Today, I want to talk to you about the standard you use to measure the meaning in your life.
A Full Life
Last year, comic Sarah Silverman stirred-up the social strata on Twitter by issuing this statement:
“As a comic always working & on the road I have had to decide between motherhood & living my fullest life & I chose the latter.”
Ooooh, thems fighten’ words to some hard-working mamas out there. Yep, Silverman caught some serious flak for expressing those sentiments. A lot of mothers took issue with the idea that a woman with children cannot have a full life.
Silverman responded by insisting that she was referring to her fullest life and no one else’s. Fair enough. This world-famous comedian has every right to determine what her life should be. Motherhood would pop a pin in the full life that she envisions for herself.
You know, in a strange way, I can relate. I chose to leave my career as an actress to pursue my fullest life in full-time motherhood, and over the years, I’ve gotten flak for that. You see, I’ve let down womanhood. Silverman has let down motherhood. With women, that knife can cut both ways. Unfortunately.
Of course, I never had an enormously successful career like Silverman, so the sacrifice of my vocation for the sake of motherhood wouldn’t register on a scale like hers. Likewise, she doesn’t have five amazing kids, so her sacrifice of a family for the sake of a career doesn’t register on a scale like mine.
Silverman is wise, however, to recognize that some kind of sacrifice is necessary whatever you choose. I appreciate Sarah’s acknowledgement of the magnanimous sacrifice that motherhood would require of her. It requires that kind of sacrifice from all moms. And I appreciate her candor in stating that her priorities lie elsewhere.
But . . . I would like to challenge Silverman’s statement of what constitutes a full life. “Always working & on the road” sounds like a person who is investing every ounce of energy into their own career, into their resume. And while we each have the right to define a “full life” as we see it, this seems like a less than full definition to me. But that’s just me.
Or is it?
A recent news article in Time Magazine highlights new research that supports a different pathway to personal fulfillment:
“Scientific research provides compelling data to support the anecdotal evidence that giving is a powerful pathway to personal growth and lasting happiness. Through fMRI technology, we now know that giving activates the same parts of the brain that are stimulated by food and sex. Experiments show evidence that altruism is hardwired in the brain—and it’s pleasurable. Helping others may just be the secret to living a life that is not only happier but also healthier, wealthier, more productive, and meaningful.”
Scientists have proven that altruism fulfills humanity on par with stimulants like food and sex. Wow. Philanthropy is pretty powerful stuff!
So, might we conclude that a life spent “always working and on the road” is a less than full definition of a life? Scientifically speaking, that is, of course.
Look, I’m not trying to cast stones here, truly I’m not. I’m challenging definitions. What is a full life? What truly matters when all is said and done, when the last song is sung? That is a question worth asking when trying to define our fullest life.
You know, I was all kinds of self-absorbed in my 20’s and early 30’s before I had kids. And Sarah Silverman may take time off from her busy tour-schedule to do all kinds of charity. You can’t judge a life based on a twenty second tweet. So, I’m not trying to.
But . . . she did offer a rather myopic, career-focused definition of a full life.
And you know what, I can relate to that too. The scientific findings in this Time Magazine article registered with me about 15 years ago, not because I read them somewhere, but because I recognized the need for something more than me in my own heart and in my future.
At that time of life, I was all about building the resume, getting that next big part, writing that next big play, clipping another great review, making another strategic connection.
But one day, I saw an unsettling vision of myself. I saw a geriatric me on Christmas morning watching a bunch of little kids, my grand-nieces and nephews, opening presents with beaming grins from ear to ear, squealing with delight. They would run to their grandparents to thank them. Then they would whisper,
“Nana, who is that lady?”
“That is your great-aunt Cathy,” she would reply.
“Oh, where are her babies?”
“She’s holding them.”
I was sitting there watching it all unfold while clutching my chubby resume filled with prestigious accomplishments.
This scene played out in my head. Many times. I wondered how fulfilling that list of accomplishments would be to me then. I wondered if that resume would mean to me in my old age what it meant to me in my youth. I wondered if investing my life in people might be more meaningful than paper.
I couldn’t shake that image. I realized that my definition of a full life might change as life went on, and the choices I made in my young adult years could bless or haunt me as I got older.
That vision changed my life. I decided that I didn’t want to be that woman.
So, my husband and I cranked out five bambinos from the time I was 33 until I turned 46. We were good and done after the first three, btw, but that is the subject for another day. Suffice to say that God saw a much fuller life for me than I ever imagined. And I am so grateful that I caught His vision.
The full I feel now doesn’t compare to the full I wanted back then. They are in different worlds, different galaxies, light years apart.
Like Sarah, I would like to clarify that this was my path to a full life and no one else’s. The Apostle Paul said that for him it was better not to marry or have children at all so that he could focus more intently on others. That is a wonderful definition of a full life.
A person doesn’t have to be a mother to be a generous, sacrificial, philanthropic human being. Mother Theresa proved that. And some mothers can be incredibly selfish despite taking on a role that is designed by God to kill narcissism. So, you don’t automatically get a full life by becoming a mother, nor do you forfeit one by choosing another path.
That isn’t the point. But this is:
Fullness in life comes when we focus most of our attention on the needs of others. Jesus proved that. Good mothers prove that. Science is even proving that. And you know what, Sarah Silverman herself may prove that by making a lot of people laugh. It’s all in the motive, really. And that is something only God can see.
If the motive is me, then I haven’t found my fullest life. Not yet.
So what is your definition of “a full life?” Have you ever thought about it? The world offers us a definition that falls well short of God’s definition, and apparently, Time Magazine’s definition too.
A full life may be spent investing most of your waking hours in a career that God inspired you to pursue, or it may be spent sacrificing a career that you once aspired to pursue. No two full lives are the same. So in a way, Sarah Silverman was right. Your full life doesn’t have to look like mine.
But a full life comes when we pray the prayer of our Lord, “Not my will but Thine.”
You see, when it comes to a full life, the question isn’t what you do, but Who you do it for.
The Time Magazine article referenced in A Full Life is entitled, “The Secret to Happiness is Helping Others.” It was written by Jenny Santi and was published on August 4, 2017.
Catherine Segars is an award-winning actress and playwright — turned stay-at-home-mother—turned author, speaker and blogger. She is dedicated to helping other women see their worth in a season when they often feel less-than.
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