Monday, January 8, 2007


“The greatest and most important problems of life are all in a certain
sense insoluble…they can never be solved but only outgrown.”

Carl G. Jung


It seems to me that most of our “psychological problems” and dysfunctions are not rooted in bad childhoods, but in purposeless adulthoods. The woman or man who clearly knows her/his destiny sees every incident from their past as a positive character shaping blow from the hammer and chisel of purposeful vocation.

Even those who cannot find this approach to be philosophically defensible will find it to be pragmatically useful. Taking responsibility for my past and using ALL OF IT to fashion my amazing future is the position of a successful and serene adult.

When we are unclear about our calling or vocation, we typically look to the past. Humans are always motivated by and live from images. The German philosopher Hegel said, “You always behold an object before thinking it.” That means that the mind and heart cannot think or feel from a vacuum. Before we have a thought, there must be an object. Before we feel an emotion, there must be an object. The object will be either from the painful past or the purposeful future. We always operate from some object or objective. We always live from images
reconstructed from the past, or from images we construct about our future.


The word purpose literally means ‘forward position’. Pur is the Latin prefix forward, and pose is from the Latin place or position. A purpose is a set position in front of us. Imagine being tethered by a rope to a solid rock. As long as you hold onto that rope, no mater which way you walk, you will be pulled toward the tree. That is the image of purpose, or a forward position. A friend of mine calls it ‘living from the end’.

Unfortunately, many of us do not live from our purposeful end – but from a past position of old resentments and failures. We might call this living from pastpose. There is no such word in the dictionary, but there ought to be. This is being tied to the past, and thereby guided by the past


Much modern therapy uses a model which attempts to heal the painful past. While there are clearly benefits from grieving old hurts, this approach too frequently freezes us in painful images of childhood or adulthood. We spend hours discussing past abuse, dysfunctional behaviors, bad parenting, absent fathers, emotionally distant mothers and sibling rivalries. The longer we focus on these images, the more evidence we find to support them. As we spend weeks, months and decades discussing and reinforcing these images, they work as intentions that create our futures. We literally are living from the past.

I am not suggesting that we ignore the past, but I do suggest that we grieve the old wounds and find the gold in the manure pile. Every past wound has a piece of education or experience that informs your purpose and calling in life.


If you want to see this illustrated in our popular culture, go see Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat. This popular pla yrecounts the biblical story of a young man that was betrayed and sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. The young man, Joseph, had a very unique talent for interpreting dreams and was especially loved by his father. Once sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, he is falsely accused of raping his master’s wife and thrown into a dank Egyptian prison. Rather than curling up in a corner and nursing past resentments for his unfair lot in life, Joseph freely shares his ability or purpose in life with the other inmates. He interprets their dreams.

Eventually word of Joseph’s ability gets out to the King of Egypt who is desperately seeking a dream interpreter. The released prisoner helps the King out of a jam by telling him the meaning of his dream and Joseph rises to prominence in the political world of Egypt. His position eventually allows him to save his family from a terrible famine.

Joseph did not live from the past, but from his calling. He was tethered to his purposeful ability to serve others from his internal calling. As the great Swiss doctor C.G. Jung said, “The greatest and most important problems of life are all in a certain sense insoluble…They can never be solved but only outgrown.”


Wayne Muller develops this notion in his excellent book, Legacy of the Heart: The Spiritual Advantages of a Painful Childhood. As a therapist who has spent his life working with troubled adults, Muller writes, “A painful childhood invariably focuses our attention on the inner life….we learn to cultivate a heightened awareness.”

He goes on to note that those clients who had much trauma, typically had deep spiritual lives and unique gifts of insight and service to others. Victor and Mildred Goertzel, in their book Cradles of Eminence, noted the same
phenomenon. A majority of influential and highly recognized individuals had traumatic pasts.

So then, we make a choice: we either live as chronically wounded victims making our pain our identity, or we discover our unique purpose and draw from all past pain as sources to further our calling. It is a conscious choice, one that is made each moment of the day.

Copyright Michael Bogar, MDiv, ThM

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