Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

We Bring Our Own Meaning to Life

Written by: on February 15, 2020

Life is all about experiences: some are good, and some are bad. But experiences are what make up our perceptions and perspectives. It is through experiences that our story is told.

I have a friend who wrote a powerful book a few years ago. Roxanne became a close friend who unexpectedly passed away recently. But in her book, she shared about her life experiences in the world of sexual abuse and human trafficking. From an early age, she was sexually abused by her father and brothers. This led into the world of human trafficking, with her brothers in the role of traffickers. Because Roxanne’s experiences with sexual abuse started at a young age, she never understood that she was a victim, and instead formed a protective cocoon around her where she told herself that there was nothing wrong with her life, but life also became meaningless to her.

Although Roxanne lived many years in a cocoon of secrecy and confusion, she finally reached out for help. Through intensive therapy, she was able to acknowledge her role as a victim and then healing began. Roxanne then authored the book, But I Thought I Liked It and Other Lies…[1] How we come to know that life isn’t the way it should be is often uncovered through our behaviors: anger, substance abuse, depression or aggressive actions. I met Roxanne at a Human Trafficking seminar and was enlightened by her openness and honesty. Through healing, she found truth.

In Peterson’s book, Maps of Meaning, the author noted that the world can and should be viewed as a place made up of experiences.[2] The purpose of the book is basically to determine how we have come to know, to represent, to understand and to value. Its focus is literary, philosophic, psychological and religious ideals.

Maps of Meaning provides a language for talking about things that keep us awake as children and adults: the monsters of mortality, pain, and chaos. The author notes that the human mind does not create monsters. Instead, they grow there. The self-devouring dragon, the Ouroboros, is the most dangerous dragon that our mind produces. Per Peterson, the Ouroboros encapsulates the existential cycle of humans: chaos to order, then back to chaos…and so on and so on.[3]

Maps of Meaning repeatedly explores the necessity of action. Action requires values held by the actor. An absence of value leads to the belief that life is meaningless. But Peterson also cautions about rigid values that can lead to fascism or oppression. Humans continuously struggle against both extremes.[4] Human trafficking victims often reach the point of nihilism and find that life is meaningless through oppression. Helping rebuild values of worth and independence is the challenge of any therapist working with victims of human trafficking.

I think literary professor Joseph Campbell summed up the meaning of life in the most positive of ways: “Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the questions when you are the answer.”


[1] Roxanne Fawley, But I Thought I Liked It and Other Lies… (Kalamazoo: 5 Fold Media, 2014).

[2] Jordan B. Peterson, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief (New York: Routledge, 1999).

[3] Ibid, 68.

[4] Ibid, 80.

About the Author

Nancy VanderRoest

Nancy is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and fulfills God's calling on her life by serving as a Chaplain & Counselor with Hospice. In her spare time, Nancy works with the anti-human trafficking coalition in her local community.

6 responses to “We Bring Our Own Meaning to Life”

  1. Jenn Burnett says:

    Wow Nancy, that is a powerful connection. Thank you for the reminder the it is trauma that leads us to view life as meaningless and that if this becomes our experience we must consider it an invitation to look for the deeper root. How might you help one of your survivors rewrite a narrative that helps the, thrive?

    • Nancy VanderRoest says:

      Thanks so much for the reply, Jenn. I help my clients find the answers within themselves: what is important to them, what do they seek to accomplish, and how can they make a difference. I help them look into the future as their goal. Their past does not define them, but creating a message out of the mess is the gift that God gives us to continue to move forward in this world. Life sucks sometimes, but what is our message to the world after we live through the mess…that’s what is the final answer.

  2. Digby Wilkinson says:

    Peterson asserts that our interpretation of experience is determined by the myth (narrative) that subconsciously drives us. How do you get people to untangle the difference between their experience and the narrative interpretation they bring to it?

    • Nancy VanderRoest says:

      Great question, Digby. I agree with the author on that point. Sometimes, finding the true story that lies under the myth story is where the answer lies. People are covered in “myths” and it’s sometimes like peeling back an onion to find out what their real story is. On the outside, they are portraying anger; yet, on the inside, they may be as frail as an eggshell. We all display an image, but who we truly are can be hidden behind layers of “story.” It takes time and trust to reach the original layer, but once you do, that is when freedom takes place and healing can begin.

  3. Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Nancy, I appreciate the value you bring to human lives. Campbell’s quote is really interesting and I am thinking more about the outcomes of this line of thought. Life itself has no meaning apart from the humans who live it. I wonder how we would treat each other if we all really believed that.

    • Nancy VanderRoest says:

      Yes, Tammy, it would be an interesting world, eh? I’m so sorry for the loss of your mom and your friend’s son. Life can suck sometimes, can’t it? We lost a family member this week unexpectedly as well – at the age of 24 due to a snowmobiling accident. Difficult to process! But our faith in God means we are not walking this journey alone. We can face the traumas of life in anger or resentment about the circumstances – or we can trust that God has this…and we can continue to walk in love. Since I know your heart, Tammy, I know that for you – LOVE WINS! I am praying for you, special lady….

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