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February 7, 1994

Fists and Screams: Life Is More Than Existence

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Life is a matter of degrees. Some have life, but it flickers like a dying candle, and is indistinct as the fire in the smoking flax. Others are full of life, and are bright and vehement, like the fire upon the blacksmith’s forge when the bellows are in full blast. Christ has come that His people may have life in all its fullness! – CH Spurgeon

It begins at birth. After nine months of gestation a baby is pushed into this world, fists clenched and screaming. And we’ve been shouting at this life ever since. Not an angry shout, but a universal groan for meaning and fulfillment; an internal cry for satisfaction and an endless search for a life worth living.
The sound may vary according to our age, personality, background and station in life. But it’s there. The intellectual woman looks down from her credentialed mountaintop and thoughtfully questions if mental firepower is really enough to bring peace and contentment in life. The adventuresome millennial pops his confused head up and wonders where is this whole thing going? The boomer competitor lays spent after another conquering achievement but instead of being satisfied on the inside, he lays empty and unmotivated. The sentimental mom pulls herself back into the moment, yet one more time, but all the while withering on her inside and weepy for personal nourishment.
You and I both know how beautiful and ugly life can be all at once. It can be so rich and full. But it can be so exhausting and hollow as well. We get trapped into routines and the monotony of raising kids, chasing hobbies, climbing the career ladder and as the year’s pass, the groan keeps rumbling in our soul. We mask it. But it’s there.
In my role as a coach and adviser, I’ve had the occasion to ask countless business and nonprofit leaders over the past decades, “How is your life and work going?”
Too often, that’s when I see “the look.” It resembles a wince. It’s a pained look that bespeaks disappointment and frustration. When I see “the look,” I know the person I’m talking to is going to tell me about how life is not offering adequate satisfaction and fulfillment. In many cases, these are people who, on the outside, appear successful, perhaps as measured by the prestige and pay of their jobs. But deep inside, they know that some important areas of their lives are not measuring up to what they had hoped for or expected. Although our primary reason for engagement might be business strategy, the eventual conversation about life fulfillment comes around.
Pediatricians use the term failure to thrive for young children who aren’t gaining weight as they should. I believe that many adults have their own kinds of failure to thrive. They’re existing. They’re getting by. Their lives are certainly not a complete waste. But at the same time, they aren’t really thriving either. Or as I put it, they aren’t flourishing.

• To not flourish is to feel hindered, withered, exhausted, empty, hopeless, helpless, confused, purposeless or lost.
• To flourish is to bloom, grow, thrive, be energized, shine, bear fruit, break forth or overflow.

Permit me to ask: which description more nearly fits you?
Jesus used a phrase that I think beautifully describes the kind of life we all want: “abundant life” (John 10:10). That’s it! We want life that’s abundant, not minimal or insignificant. We want a life of meaning, satisfaction, and sustainable richness. And here is the kicker, just because a person has met the Master and is a believer doesn’t mean they are living the life God always intended for them. It’s true; some just get by while others flourish.
That’s where I will try to help.

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