Being LDS, this chapter grates a little. Not a lot, but the feeling is probably why I didn’t get further than the first chapter the last time I tried this.
Not that I disagree with any doctrinal point I can indicate here, at least, none which comes to mine. It’s the tone it strikes. (Also, I have a strong preference for the King James Version of the Bible — it’s what I’m comfortable with and I think it sounds better than any of the modern versions, which sound silly to me.)
No, I think the biggest thing that gets to me is this string of six words: “It’s far greater than your family.” And on the surface, that’s true. Ultimately, the Plan of God is much greater than my family. But what that sentence connotes is pretty disagreeable.
God’s purpose for me is inextricably intertwined with my family. Whatever ultimate plan He has for me, what He wants me to do, will have to do with my family. Yeah, it’s not just my family. But starting off with saying that it’s far greater than my family seems to turn my attention too far away from my family.
Also, our desires and interests are involved with the purpose God has for us. Our talents and abilities and passions can be used for God’s work, and there’s hardly a reason why he wouldn’t use that. Certainly we are required to align our will with the Lord’s, not the other way around. And if our values don’t match His, we have the wrong values. But when our hobbies, interests, and skills do not contradict His commandments, why wouldn’t an omnipotent Creator seek to use those abilities rather than have us ignore them? They’re part of the spiritual gifts He has given to us, after all.
However, a lot of that can seem like picking at nits. The main thrust of the chapter is to find our purpose from God. Just because I take issue with the feeling of his tone doesn’t mean that Warren is wrong in his meaning.
He’s right of course that unless the help is grounded in God’s plan, self-actualization isn’t going to get you to your purpose. He’s right that focusing on our own plan and will isn’t going to get us to fulfillment. If they are saying “I think” or “I believe” it’s not really coming from God’s word. And, in the end, his point to ponder is a good one. “It’s not about me.” It really isn’t.
Maybe I’m just a cynic, but the reasoning in the chapter is weak. The examples, while sometimes illustrative, aren’t very meaningful. And that’s irritating, because this chapter could have been so powerful. “There is an alternative to speculation about the meaning and purpose of life. It’s revelation.” That’s very strong. The word of God is powerful and sharper than any sword. Using it would be a lot more helpful than the simplistic examples I see here. Instead of telling us a story about being lost on a mountain to introduce a cliché phrase — skip the cliché and just tell us. Also: go light on the exclamation points. Putting one in doesn’t add power to your writing. It makes us think you wanted to add power, and if we don’t feel that power from the words themselves, we’ll be disappointed.
This is my problem. I read everything from a good writing analysis. And Warren is, honestly, not the best writer. And it’s hard for me (personally) to ignore when the flaws with his writing are so intimately connected with his message.
So now that this is out of the way, what about actual response to the message of this chapter?
The message is that it is futile to begin your search for meaning in any place but with God. You can achieve success, but not fulfill your purpose by looking elsewhere.
And I agree. I’m not sure that I’ve been the best practitioner of this concept however. I am very self absorbed. I look at my fulfillment primarily in my writing. This might not be the worst thing, but it doesn’t start with God, and it’s short lived. If I’m looking for long lasting change in how I feel about myself, I probably need to look more specifically at how God wants me to use this talent. What can I do to learn more about it.
Point to Ponder: “It’s not about me.”
Clearly, my attitude in the past has been, consciously or unconsciously, that it is about me. After all, it is me. I don’t expect anyone else to think it’s about me, but for me, it has been me. I’m going to make a conscious choice to try and look outside of me for purpose. Maybe it will make working easier, since I do that primarily for my wife and kids. But then, that’s still not thinking about starting in God, completely. It’s just a step closer than where I am. I’m hoping that the next 39 chapters will help me look to find other ways to make it less about me.
Verse to Remember: Colossians 1:16 – “all things were created by him, and for him.”
Note, I’m rendering these in the KJV, for my own reasons
Well, for Him, but didn’t He create the earth as a place for us to learn and grow? It’s to fulfill His plan for us, to save all His children. I guess I should see it as He didn’t create the earth just for me, but for all of us. And he has created so much more than just this earth. He cares for me, but as a specimen of His children, I’m a very small part of it all. He wants me to be there, but He wants my function to be about more than just me.
Question to Consider: “In spite of all the advertising around me, how can I remind myself that life is really about living for God, not myself?”
It’s a good question, and I don’t have an immediate answer. Prayer, however, is always an obvious answer. Praying as an act in itself should be a reminder of God’s presence in my life, and if I’m praying about His will, that should be a constant reminder that it’s not about me.