The True YoUU: Living Your Best Life

This is the text of a sermon delivered August 17, 2014 at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Delaware County. 

How many of you truly believe that you are living your best life?  Do you even know what your “best life” is?   As Unitarian Universalists, we believe strongly in making the world a safer and more loving place for all creatures.    We want to do it all, give our all and create that utopian existence where everyone is loved and treated fairly regardless of their race, creed, age, marital status or sexual orientation; where everyone has an equal opportunity to be self-sufficient – to do fulfilling work that matters and to be paid a fair wage for it; where everyone has access to adequate food and water, education and health care.  As Unitarian Universalists, we work hard to promote the power of love and to foster social justice in the world.  We work on marriage equality; mass incarceration; immigration reform and environmental issues.  These are all lofty and admirable ideals.  And I believe they are attainable.  But sometimes I get overwhelmed trying to do all the “right things” every day.  I don’t know about you, but I find it difficult to lead that “perfect” life.  I realized I had to give myself a break.   All I can do is live my best life.  For me that means doing the best I can each moment of every day.  When it’s time for me to die, I hope I can look back and see that I strung together enough of those moments to be able to say that I lived my best life.

Your best life is one in which you live according to your principles.  Your actions and behaviors are in line with your core spiritual beliefs.    You have found your “voice.”  The late Dr. Stephen Covey, defines your “voice” as your “unique personal significance.”  It “lies at the nexus of talent (your natural gifts and strengths), passion (those things that naturally energize, excite, motivate and inspire you), need (including what the world needs enough to pay you for) and conscience (that still small voice within that assures you of what is right and that prompts you to actually do it).  When you engage in work that taps your talent and fuels your passion – that rises out of a great need in the world that you feel drawn by conscience to meet – therein lies your voice, your calling, your soul’s code.”   When you find your voice – and use it – you are living your best life.

You have figure out what it is you want to do. No one can do this for you.   What’s really important to you?  Dr. Covey says “[d]eep within each of us there is an inner longing to live a life of greatness and contribution – to really matter, to make a difference.  We may doubt ourselves and our ability to do so…but you can live such a life.  You have the potential within you.  We all do.  It is the birthright of the human family.”  Aristotle said “where talents and the needs of the world cross, therein lies your vocation.”   As UUs, we want to do it all and fix it all.  But I don’t think that’s humanly possible. We end up being scattered among a variety of causes and concerns yet not really accomplishing any one thing.  So let’s revisit that definition of “voice.” The intersection of talent, passion, need and conscience.

Let’s start with talent.  What are you good at?  Merriam Webster defines it as “a special ability that allows someone to do something well.”  I have a law degree and many years of business and corporate experience.  I’m also a musician.  I’d like to think I’m a good lawyer, a good writer and speaker and a decent musician.  I also recognize that there are many more things I’m just not good at.  I can handle Twitter but I can’t get the hang of Facebook and I have no idea what “Vine” is despite the fact that my 18 year-old great niece is on it constantly.    I am not good at statistics.  You get the point.  Each of us has innate special talents given to us by our creator.  We were given these talents for a reason – to use them.  When you go home today, take a minute and think about what your talents are.  What can you do well?  What special skill or ability do you have?

Next, there’s passion.  This one can be tricky.  Oprah says “Passion is energy.”  It sounds simplistic but it’s actually a pretty good starting point.  It’s also said that passion is “an intense emotion compelling enthusiasm, or desire for anything.”   Passion is that state of truly caring about a person, an issue or a thing, all the way down to the core of your being.  Passion is believing in something so fiercely that you are willing to fight for it and maybe even die for it. Andrew Carnegie said “If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy and inspires your hopes.”    Napoleon Hill wrote that “the starting point of all achievement is desire.  Weak desire brings weak results.”   So what are you passionate about?    I’m passionate about a lot of things but I’ll give you a couple of examples.  I’m passionate about financial literacy.  My father died when I was very young and I watched my mother struggle to take care of us on very limited resources.   My father didn’t leave a trust fund or a retirement account.  I had no idea what those things were until I started working myself.  Now I dedicate myself to making sure that the people I encounter know the basics of financial literacy – budgeting, saving, etc.  I make sure every woman knows the basics.   I speak on the topic at churches, women’s groups, to children and at community centers.  I take every opportunity that arises to promote it.

