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What Gives Your Life Meaning?
by Lenn Harris Milam, M. Div.
Pastoral Psychotherapist

Samaritan Counseling Center

"Don't eat your soul to fill your belly."
Srinivas Kumar

"What do you do for a living?" Lately when I hear myself asking someone that question, part of me wants to stop. For you see, what I find myself really wanting to ask is "What gives meaning to your life?" Somehow, somewhere along the way to becoming the best we can be, the idea of an occupation defining personal self-worth has derailed us. A shift has occurred as to how we engage one another; now we are asked about our work as the thing that defines and informs our daily encounters.

From my early childhood, the whole idea of "What gives meaning to your life?" was formed by a nuclear and extended family system of neighborhood and church. The "What gives meaning to your life?" question came in the form of "To whom do you belong?" "Who are your people?" These were questions that had deeper meaning than kinship. These were queries that moved me to think about behavior, promise, expectation, history and connectedness. The answers reminded me that I was not an individual functioning in isolation, but a viable part of a larger scenario -- a scenario that began long before me and would continue long after me; a scenario that would bear my imprint. Somehow my contribution was supposed to be significant within that scenario.

This sense of belonging collectively to a people modeled for me what it means to be in a community as one of God's--for who I am, who I belong to, calls forth a connection and recognition of a whole community and history of a people. The whole village was responsible for my raising because of a mandate from deep within the history that we are called forth by and to the Creator.

So it is with our clients who come seeking hope and meaning. I maintain that it is a search and longing for movement away from "What do I do?" to the challenge of "To whom do I belong?" Therapy, specifically pastoral counseling, can assist us maneuver through the external forces that seem unmanageable and the internal chaos that causes us conflict and anxiety. Movement away from a chaotic and fragmented existence of "doing" towards a fulfilling and more balanced living of "belonging" will create life-enhancing experiences instead of life-negating encounters.

By re-framing "What do you do for a living?" with "What gives meaning to your life?," each of us can begin to undergird our daily tasks and encounters with a new understanding of to whom we belong.


Find out more about pastoral counseling.

The shift in emphasis on how we engage a person allows us the opportunity to share what defines and informs our daily encounters.


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