How can we find a compelling purpose for life and work? Why do we live and serve out of so much emptiness?
The ancient Greek word for one of life’s fascinating phenomenon was pleroma meaning “overflow” or “fullness.” It could convey the idea of filling a vase or container with fluid slowly, drop by drop, over time until eventually the liquid reached the top. Each additional drop thereafter caused the fluid to rise above the vase’s top without spilling due to surface tension. Finally, one drop broke the tension causing overflow or spillage. That one drop was called the pleroma (pronounced “playroma”).
New Testament writers used various forms of pleroma to describe the fullness of God in his creation, in Jesus and in people and communities (Jn 1:16; Eph 1:23; 3:19; 4:13; Col 1:19, 25; 2:9, 10). They wrote of people being filled with God’s Spirit (Eph 5:18). The Apostle Paul used an agrarian metaphor that implied a root system and a gradual process of maturation, when he contrasted the fruit of the Spirit, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” with the fruit of selfishness (Gal 5:19-23a).
What greater purpose can exist than producing fruit that dispels the hatred, sadness or depression, violence, impatience, bullying, evil, broken promises, harshness, and addiction in our world? The cultivation of the Spirit’s fruit is desperately needed everywhere. However uniquely our individual purposes may be shaped by personality and talent, they must somehow help to replace the fruit of selfishness with the fruit of love in ourselves and others if we are to live meaningful lives.
If a living Creator of all exists, then he can fill us with this love and life itself. Indeed, Jesus, who was also called Immanuel (lit. “God with us”), described this process of filling: “Let anyone who is thirsty, come to me and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water’” (Jn 7:37b-38). The verbs “come,” “believe” and “drink” are in the present tense, inviting us into an ongoing journey.
In the Christian tradition, we have been good at helping people to come to Jesus and to believe on him. We have not been as good at helping people to regularly drink the water of life he gives. The result: believers often languish with unquenched thirst and many leaders suffer burnout in a way that does damage to their well-being. Leaders may water others around them out of leakage from their damaged vessels rather than from spillage of an overflowing life.
Jesus welcomes all to come to him to drink the water of life and the meaning it brings. Twenty minutes daily is a good starting place to begin drinking this water according to some spiritual writers (See Subversive Spirituality (Paul Jensen 2009:245-51,278); Catholic Spirituality from A to Z (Susan Muto 2000:156). We can do so by engaging various practices available on this and other websites such as lectio divina (meditative scripture reading), prayer like the Lord’s Prayer or the Jesus Prayer, journaling, intercession, silence, expressing gratitude to God etc. We may prefer to engage these practices two or three times per week, if daily seems too daunting. We will want to discard distractions during these times in order to focus on Jesus and the water he is giving.
Drop by drop with the regular practice of spiritual drinking, we can be filled to the point of pleroma in ways that spill to those around us. God desires our influence of others to come more and more from spillage and less and less from leakage. Increasingly, those around us will be watered by the overflow of our growing intimacy with God. In the process, we progressively find the compelling purpose God intended when he first thought of us.