Get A Life
God’s Grace at Work in Us
When it comes to living a Christian life, we often hear the phrase, “Making a life around virtues and values.” And though we hear it, we still tend to ask, What does it mean to “make a life”? Doesn’t life just happen?
In reality, with each and every conscious decision, we make ourselves to be certain kinds of people. Every honest word spoken and every resisted temptation to lie make us honest people. Every unkindness—in word or in act—makes us unkind people. In that sense, we are the architects, the builders, of who we are and what we will become. We make ourselves to be one kind of people as opposed to other kinds: honest rather than dishonest, kind rather than unkind, generous rather than selfish, caring rather than cold.
Of course, as Christians, we expect and we hope more and more that these individual decisions and this work of constructing ourselves will be guided by that divine Architect, according to his plan and with the help of his gracious presence. But even according to his plan and with his divine help, we ourselves must decide and act—thus making a life for ourselves, making a life of ourselves.
Acting for What Is Truly Valuable
It is in this context (cooperating with God’s will and presence) that we can speak of the values and virtues with which we make our lives. We think of values as the principles that guide our actions or as the basic goods for which we act. Values, then, are those things we are willing to work for, to expend effort on, even to sacrifice for. When a Christian values faith—when faith is a value—he or she will seek out opportunities to grow in knowledge and in relationship with God. When prayer is a value, a Christian will find time. When a businessperson values his marriage and family, he will work to support them, but also work to spend quality time with them. When someone really values peace, she will seek to be an agent of reconciliation in her life, relationships, and world, even in the face of things that can so naturally bring misunderstanding and division.
Our values are what guide us through our daily decisions, whether at work or in our homes, with our family or friends, with co-workers or strangers. We make our lives—what we make ourselves to be—through what we value and through our real efforts to realize those fundamental values. And if we find we aren’t able or willing to expend energy or sacrifice to attain these goods, then maybe they aren’t really values to us after all.
We learn our values from parents, teachers, and good friends, and from other positive sources in our society; but as disciples of Jesus, we turn to him as the surest teacher of values. Through his life, his example, and his teaching, Jesus shows us what is truly worthy of our time, efforts, energy, commitment, and sacrifice. In a world with little agreement on what is truly valuable (in which unworthy things can pass as values or the highest values are reduced to mere options), it is the Lord who offers us unfailing guidance.
Fundamentally, the values Jesus teaches us are an affirmation, a clearer restatement, of what is truly good for us as human beings. Jesus, the most authentically human person who has or will ever live, teaches what makes us truly and authentically human. And so we can say the things we value—like the fundamental goodness and sanctity of human life, love between persons, reconciliation of those who are divided, forgiveness, peace, the sharing of the world’s goods, the fidelity of marriage, and the soundness of family life—we value because they are what God wills and, at the same time, because they are truly good for us as human beings.