely not for all, and probably for fewer than any of us would care to admit.
In one of the great ironies of my life, it has proven to be a fact that it was necessary for me to come to prison in order that I might learn just what it means to live a significant life and to begin the search for my significance.
If one desired to be a great painter, one most assuredly would study the masters. If one desired to be a great doctor, one would learn the lessons taught by those who know the subject. Whatever it is we desire to learn, we turn to those who have already demonstrated a proficiency in the subject.
It is that way as well in the search for significance. Significance itself is nothing more than having meaning or purpose. To lead a significant life, one must look to those who have done just that, and there are plenty of examples to follow.
My personal favorite is Jesus Christ. I can think of no one who has lived a life of greater significance than He. To best illustrate how I feel about the influence that Christ can have, I am going to insert something here from a book of daily devotionals that I have been working on. It is a book of meditations, thoughts, and lessons that I have learned which I have written to share with others and hope to make available next January. It is one step in my personal search for significance and here are my thoughts for one day in the year:
THE IDEAL DAY TO SEEK SIGNIFICANCE IN OUR LIVES.”
“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”
– Proverbs 19:21 NIV
God created each one of us for a reason. Since we do not come into this life with a certificate engraved with that purpose, we must look to God for help in discerning exactly what it may be. In his Gospel, John said, “God created everything through Him, and nothing was created except through Him.” (John 1:3 NLT). This means that we exist only because of the fact that God put us here. If we spend any time at all reading the Word of God, as we should, we know that He put each one of us here to live lives that have significance. Just as He placed His Son among us to live a life that was full of significance, He placed each one of us here to follow His example.
Can any of us live a life as significant as that of Jesus Christ? Doubtful. However, if we fill our lives with purpose and meaning, like Christ; if we spend our time trying to make life better for someone who has nothing to eat, no clothes to wear, or a home to live in, like Christ; if we devote the talents that God has given us – no matter how great or seemingly small they may be – to the care and comfort of others, like Christ, then we will leave this earth knowing that we have succeeded in our search for significance.
“But I have lived a long life of sin and I think it is too late and I am too old to live a life of significance.” If this statement sounds like it could be coming from you, it is important to understand that if your heart is pulling you to seek a purpose; to find meaning; to discover a path that will lead to a more selfless, less self-indulgent life, then the time is not too late. In fact, the time is perfect!
God has placed no age limit on us. We are never too young or too old to live a life of significance.
So much of what swirls around us on a daily basis is insignificant. So much is frivolous, meaningless, and serves no purpose other than to indulge, entertain or amuse. When we seek significance in our lives, we add tremendous value to it. We make everything around us more enjoyable because we discover the real joy that comes with purpose and suddenly we are happy from the inside out instead of pursuing insignificant and self-indulgent external things to give us pleasure that is shallow and short-lived.
Ask God daily to help you in your search for significance. Ask Him to lead you to His purpose.
It’s never too late to search for significance in our lives. In fact, today is an ideal day to start.
I hope everyone got something from that. But even those who do not share the beliefs that I do need to understand the importance of significance.
Abraham Lincoln was a man of great significance. In his second annual message to Congress on December 1, 1862, Lincoln said, “Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trail through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the lastest generation.”
In other words, what we do while we are alive will outlive us all. We will be, each one of us, remember by someone, somewhere, for something.
For my part, I have decided that I will follow the example of those men and women I believe are found in what I call…
“THE BOOK OF SIGNIFICANCE”
I looked in the book of significance and my name could not be found, but I studied all the names I did find there.
I thought I could discover by what code they were all bound; I hoped that I could stumble on the secret that they share.
I looked upon their character, took a peek at words they spoke; tried to find the spark that lit the fires within;
Tried to see all that sustained them from the moment that they woke; what it was that gave them strength to not give in.
Was I really so presumptuous to think my name could rest in a place with those who lived so selflessly?
With names like Martin Luther King, Helen Keller and the rest; including men like John F. Kennedy.
To join the ranks of those like Rosa Parks and Henry Clay would be an honor, but just how is it done?
I believe that it is simply that they lived their lives each day always making other people number one.
In search of my significance, I found passion I’d misplaced, but I wonder if perhaps it’s come too late.
And is it strong enough to override a life lived in disgrace? Can I really hope that I can compensate?
Can I put the past behind me? Can I ever stand as tall as George Washington and others of his day?
Can I fight for what is right? Can I change anything at all? Can I speak out loud the words I need to say?
We make our lives significant (at least I think it’s true) by always placing other people first.
We make our lives significant through everything we do; feeding hunger and quenching people’s thirst.
In search of my significance, there’s a place that I must start, and if I don’t start there, I’ll not succeed.
Significance itself begins to grow inside my heart, but a heart is not the only thing I need.
A bond with God is needed. He will guide me on my way. He will show me how to be like all the rest.
He will lead me to significance, into the book to stay, because I finally have given life my best.
To anyone anywhere who is reading these words, know this: It is important that we are all, if nothing else, honest with ourselves.
In asking the question, “Is my name in the ‘Book of Significance’?” I sincerely hope that each person’s answer is a resounding “Yes!”
However, if the answer is less than yes, there is no call to feel guilty or bad about yourself. The only call is to action. You see, “The Book of Significance” contains many names that are familiar to us all; names like those I mentioned in my poem. But the vast majority of names contained in that book are names that very few people know. But that’s alright. Our position in the book is not what is important. Our presence in the book is. The search for significance, for me, began with God. I hope that is where you start your search.
But if not, I still wish you nothing but the best of luck in your search and I hope we bump into each other in the pages of “The Book of Significance.”