Thinking Family: What Gives Life Meaning?

Lynette Olfert Articles, Parents Leave a Comment

What Gives Life Meaning?

For some of us, the question ‘What Gives Life Meaning’ sounds incredibly philosophical and, philosophy not being one of our strengths, we move on. We’ll leave that to the scholars! Some might say we can’t know the answer to this question. Some of us (who are honest) would say we just don’t have the time or energy to consider this. Others find that they can’t get past this foundational question.

So, is it important to ask and discuss this question in our families? Actually, without being aware of it, we are already talking about it in our families every day, whether explicitly or implicitly through our actions and decisions. Answers to the meaning of life are also being preached constantly to our kids by voices all around them. The first step towards considering this question may be to become aware of these ever-present messages on life’s meaning.

Voices in our culture today are speaking of life’s meaning through both positive and negative messages.  Negative messages about meaning include materialism, consumerism, power, status, and wealth. We must talk with our children about how these forms of meaning are deceptive and will leave us searching and unfulfilled. Voices around us also say life has meaning through positive messages such as:

Philanthropy. Schools host events for international charitable projects. The Christmas season includes numerous requests for donations to charity and community. Birthday parties raise money for charity. Celebrities are applauded in the media for their donations and foundations. Being a generous, helpful person gives life meaning.

Success. Students are competing more and more to get good grades in school so that they can attend university and begin successful careers. Sports are becoming more competitive at younger ages as players spend more time in training, practices, and competition. Parents pour their hours and energies into their careers. Success in school, sports, and career give life meaning.

Relationships. Social Media can now largely quantify relationships. How many ‘friends’ do you have? Technology facilitates staying in touch with those we care about. Television, music, and movies continue to tell of lives being fulfilled by the perfect relationship with your true soul mate. Families are doing all they can to maintain a strong bond in the midst of hectic schedules. Relationships give life meaning.

All these things do give life meaning, in the sense that they have personal significance. They are enjoyable, valuable, and important. However, when I think of passing these values along to my kids, I feel like there must be something more. There must be something that will carry them through even when their relationships don’t go well, when they aren’t experiencing success, and when they don’t feel like they are contributing enough. Because their lives are meaningful, regardless of all these things. Our hearts tell us there is meaning to life that is deeper than the things that we define as personally significant.

In a blog post titled ‘The Meaning of Life in 600 Words or Less,’ Andy Steiger tells of a drawing that his young son drew:

Allow me to illustrate what I learned years ago about discovering life’s meaning with a picture my son drew. Coming home from work, I found one of his masterpieces taped to his bedroom door. It contained two large stick figures and two small ones. The two large stick figures were circled with a line through them. I could have guessed at what the picture meant, but I might have been wrong. I could have given it personal significance (subjective meaning) but I would be no closer to understanding its intended meaning (objective meaning). So, I did the one thing necessary to know the meaning of anything. I asked the author: my son.

The deeper meaning of life that our hearts are speaking of is our intended meaning: what we were created for. As Andy continues to explain, to know the intended meaning of our lives we must ask the author of life, God. Only finding and living out the purpose for which we were created will bring true and lasting fulfillment. Jesus explained that we are created to first love God and then to love each other. This is our true purpose. This is the message about life’s meaning that I want to communicate with my children. I will need to make a conscious effort to communicate this message to my children each day, in order to be heard above the many other voices competing to define life’s meaning.

Asking questions about the meaning of life can be the beginning of a journey that asks other important questions, including “Who is the author of life?” The Thinking Family blogs follow the Thinking Series in considering important life questions, such as ‘Does God Exist?’, ‘Do All Religions Lead to God,’ and ‘Who Is Jesus’? These questions are part of discovering and teaching our children how to find meaning in our lives.


Family Discussion Starters

  1. How do people try to give meaning to their lives? What makes them feel important and special?
  2. A popular quote states, “Don’t ask what the meaning of life is. You define it.” What are your thoughts about that? Do you agree or disagree?
  3. How might understanding the meaning of life change our behaviours and values? What does it look like to love God and to love others?

Family Resources

  1. Andy Steiger. The Meaning of Life in 600 Words or Less.  May 9, 2012. https://www.apologeticscanada.com/2012/05/09/the-meaning-of-life-in-600-words-or-less/
  2. Apologetics Canada Podcast 009 Thinking Series: What is the Meaning of Life? February 6, 2014 https://www.apologeticscanada.com/2014/02/06/ac-podcast-009-thinking-series-meaning-life/
  3. Apologetics Canada. Think For a Minute. What Gives Life Meaning? www.youtube.com/watch?v=wthWCDenXOc February 18, 2013
  4. Chris Sherrod. “Home-Field Advantage.” Apologetics for a New Generation. Sean McDowell. Harvest House Publishers, 2009.
  5. McFarland, Alex. The 21 toughest questions your kids will ask about Christianity and how to answer them confidently. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2013.
  6. Apologetics Canada. Think For a Minute. What is the Meaning of Life? www.youtube.com/watch?v=NPc8MEYEjmE
    March 25, 2013

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