The Search for Meaning

If we’re awake, sooner or later we’re going to ask the question, “Why is this happening?” It is human to seek meaning in the midst of tragedy, or in times of great challenge. Early in January, my husband was diagnosed with cancer. We expect he will live through this, but as a spiritual seeker, I want to understand why we invited this experience into our lives and how we can best use it.

I grew up Catholic, educated from elementary school through college by socially progressive nuns and priests. It was a good place to start. Although Catholicism is bound by legalities, it is also deeply metaphysical, and after all these years, I find most of what I learned still applies in my life. As I got older, I explored a wide range of other religious and spiritual traditions, and I have taken from each the bits that felt true to me.

Spirituality is highly personal and individual. This is what I believe:

God exists. I feel convinced of this from my direct spiritual experience. If you are not a believer, I can’t persuade you otherwise, nor would I ever want to try. I respect your individual path.

The God I knew in childhood was a loving Father. Jesus was my friend, and His mother, Mary, was my mother as well. That was exactly what I needed then.

As an adult, I consider myself a Christian. I don’t ascribe to the idea that Jesus is my Savior, rescuing me from Hell. But I do aspire to live a Christlike life. (In the interests of full disclosure, I fall short more often than I succeed.)

Today I think of God as the essence of everything, an energy of pure love and intelligence. I believe we are all part of this energy, each of us connected to one another. I believe we are here to practice unconditional love, and to use this world as a playground where we create and co-create our own reality.

Like Shakespeare, I believe “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” We arrive having chosen certain lessons for ourselves, and when we have learned the lessons, when we are ready, we exit the stage. As we step back through that curtain, we return to our larger, more conscious life beyond this world.

In that regard, I have some sense of detachment from the events of my human life. But of course, this experience only works if we are deeply invested, and I am. I love being alive on earth. I love the people in my life. If my husband were to die earlier than we hoped, the larger me – my higher self – would understand it is all part of a pattern I can’t see.

The me right here in front of you, the Jillian who gets up every day and lives my earthly life, would be devastated. My spiritual belief would provide some context, but it would not insulate me from the pain. Whatever lessons would come to me through that loss, I am not ready to learn. Let this cup pass from me.

I’m aware I came into this life to learn at least three lessons. The first is connection. After years of feeling estranged and abandoned, and fearful of estrangement and abandonment, I now live immersed in the rich love of my husband, my children, and my friends. Yet, understandably, a remnant of those old fears has returned to me, inviting me to consciously release it.

My second lesson is trusting God, and in doing so, trusting the process of life. Raising children gave me the chance to practice that one. I am not nearly the control freak I once was, but I still have some delusion that I am responsible for keeping everybody around me safe, keeping all the plates spinning. It’s exhausting, and I have been asking for help in giving it up.

Dempsey’s illness has given me a new opportunity to practice doing what is appropriate, and only that. It’s appropriate for me to research and gather information, to support and comfort him. But his journey, while parallel to mine, is his own. I don’t control whether he lives or dies. I am unable to protect him from fear, or pain.

My third lesson is related. It’s about money, and trusting that I am safe in the world, that I will have enough. As we go through this experience, I am being invited to notice I am supported. Everything we need appears for us.

My husband is one of the best people I know, and an agnostic. He doesn’t disbelieve in God, but neither is he a believer. In fact, I don’t think he’s ever been particularly curious about what’s out there. We do pray together, partly because he likes to make me happy, and partly to cover all the bases.

It’s pretty entertaining, and perhaps not entirely coincidental, that he fell in love with me, and that our friends include several spiritual teachers. The old saying is there are no atheists in foxholes; I suggested the other day that this may be his foxhole. Or not.

Dempsey’s learning, of course, is his own. It’s unfolding for him, just as mine is for me. And around us, our children and grandchildren, our families and our friends, even you reading this, are also sharing this experience, and taking from it whatever may be of value to you.

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9 thoughts on “The Search for Meaning

  1. Dear friend, as usuual a most powerful and thoughtful post. We are praying for you every day, trusting that God’s in charge always.

  2. My favorite paragraph: :”t’s pretty entertaining, and perhaps not entirely coincidental, that he fell in love with me, and that our friends include several spiritual teachers.The old saying is there are no atheists in foxholes; I suggested the other day that this may be his foxhole. Or not.”

    You, my friend, are one of the wisest women I know. You and your family remain in my prayers.

    I love you,


  3. I think it is amazing that we have come to know each other on FB. Unlike you, I am not surrounded by friends and family. Most of my dearest friends have died and when alive, lived elsewhere. My daughter and grandchildren choose to be distant in other ways. I am so grateful for Richard, my husband and he is my friend and world. I can’t even think of losing him without waves of fear overcoming me, so I understand the everyday Jillian very well. I too have experienced deep abandonment which, for the most part, has continued as isolation. I have had a long and intense spiritual journey and I have reached out to a Reconciling Methodist church recently that provides a place to sing. I have yet to encounter the deeper friendships of a lifetime but I am open to them. I thank you for your insights, your realization of connectedness. I hope the cup is passed on so that you can continue to revel in your fulfillment. I can only wish that we could sit across from each other with a warm cup of tea and shared experiences. God bless and keep you!

  4. You are a fabulous writer Jillian….I love your posts. They let us see into your world as we sit in ours. It lets us see what you and Dempsey are experiencing and we all thank you for that….Thank you for enlightening us….Prayers for both of you…..

  5. Linda, I think that cup of tea and conversation will happen sooner rather than later. One gift from this experience – one gift among many, I expect – it that is brings me closer to where you live.

  6. Jillian, though we have known each other for several years on Facebook, it is only since Dempsey’s illness that I have discovered your writing. You write beautifully (of course), and I feel as if I have shared much of these experience with you – you made them real.

    Your latest writing strikes so many chords, and some parallels in my own life – educated from primary school through college by nuns (few priests, except those in and around the various churches I attended …
    The thoughts about God being an energy and love – the universe around us, in fact ….
    Your thoughts about losing your spouse before you … I have pondered all of these thoughts and others, in much you same way as you do – and I appreciate that you provided the words and context for me.

    Anyway, just to say that I loved your thoughts and found them to be profound. I read it twice, and will again.

    I wish Dempsey and you growing good health as you walk this part of your journey together, and I look forward to more of your writing.

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