Exploring the ‘Why Do I Exist?’ Question
By NANCY PATRICK
One of the results of Covid has been self-examination in the form of the question “why do I exist?” One way to find the answer is to write a personal statement of faith or mission statement.
As an English teacher, I actually assigned my composition students the task of writing their own mission statements. One lesson we learn in composition relates to the power of word choice or diction because words convey tone or attitude of the writer.
As a chaplain at Hendrick Medical Center, my husband pointed out to me that Hendrick posted its own mission and vision statements throughout their facilities. The statement reads, “The mission of Hendrick Health is to deliver high quality healthcare emphasizing excellence and compassion consistent with the healing ministry of Jesus Christ.”
The statement’s value lies in its simplicity, pointing to Jesus Christ as the standard for all that happens within the institution’s purview.
In contrast to that institution’s simplicity, I discovered a complex discussion happening within the United Methodist Church (https://www.nwtxconf.org/transition). Methodists, like a number of other denominations, presently struggle with differences of beliefs within their churches.
Their website section Transition Pathways offers options and explanations for local churches as well as for pastors. United Methodist Churches have opportunities to stay aligned with the current institution, join the Global Methodist Church, go independent, or align with other denominations.
The United Methodist Church obviously faces some basic spiritual differences that will impact all its members and institutions.
Abilene Christian University, a highly respected liberal arts university, is an autonomous entity. ACU’s mission (statement of faith) encourages church membership and activity for its students; however, the policy states that “dissenting voices are respected . . . where conversations on any topic may be engaged with kindness and compassion.”
Interestingly, ACU’s faith statement emphasizes spiritual growth among the generations who pass through its halls. The statement also recognizes that “grappling with eternal truths” within the Scripture’s precepts can be daunting.
Perhaps the most inclusive prospective among the universities comes from the mission statement of McMurry University, affiliated with the United Methodist Church. This school places emphasis on Christian principles and how modern students in a global society can pursue excellence in education as the institution encourages connections within various cultures through “hospitality and gracious interaction.”
Rather than prescribe details of a Christian student’s lifestyle, McMurry enumerates its core values in a list of six goals.
The third denominationally designated university in Abilene, Hardin-Simmons University, is affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, which elects approximately half of the trustees for the school’s board.
The current statement of faith, adopted in May 2022, sets forth a detailed description of the school’s expectations of its students. Much of the statement reads as a creed, beginning with “we believe . . .” and then finishes with a specific behavior or ideal.
The precepts listed include Jesus Christ, God, the Holy Spirit, Scripture, humanity, salvation, the church, sexuality (defined using the genetic terminology karyotype), marriage, kindness and respect. The end of each description contains a lengthy list of supporting scriptures.
This statement of faith is by far the most restrictive in terms of expectations and prohibitions. Although I asked several people at the university to confirm or deny that employees had to sign the statement, I received no responses to my calls.
I have actually written my own statement of faith more than once as I graduated from one phase of life to the next. Now that I am in the senior class of phases, I have thought a lot about what I value and how I hope to accomplish those values in my life.
Generally, my values relate to categories in life that enhance my purpose to leave the world a better place than when I entered it.
First, I try to maneuver through as much of the commotion and negativity in life as I possibly can. That makes it easier for me to recognize and focus on the aspects and people who can bring focus to a confusing world.
I attempt to practice gratitude for my lot in life by recognizing that I have many more advantages in life than do others.
I have aspired to honesty in all aspects of my life. Furthermore, whenever I recognize insincerity or hypocrisy on my part, I ask for forgiveness and attempt to rectify my errors.
One of the values I hold dear is humility. I have observed more harm result from pride and hypocrisy than almost any other vice.
Overriding my mission “statement” is the belief that each one of us is a unique child of God. No one has the right to prescribe for another child what his or her relationship to the Father should be.
Many years ago I came across a bit of wisdom from noted minister Browning Ware. He addresses the issue of people who seem to have the answer to every situation for every other person. He condemns the judgmentalism that befalls so many of us.
“I knew about parenting until I had children.
I knew about divorce until I went through one.
I knew about suicide until three of my closest friends took their own lives within the same year.
I knew about the death of a child until my child died.”
Many might add these to their lists:
We knew about addiction until our child suffered an overdose.
We knew about abortion until our fourteen-year-old daughter became pregnant from a rape.
We knew about all aspects of sexuality until our son told us he was a female,
We knew about homosexuality until our spouses told us they were gay.
Maybe you can add other areas where you have meted out judgment instead of love, anger instead of understanding, or exclusion rather than acceptance.
If I should ascribe a scripture to my statement of faith, I think John 3:16 fits my purpose: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
Nancy Patrick is a retired teacher who lives in Abilene and enjoys writing
Nancy, Thank you for quoting Browning Ware. I loved his newspaper column, “Diary of a Modern Pilgrim.”
Thank you, Glenn. I have used his quote many times throughout my life.
Wonderful and interesting article Nancy! I enjoyed reading this very much!