Guest reflection: A Foundation for Living

Brett Wilson is an entrepreneur, philanthropist, sports investor, and in 2008 became the new "dragon" on CBC's Dragon's Den.
Brett Wilson is an entrepreneur, philanthropist, sports investor, and in 2008 became the new "dragon" on CBC's Dragon's Den.
Published January 17, 2011

Back in 1993, Brett Wilson co-founded First Energy Capital Corporation, a boutique investment bank specializing in oil and gas. That venture made him a very wealthy man. He felt like he was on top of the world.

Then his world began to fall apart about the time of his divorce in 1999. This is what he had to say in an interview a few years ago: “I’d been running pretty hard, hardly knew my kids and certainly had alienated my wife. I became aware of that when I went through my divorce, but I didn’t act on it until the prostate cancer hit me and that was two years later.”

In reflecting on his life, Brett Wilson now says: “I regret I didn’t achieve balance in my life sooner, because it might have allowed me to continue a marriage, and it would’ve been easier on three amazing children. I had a couple of wake-up calls and recognized the time that I have with my children is the most valuable time.”

Perhaps you can identify with what Brett Wilson went through. Something happens that causes you to re-evaluate where you’re going in life. You begin to wonder whether you’re on the right track, doing the right thing, living the right way. Too often people climb the ladder of success and reach the top, only to find that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.

It’s then that they begin to say:

  • “Something is missing in my life and I can’t figure out what it is.”
  • “I want my life to count for something more than selling stocks and managing portfolios.”
  • “I’ve lived more than half my life and I still don’t know if I have achieved anything worthwhile.”

Listen to what St. Paul says: “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind…so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift…”

You and I have been blessed by God to be a blessing to others. We are not on this earth by mere chance. We are here to live for some mighty purpose that uplifts and stretches us. We are here to become visionaries who look beyond our self-interest and our own lifetimes-to build a civilization of love. Believe it or not, you and I were born to change the world.

The British writer Margaret Silf wrote about her daughter’s graduation from medical school. During the graduation ceremony, the dean handed out the diplomas and exchanged a few words with each new graduate, and then asked a simple question: “What are you planning on doing with your life?”

Think about that question: What are you planning on doing with your life? To answer it, you need to take stock of your values, your core beliefs, your most deeply cherished passionate commitments. What do you plan to accomplish in your life? What makes life meaningful to you? What kind of person will you be? How would you like to be remembered when you die by those who survive you?

I am getting at the crucial issue for every human being: your foundation for living-that which undergirds your life, your priorities, your decisions and choices and perspective on the world.

Gerald Levin was the CEO of Time Warner, one of the largest media conglomerates in the world. In 2001 he engineered a merger with the Internet Company AOL that sought to combine traditional media with the Internet. Investors later second-guessed that move, but none doubted that Levin had pursued a bold direction for Time Warner. He saw the possibilities and opportunities of Internet commerce by charting a daring, fresh strategy.

Ironically, although Gerald Levin was creating a strategy for his company, he didn’t seem to have a strategy for his life. When his son, a New York City school teacher was murdered by a student, Gerald Levin’s life began to fall apart. To numb his pain, he worked longer and longer hours, feeling increasingly empty and drained. Here is how he described himself: “I woke up one day at age 63 and I didn’t know anything about the most fundamental questions of life.” This self-revelation led to a resolution: “I’m going on a journey. I’m going to find myself.”

Gerald Levin was running on empty. He had all the answers except for his own life. One day he woke up, confronted life’s fundamental questions, and wondered why he’d lived as he had.

We are all on a journey through life. But if the journey is to lead somewhere positive, we need a solid foundation for living-something that will ground us and give us the ability to face whatever life throws our way.

My favorite saint, Ignatius Loyola, includes at the start of his Spiritual Exercises a meditation he calls the First Principle and Foundation. He says, “[Human beings] are created to praise, reverence and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save their souls.” (4) In other words, we are here to glorify God, and thereby find a life worth living.

Make Christ central to your life and everything else will follow. That’s why St. Ignatius bids us to gaze upon a crucifix and ask three questions: What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What will I do for Christ? This is an invitation to reflect on the foundations upon which we have built our lives, and on which we desire to build our future. Are we building upon values that will satisfy the deepest desires of our hearts, or are we building on values that will leave us dry and empty and unfulfilled? Are we taking risks and short-cuts that may lead us into actions we will later regret, or are we building a firm foundation for living, one that will get us through the tough times of life and carry us into the future with lasting value?

Modern psychology informs us that healthy, happy individuals have a deep sense of purpose. They stand for cherished values, feel connected to other people, and serve causes greater than themselves and their egos. When you think about it, if your goal is to be happy, you are going to be miserable; but if your main goal is to love, you’re going to be happy.

Some of us may know the name Robert Dole. He was a United States Senator who ran for President in 1996. During a World War II battle, Dole’s body was shredded by waves of machine-gun fire as he led a platoon up a hillside to attack a well-defended enemy trench. Years later, Dole recalled the weeks immediately following that injury. “On good days, I could move a finger or arm a little; on bad days, I struggled to move at all. I felt imprisoned in my frozen body. I still could not control my bladder or bowels.”

The injured Bob Dole who couldn’t control his bladder and relied on nurses to diaper him surely realized that he was not the man he thought he was. You may never be in that position, but think about it. We all know people who have experienced shattered lives occasioned by bodily injury, bankruptcy, school failure, family breakup, being fired, or hundreds of other ego shattering traumas. It’s then that the foundations of your life matter. Bob Dole said, “I came close to dying three times, facing death and living to tell about it. Why was I still alive? Maybe there was some bigger meaning to my life. Maybe there was something more that I was meant to do.”

Dear people, there is a larger meaning to everyone’s life, including yours. You’ll find that meaning in Jesus Christ. He is that firm foundation that can carry you through whatever life throws your way. Don’t be fooled by counterfeits that promise what they can’t deliver. Make your life count for something lasting, something important, and something greater than you. Live your life well. Live it faithfully and fully, abundantly and joyfully, generously and wisely. Focus on Jesus and step out in faith. Do what God wants you to do. Be who God wants you to be. Resolve to build a civilization of love and serve causes greater than you. Live for the greater glory of God, and you will find life worth living.

The Rev. Dr. Gary Nicolosi is the rector at Saint James Westminster Anglican Church in London, Ont.


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