I am working my way through Rick Warren’s “What on Earth am I here for” since we are going to be covering this in January in my church. I am doing the welcome and introduction for each of the services so part of my job is to set up the topic for the day. I have, however, come up against an obstacle since I am struggling with the approach that RW takes to telling us the meaning of life.
I am not expecting the book to be perfect, but I do want it to make sense to me so that I can authentically talk about it with others. I don’t mind the conclusions (they are very close to what Jesus teaches, love God, love your neighbor etc.), or even his treatise concerning some of the “wrong” drivers for our lives (e.g. guilt, fear). What I have an issue with is the first sentence in his book. He says, “It’s not about you”.
Let me explain. My perspective of life is that there is only one thing that I can directly have influence on, and that thing is me. For it to not be about me makes me feel helpless and unable to take an affirmative role in my life. The purpose of my life necessarily has to be about the things that I do and think and say in my life. If it is not, then why not just get it over with martyr ourselves to the glory of God and go to his afterlife now.
My perspective is that the people who are reading this book are probably trying to find meaning in their lives. Things that they need to do, think or say (I need to do think or say) to live up to my purpose in life. It is then all about me. This puts the people who are reading this in the driver’s seat. They then are forced to realize that they are important and have a role in life. To start out emasculating the audience is not a good approach (for me).
As far as I can tell, Jesus teaches us that it is all about us. Specifically, it is about our relationship with God and others. That relationship is the real part of what it is about. It is not about one or another but each individual relationship between them.
My problem with RW’s method is about the whole orientation of his book. It puts people at odds with God. It assumes that people do not want to do the will of God and it is a sacrifice to live according to God’s way. I believe that we are only truly fulfilled in our life when we live by God’s way and we have joy in that state! The mystery around it is in that it is not intuitive to some to realize that you find joy in your positive relationships with God and others. But that is what Jesus teaches. The kingdom of God is a wonderful place.
One last quote from the book. RW paraphrases Matthew 16:25 (NIV – For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it) as “Self help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self”. I am not a professional theologian (or a very good amateur) but this feels like fingernails on a chalkboard to me. Jesus is talking about freely giving your life for him, his way and in doing so finding your life. Rick Warren uses the word “sacrifice” instead, automatically setting up a negative connotation and arguing that you can not help yourself. If I can be so bold I will paraphrase as “Doing things that are self centered leads to dissatisfaction, but doing things the way I am teaching you will bring you satisfaction”.
God bless, and may you find satisfaction in the New Year.