I once attended a presentation by Deepak Chopra that changed my life in two important ways. First, I became convinced that life really does continue after death, basing my belief not only on faith but also on quantum physics. Second, and even more useful to me, he was able to prove to me that the “soul” exists. Paraphrasing his definition, the soul is that ever-witnessing awareness that lies within us despite the fact that our physical self is constantly changing, with cells dying and being replaced by other cells. None of our original cells exist, yet the ever-witnessing soul remains the same. It’s the soul that expresses itself in our consciousness, and it’s our soul that is the only constant in a changing universe.
As we move through this world, we take on many roles, but the true self, the soul, remains constant. As spiritual beings having a human experience, we go through many aspects of what it means to be “human” in this one lifetime. The challenge however is to not become fooled by the appearances of the material world, where everything has a label, a classification, or some set characteristics. For us, the roles will always evolve and change, meaning we should not over-identify ourselves with any one particular role.
When I was a parent raising three sons, I embraced the role of being a dad. When the youngest moved out, I was temporarily lost in feelings of loss and grief. I said more than once that I no longer knew who I was, especially since I’d been a parent since I was 20 years old. It took a minute to move past these feelings of loss, but eventually I came to see that my role as parent hadn’t ended, but it had certainly changed shape. I had to learn that if I anchored myself in the truth of my being, the “soul core” within me, I could then choose to embrace the evolution of the roles I was used to, trusting that these roles would give me another perspective on life and also a greater opportunity to connect with others’ lives and struggles.
As a kid, I anticipated role changes eagerly in my rush to grow up. Though fairy tales and the larger culture led me to believe that “happily ever after” was a final destination, the truth is that life is a series of destinations, mere stops on a long journey filled with differing terrain. Cultural myths aside, it took me many years to figure out that shifting priorities and roles weren’t bad, even when I had to overcome my own resistance to change. Life’s roles are varied and part of this life as we move from spouse to parent, leader to subordinate, caregiver to care-receiver, or even pew-warmer to pastor. It’s okay to grieve the loss of roles that were lifegiving and fulfilling, as long as we’re still open to whatever God wants for us next.
In a certain sense, we are like actors on the stage of life: we have different roles and costumes which we put on and then take off. Each role we play gives us another perspective through which to understand ourselves and the nature of God’s universe. When we take a moment to see that each change can be an adventure, a celebration, and a chance to play a new part, we might even find a way to recapture that childlike joy we used to experience as we waited breathlessly for life to unfold for us. It is perhaps in that very childlike attitude that we will see more clearly God’s dream for us and for all God’s children.