Worship: How to survive in the worst of times

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Two prominent psychiatrists lived in Vienna, Austria, in the early 1940s, each with a very different take on life. Sigmund Freud held that the chief impulse and purpose of humans is to seek pleasure. He believed that people exist to find pleasure, in food, sex, experiences, comfort, and so on. Viktor Frankl, on the other hand, believed that what truly made life fulfilling is not pleasure, but meaning.

In 1942, Frankl, his wife and his parents were deported to the Theresienstadt camp near Prague. Even though he was in four Nazi camps, Frankl survived the Holocaust, including Auschwitz in Poland from 1942-45. When he arrived in Auschwitz, he encountered two lines: those in the line moving left went to the gas chambers, while those in the line moving right were spared. Frankl was directed to the left line, but managed to slip into the other line unnoticed. Frankl’s wife, parents, and other family members were not so fortunate.

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Frankl secretly kept a record of his observations in the camps and later published “The Doctor and the Soul: An Introduction to Logotherapy” and “Man’s Search for Meaning”. In these books he taught that life has meaning even in the most deplorable of circumstances.  Humans consist of mind, body and spirit, and can discover meaning through good work, spiritual resources and relationships.

What kept Krankl and other prisoners going in such brutal conditions while others withered away? Frankl believed that it came down to hope. If one could find something to live for; someone to cherish in one’s mind’s eye (as Frankl did with his wife, not knowing that she had already been killed), something to cling to as a reason for being, then one can keep going.

Frankl never lost hope. He found purpose in encouraging other prisoners, recording his experiences and believing that one day such learning would help others.

It’s hard to imagine the circumstances within a concentration camp, but it’s also hard to imagine what it’s like to be hungry or to be afraid in one’s neighborhood. One in five children live below the poverty line in Dallas, without basic necessities and in a constant state of anxiousness. When we seek to mentor a child, give from our abundance, help purchase school uniforms or offer tutoring assistance, we do more than a simple act of kindness. We offer some small hope that life can be better.

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Essentially, the story of Jesus is a message of hope. Many, many people have been wounded by bad religion and the misrepresentation of Jesus, but that does not change his story. He took his place with the poor. He taught that God is present in our sufferings, and he laid down his life for his friends. He demonstrated that suffering can be redeemed that that there is life beyond this life. Rather than the pursuit of pleasure, what if your life was marked by meaning in the service of others? What if you passed on the gift of hope to someone else?

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