How a Fish Taught Me about Flourishing

By Rev. Phil Dieke

Thriving? I’m barely surviving!

This has been an internet sensation for a while now. Thriving vs. surviving. Memes develop from both sides of this debate. One insisting that things are so bad, it is hard to even imagine thriving while one is hardly surviving. Alternatively, the emphasis that a life well lived is more than just surviving, it is about thriving. As Maya Angelou said:

My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.

So what is a life of thriving? 
What does it mean to flourish as humans, as a part of God’s good creation? 

Day in and day out companies are working hard to convince you that their product will help you live a life of thriving. You need only purchase this car, buy that boat, or wear these clothes and you will not simply be surviving, you will be thriving. According to last year the total advertising expenditure in North America alone amounted to $297.5 BILLION! Clearly there is a lot of money to be made selling this notion of thriving.

My guess is the majority of us know a life of flourishing is not achieved by what we buy, or how much we acquire. “Money can’t buy happiness,” the saying goes. Money, however, may buy us comfort, and to many of us a comfortable lifestyle may feel like a sufficient balance between surviving and thriving. 

But is comfort the ultimate goal of what it means to be human?

Did Jesus say, “I came that they may have life - indeed, so that they could be comfortable.” No, comfort was not the end goal. Comfort isn’t the purpose of life. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a sucker for comfort. Whether it is super soft clothing, the fact I can walk to two grocery stores from my house, or that I live in a climate controlled space. There are an abundance of things that make my life way more comfortable, but they don’t make me thrive. I am indeed grateful for these comforts, but if I’m not careful I will end up exchanging comfort for thriving… for life to the fullest.

Jesus said, “I came that they could have life - indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest,” (John 10:10 CEB).

So then, what is this “life to the fullest”?

In the same way that people are spending crazy amounts of money trying to sell you “life to the fullest,” there is also extensive research being done to answer this question. 

I was recently listening to a podcast with authors Justin Barrett and Pamela King. Their recent book entitled Thriving with Stone Age Minds: Evolutionary Psychology, Christian Faith, and the Quest for Human Flourishing, seemed like the perfect title to investigate in regards to this age-old question. Through listening to the podcast and reading pieces of the book I discovered some helpful insights.

For instance, since change seems to be constant, those who flourish typically have a great ability to adapt. Also, and possibly the best concepts I took away from this was, the insistence that it is critical for a person to distinguish their human purpose (what they refer to as telos) from their current personal purpose and vocation. While I’d love to unpack these insights, I’ll leave you to listen to the podcast and/or read the book. Partially to save time, but mainly because I’d probably do a disservice to their work if I attempted to paraphrase it. 

I found their work really interesting, yet as I read and listened I kept going back to this notion that many of the greatest lessons I learn in life I read in my kids' bedtime stories. Don’t get me wrong, I have no doubt evolutionary psychology has great things to teach us about flourishing. Similarly, each time I read my four year old the book The Rainbow Fish I am reminded where not only happiness, but also joy is found.

If you’re unfamiliar with the story, there’s still time… go buy the book now. Or, I’ll give you a brief summary. The Rainbow Fish has the most beautiful scales in all the ocean. When asked if he wants to play with the other fish he declines because “have you seen my scales?” Then, when asked if he would share his beautiful scales with another fish he is wildly offended and reacts accordingly. His reaction causes the other fish to ignore him, thus leaving him to ponder, “What good are these beautiful scales if there’s nobody else to see them?” He consults a wise Octopus turned guru who tells him if he wants to find happiness he should start by sharing his beautiful scales. Fear, and a scarcity mentality, leads him to question his guru, but before he can get a question out the octopus is gone. 

Now I hate to spoil the story for all who are rushing out to get the book, but sure enough, The Rainbow Fish is again approached by a friend asking about his scales and this time he decides, though hesitantly, to share. Seeing the happiness of the other fish transforms the fear of The Rainbow Fish into happiness. He then shares another scale, and another, each time finding greater and greater happiness within himself. 

The Rainbow Fish finds happiness through sharing his gift. We each have unique gifts. As people of faith we profess we have been blessed, not exclusively for our own benefit, rather we have been blessed to be a blessing (see Genesis 12). That which has been gifted to us, we are to share, to use to bless others.  

As we seek to explore what it means to thrive, to flourish, and live “life to the fullest,” I invite you to explore academic concepts such as evolutionary psychology. I also invite you to consider what unique gifts God has blessed you with, and how you are using them to bless others. 

I’m a firm believer that we are created not to survive this life, but to thrive in this life. And because we are all connected, my thriving is wrapped up in your thriving. We truly are all in this together… life is indeed better together. Thus, may we seek to thrive together as we live this life to the fullest. 

Now is our time to flourish. Amen!

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