Viktor Emil Frankl was a physician and psychiatrist. He survived the World War II Holocaust. His Nazi concentration camp experiences led him to wonder how any human being could maintain hope under such extreme conditions.
He came to believe that our survival depends upon finding meaning, even in desperate circumstances. Frankl proposed that we have free will to choose our attitudes, even about torture, death, and dying.
He observed that those human beings whose core spirits chose to have faith in the future and who find meaning in the moment, often found the strength and the courage to face the most difficult problems.
“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way” (Victor Frankl. Man’s Search for Meaning, 1946).
It is when we find the “why” we want to live that we can endure almost any “how.” The “why” is our purpose.
Frankl found that people with a high purpose can find meaning even in the worst circumstances. In other words, once we have a high calling we will find a way to deal with the suffering that comes our way. If, as Frankl saw, someone decides his or her reason to live is to comfort others, then even in a concentration camp he or she will still have a reason for living.
When we lose our sense of purpose, we lose a sense that our lives mean anything; and we lose hope in the future, for there seems to be nothing worth living for.
What causes us to lose our sense of purpose?
When our purpose is too small and too self-focused.
When we experience suffering and/or inhumanity that is outside our image of how the world should work.
When we commit acts or have thoughts that fracture the image we have of ourselves as being good, kind, and caring human beings under all circumstances.
There is, however, good news. Although we sometimes lose our sense of purpose, we can be restored to a larger sense of purpose. The Bible teaches us that we can be renewed in a life-giving purpose in the following ways:
Make a confession: God calls us to see ourselves as we really are, not as we would like to be.
Make a commitment to turn around: We are called not to wallow in guilt or be stuck in despair, but to step into the future with a commitment to find and live by a higher purpose.
Make a connection to God, to others, and to ourselves: Our higher calling, our higher purpose is to be a part of the community of the faithful, choosing to live and serve as God leads us.
In Psalm 51:10-12 David prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right and steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit.“