Commentary

February 14, 2014

Spiritual resiliency: ‘Smiley Face’ factor masks wounds

There is within all of us a yearning for purpose in life. This yearning drives us to seek success, influence and power, to solve problems, create or better our world. It motivates the athlete to push himself to the limit. It inspires the firefighter to have the courage to rush into a burning building. It challenges the scientist to find a cure for a disease. It persuades the teacher to continue the important work of influencing the next generation.

Purpose in life is the fuel that drives our lives. When we understand or have a sense about our life’s purpose, it is like driving a car on a full tank of gas. There is little stress and worry because you have plenty of gas to make the trip. However, with a decreased sense of purpose comes a decreased sense of self-worth. It is like getting into a car with a quarter tank of gas and wondering if you can make it to your destination.

Everyone wants to have purpose in life – to be successful, wanted or make a difference. We are fueled by this desire. When the circumstances of life hurt us, or an obstacle overwhelms us, or when a trusted life tool breaks, we don’t want to seem weak or foolish. We don’t want those we love to be let down. So, we mask our true feelings to hide our weaknesses, failings and self-doubt as a way of protecting our emotional fortitude.

What is odd about this picture? There is a smile, a happy face, an emotion of pleasure. However, at the same time there are tears, scars or perhaps bruises which are all in contradiction to the happy smile. Consider this, if one could take an emotional CT scan, would this accurately reflect all of us? Think about it. We often put on a “smiley face” to mask life’s wounds and scars. We don’t want to seem weak, so we cover it with a smile.

We often don’t know that a person in our life (loved one, friend, co-worker) is dealing with emotional scars or bruises because of the smiley face factor. Many individuals who are outwardly successful are constantly depressed and anxious inside because of these wounds. The smiley face makes them appear to be strong and resilient, but the underlying foundation of their life is weak and brittle. In crisis situations, that inadequate internal foundation affects the decision-making process and highlights undeveloped coping skills.

A rabbi once said, “A man who built a house, dug deep and laid the foundation on rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against the house and could not shake it, because it had been built on a firm foundation. However, a man who built a house on the sand without a foundation, when the stream broke against it, it immediately fell and destroyed the house.”

The lesson here is that the foundation is significant. This is true whether talking about buildings or building a healthy worldview of life and its purpose. If we have a firm foundation rooted deeply in a strong belief system that fosters purpose in life, then we are able to withstand the weight or pressure of life’s stressors. Likewise, a weak foundation, built on many shifting belief systems never provides adequate stability when pressure is applied.

A spiritual foundation provides perspective on life that is separate from one’s own perspective, which can be marred by life’s circumstances. It provides a solid belief system that is unchanging. It defines and provides purpose for life. It strengthens the inner person by focusing on what is permanent rather than on the temporal: love versus lust, character versus beauty, relationships versus materialism, contentment versus envy, etc. A spiritual foundation helps us look beyond the smiley face factor and understand no one is perfect. We all have our flaws, hurts and disappointments. A spiritual foundation moves us beyond the smiley face and provides a constant perspective unchanged by circumstances.




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