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The Meaning of Life...and How to Get Rid of Fruit Flies.



Maybe you already know the meaning of life. And maybe you already have a trick for getting rid of fruit flies. If so, please comment, and add to the conversation.

But if you don’t have a good working definition of the meaning of life, and if your kitchen does suffer from occasional fruit fly infestations and you have no idea how to get rid of the little buggers, well, then: today’s your lucky day.

Because even as a Philosophy major and full-time minister for the past twenty years, I’ve never found a better one-paragraph definition of the meaning of life than the one below.

It’s not new, and it’s not one I’ve made up: it’s from the 1550’s, and is from St. Ignatius Loyola, who was the founder of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). And while he didn’t call it “the meaning of life,” he did call it “the Principle and First Foundation” of his Spiritual Exercises, which were (are) the bedrock of his (Ignatian, Jesuit) spirituality.  

So here it is: the Principle and First Foundation, as the Meaning of Life:

“Human beings were created to praise, revere, and serve God; all other things are put on the face of the earth to help us attain the end for which we were created. Therefore we are to make use of those things to the degree they help us praise, revere, and serve God, and we are to separate ourselves from them to the degree they do not.”

Zero in on that, and move it from a general statement about humanity to a personal statement about you:

YOU were created to praise, revere, and serve God; all other things are put on the face of the earth to help YOU attain the end for which you were created. Therefore you are to make use of those things to the degree they help you praise, revere, and serve God, and you are to separate yourself from them to the degree that they do not.

Now let me repeat that, filling in some of my own examples:

We were created to praise and serve God and all other things -- food, success, our spouse, our family, our relationships with any other people, our hobbies, our health, sports, travel, alcohol, music, money/wealth, power, church/religious/spiritual practices, your pets, your life’s work – etc., etc., etc., are put on the face of the earth to help us attain the end for which we were created.

In other words, all those things (and people and relationships) are like love notes from God. They are made – created – by God and given to us by God in order for a purpose: to help us fall in love with, revere, and serve God.

Therefore we are to “make use of” (and enjoy!) those people and things to the degree they help us do that.

What we are not to do – what it is foolish of us to choose to do – is to fall in love with the love note itself (himself/herself), as if it (he/she) were able to give us ultimate life satisfaction.

When those things/people do help us draw into closer relationship with God and help us fulfill our life’s purpose (to praise, revere, and serve God), we are free to enjoy them.

No, really: we are FREE, to enjoy them. When we are not bound to them, when we are not tied to them – or as Ignatius would say, when we are not “unduly attached” to them – then they have no hold on us. And we are free…we are free to love and praise and serve the One whom we were created to love, praise and serve, instead of being tied down/limited/bound by something or someone else.

And – now brace yourself here – the opposite is also true:

When those things/people do NOT help us draw into closer relationship with God and do NOT help us fulfill our life’s purpose (to praise, revere, and serve God), we are NOT free to enjoy them.

When we are bound to things and people, when we are tied to them – or as Ignatius would say, when we are “unduly attached” to them – then they do have a hold on us. And we are not free…we are not free to love and praise and serve the One whom we were created to love, praise and serve, because we are limited/tied down/bound by something or someone else.

And to the degree that’s the case, we’re to separate ourselves (emotionally or literally, and depending on the circumstances, sometimes just for a season, sometimes for longer) until we are free again. 

Hold that thought.

Because now I want to tell you how to get rid of fruit flies.

All you need is a bowl, some red wine vinegar, a tablespoon of sugar, and one drop of dish soap.

You dissolve the sugar in about a quarter cup of red wine vinegar, you pour the mixture in a small bowl, and you drop exactly one drop of dish soap into it. You give it a gentle stir, and you leave it out on our counter overnight. It helps to cover up with a dish towel whatever raw fruit is lying around, but that’s not absolutely necessary.

The vinegar and sugar mixture imitates the smell of rotting fruit and fruit flies are drawn to it.

But the sugar and vinegar are only two of the three ingredients for a fruit fly trap. Sugar and vinegar by themselves do not create a fruit fly trap. If you just stir those two ingredients together, your fruit flies will land on your bowl, sip from the sugar water, and fly off again. With just vinegar and sugar, you’ll actually be feeding your fruit flies and you’ll have more of them, not less.

That’s why the third ingredient is so important: one drop of dish washing soap.

Here’s why: dishwashing soap breaks the surface tension of water. H2O, in its natural state and even mixed with vinegar, due to its molecular structure, clings tighter at the surface where it is exposed to air than it does below the surface, and so forms a “skin” on the surface. Fruit flies can walk on that skin; if you’re careful you can even put a paper clip on the surface of water and it won’t fall through. 

Dishwashing soap, however, alters that molecular structure, wedging the particles apart enough that there is no surface tension. Therefore when the unsuspecting fruit fly comes down for a drink, the instant they touch the water, they fall in. And they can’t swim out. They’re trapped, and they drown: that’s why they call it a fruit fly trap. Give a little bowl like that 24 hours on your kitchen counter: no more fruit flies.

Now, in case you didn’t think I’d be tying these two points together: 

It really is possible to put these two points together
The first point is that we, as human beings, have an inborn desire for God. Ignatius reminds us that God puts good things and people in our life to help draw us closer to God, the things I named before: things like food, relationships with other people, hobbies, health, sports, travel, alcohol, music, money/wealth, power, church/religious practices, pets, work.

These things draw us to them, like so many fruit flies to a sugar and vinegar mix.

And as long as these things are merely a sugar and vinegar mix -- as long as they are things we enjoy, hold on lightly to – as long as we are free to fly in take a sip of and fly back out again, there’s no problem. In fact, there’s a great deal of joy.

The problem is when we try to fill our God-shaped hole with someone or something other than God. 

I guess you could say that in each one of our relationships with God-given people and things that we enjoy in life, there comes the possibility of a what I’d call a “Palmolive Point.”

That's the second point: There’s a point in our relationship with things and people when the surface tension disappears, and instead of sipping and enjoying these things, we fall in and can even drown in them.


Alcoholics Anonymous have a saying, “first you have the drink, then the drink has you.”

Or as former major league pitcher Jim Bouton said in his famous book, Ball Four: “You spend the better part of your life gripping a baseball, and in the end you realize it was the other way around the whole time.”


But here’s the thing: we are human beings, not fruit flies. And we, as human beings, have a savior.

In other words, “falling into the trap” for us need not be fatal. In fact, to some degree or another, it’s part of what it means to be human.  

That's because failure – slipping in – can remind us of our helplessness, and our dependence on God.

Often, it’s only when we realize we cannot swim out of the water on our own that we honestly reach up, reach out, for help.

And whenever we do that, our Savior – our rescuer, our deliverer – comes. 

And grace abounds.

Comments

  1. Very informative. Wonderful analogy, explanation, encouragement... thanks for truth.

    ReplyDelete

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