I’m also passionate about preventing people from driving under the influence.  My brother was killed by a drunk driver and I’ve spent many hours doing Victim Impact Panels in the hope that I can dissuade just one person from having a drink and getting behind the wheel of a car.    I speak on the topic every time I’m asked and share my story.  I give of myself to advance this cause.   As Tiffany Madison writes, “[if] we don’t fight for what we ‘stand for’ with our passionate words and honest actions, do we really ‘stand’ for anything?”    I embrace my passions full-on.  They make me who I am.  As Nichols Sparks writes in Dear John, “[t]he saddest people I’ve ever met in life are the ones who don’t care deeply about anything at all.”  In my mind, those people aren’t just sad.  They simply aren’t living.

Let’s move on to “need.”  This is perhaps the easiest for us UUs to grasp.  What does the world need?  Clean water, renewable energy sources, affordable quality health care and education for everyone.  The list goes on and on.  The key in living your best life is in identifying that thing that the world needs that you have the talent and the passion to provide.  Maybe you have the formal education and training to be a doctor in a rural or underserved low-income community.  That is a need that you can fulfill.  But don’t sell yourself short – there may also be a need for volunteers to make outreach phone calls for that doctor’s office.  That might be the need that you can fulfill.  Revisit your list of talents and see where they line up with the need you see in your community.

Finally, there’s conscience.   Trudy Govier writes that “[t]he ‘voice of conscience’ is something we have constructed for ourselves, taking into account personal experience, feelings, social teaching, scientific findings and relevant religious teachings.”  Conscience is that inner law by which we live. It is our innate sense of right and wrong, just and unjust, fair and unfair.   According to Reverend Thomas Berg, “[a]uthentic moral conscience, however, is not merely something that I roll up my sleeves and produce—the product of having weighed my feelings, likes, dislikes, my friend’s opinion on the matter, advice from others, and so on.  While all of this might serve to help me arrive at a genuine judgment of conscience, that judgment—if sound and genuinely proceeding from conscience—will proceed from the core of my being, and will correspond to objective moral norms  anchored in the truth about what perfects us as human persons.  It will be a weighty and carefully distilled judgment of what—given the objective ends of human nature—is reasonably required of me (or someone else) in the present circumstance.”

By now, I imagine there are a few different types of thoughts bubbling up out there. Some of you are thinking I already know all this; I’m already living my best life.  She isn’t telling me anything new.  If that’s you, I’m happy that you’ve already taken the time to be fully present with yourself and do this work.  It’s not easy.  For some of us, it takes years to discover who we really are, what matters most to us and how to make a difference in the world.

Others of you might be overwhelmed because you’ve never really taken the time to think about your individual voice.   Some time ago, Jane Romeyn of the UU Fellowship of Vero Beach in Florida wrote a letter to UU World.  She wrote ”[t]he articles in the Spring issue about undocumented immigrants and the various ‘Occupy’ movements are yet additional examples of UUs deciding that certain current events will become UU dogma, and that anyone claiming to be a UU must agree with the UUA position.  This makes it especially painful for those of us who joined because of the UU openness to all of the various religions in the world but now find most congregations to be much more concerned with ‘social justice’ than with helping members think about and work through all the complexities of spirituality and personal growth.”  This letter struck a nerve with me.  I’ve shared with you some of the things I’m passionate about.  They don’t necessarily “line up” with UU hot-button issues.   For a minute, I seriously thought I was a failure as a UU.  Then I remembered what drew me to Unitarian Universalism in the first place – the recognition of diversity of thought and the encouragement for each of us to find our own truth – our own path – our own voice.

Lastly, there are some of you who have taken this message to heart and have found your voice but aren’t using it.     Many of us simply lack self-confidence.   I’m not making a difference. I can’t change things.  There’s a saying that “Hell would be if God were to show me things I could have accomplished if only I had believed in myself.”  Often we have all the confidence in the world but still have lapses when our voice goes silent.  I know I do.  When that happens, 9 times out of 10, it’s because I’ve become DISTRACTED.  I’m sure many of you can relate to this.  I believe there are five major distractions to cultivating and using our voice.

One – LACK OF RESOURCES –You don’t have the time to do the things that move your spirit.  Perhaps you are the parent of a new infant.  You feel you barely have time to shower, let alone engage in soul searching and self-care.  Maybe you have a demanding career and work 80 hours per week.   But you’re not only short-changing yourself; you’re shortchanging your child or your employer.  You owe it to the child to be the best “you” that you can be.  You’ll be a better employee if you’re emotionally and spiritually balanced.  Heed the words of H. Jackson Brown Jr.:  “Don’t say you don’t have enough time.  You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Louis Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo DaVinci, Thomas Jefferson and Albert Einstein.”

Maybe lack of money is your dilemma.  My company closed in 2009 leaving all of its Pennsylvania employees without jobs.  I’m not extravagant by nature but after I lost my job, I was momentarily gripped by fear that I’d never earn a decent living again and that I had to hold on to every penny I had.  But it doesn’t take money to think or to feel.  Instead of buying books for my spiritual study, I went to the library.   If you don’t have a computer or internet access at home, you can always visit your local library.  You can participate in free seminars around town or find webinars online. Maybe instead of money, you can give time.  Lack of financial resources is a distraction, but it’s not an excuse.

Two – LACK OF EDUCATION.  I have an acquaintance who never went to college but wants to work with at-risk youth.  She says she “can’t” because she doesn’t have a college degree.  I reminded her she can volunteer at her neighborhood community center, be a Big Brother/Big Sister or simply mentor one or more of the kids in her congregation.  Depending on what she truly wants to do, a degree might be a necessity but it’s not a good reason to sit on the sidelines and do nothing.  It’s a distraction, not an excuse.

Three – LACK OF OPPORTUNITY.  Perhaps the opportunity to do what stirs your soul just doesn’t exist in your area.  If rescuing beached whales is your passion, Kansas is probably not the best place for you to live.  This may be an extreme example, but I think you get the point.  I love tennis.  One of my dreams has been to work at a Grand Slam tennis tournament.  There are no grand slam tournaments in Wilmington, Delaware where I live.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t follow that passion.  It just means I have to be creative.  Maybe I relocate to New York for the two weeks of the U.S. Open each year.  If it means enough to me and if I want it badly enough, I will make it happen.  Living in Delaware is just a distraction – not an excuse.

Four – TECHNOLOGY.  We are bombarded by images and information every day.  Technology is everywhere.  Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, text messages, phone calls, Instagram, etc.  Every day you see people staring at their smartphones for hours on end, afraid of missing a single message or post.  If something is truly important to you – if it really stirs your passion – you’ll turn the technology off for a little bit.  Technology was meant to make our lives easier – not to BE our lives.  It’s a distraction from living your best life, not an excuse.

Five – OVERLOAD and APATHY.   We all know someone who’s a Superman or Superwoman of causes.  They’re passionate about absolutely EVERY SINGLE ISSUE that you name.  This is the proverbial “Jack of All Trades and Master of None.”  You can’t be passionate about everything and do it well.  It’s just not possible.  Or, you’re not being honest with yourself about what’s important to you.  It’s OK not to be involved in or connected with every single issue.  There is someone in my congregation who is sincerely and passionately involved with the issue of mass incarceration.  I am asked at least once a week to be involved with her program.  I’ve explained truthfully and lovingly  that I cannot take on that issue right now because of my other commitments and causes.  I’ll repeat – it’s ok to say “no.”   Agreeing to do something that either doesn’t move you or would overwhelm you distracts you from living your best life.  Just say no.  Overload and apathy are distractions from living your best life, not excuses.

Can we overcome these distractions? With self-discipline, sincere desire and commitment, yes.   Then comes the best part – LIVING YOUR BEST LIFE.  You’ve already identified what stirs your passion.  Now comes the time to do something about it.  Volunteer your time to work on a specific project or cause – once a month, once a year, whatever works for you and fits the needs of the particular project or cause.  If you can’t give time or are physically unable to give of yourself, give your resources.  Send a donation to that group rescuing beached whales on the California coast.   Or – just talk about how important your cause or passion is and then do nothing at all about it.  Having talent, passion and conscience in the face of great need while doing nothing about it is a waste.

I leave you today with a challenge:  (1) Find your voice – pinpoint that intersection of your talents, passion, world need and conscience.   (2) Remove all the distractions and excuses that prevent you from cultivating that voice.  (3) Use your voice and live your best life.

May it be so.

 

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