Saturday, July 19, 2008

A Purpose Driven Life...

As promised, I will be continuing with my trend of TED talks on the issue of, “Is There a God?” Armstrong was a nice, peaceful way to enter into the realm of the religious hot buttons, and I’m glad to see Peter over at The Buddha Diaries put the link for her talk up on his site. I think her line of thinking is what we need to be striving for as religious people, no matter what religion that may be. Today, though, I’m going to be stepping out on a bit of a limb to discuss a man who has incited much debate, even amongst TED talkers. Rick Warren, a conservative Christian writer, gave what I thought to be a rather well-thought talk (which you can find here) on what it means to live a life of purpose in 2006, and I’d like to talk a bit about it as it relates to my personal life. I’ve got to tell a short story for you to keep in mind before you read about Warren, which I think helps synthesize his talk and put it in the more general context of how to live life.

During the past semester after Lindsey and I went through our breakup (which consequently sent me into about two months worth of depression which I’ve just started to successfully fend off once again), I made a really close friend. Brenna lived in the same dorm as me one floor down, and we participated in a lot of events on campus together which made us realize that we have a whole lot in common. We really got a chance to know each other when we took a trip to the Nelson-Adkins Art Museum in Kansas City with the Asian Culture Society. She rode in the car I was driving along with Christian, a German international student, which gave us about six hours to kick off what has turned into a lovely friendship.

When Brenna and I really started to hang out one-on-one and have some serious discussion about life, I discovered that she (as well as me at the time, and also countless other people on this planet) didn’t have a very high opinion of herself. I was floored because she is a person of immense character, knowledge, drive, culture, etc. I admire her very much for who she has become, yet she could not very well see what I saw. She once asked me, “Mark, where is it that you find your self-value? What makes you realize what you’re worth something?” At the time I couldn’t really articulate it, but I’ve thought about it a lot since she asked me several months ago. My answer was always something incredibly vague and unhelpful like, “Well, I just do. I think I just enjoy being alive.” I think Warren’s talk really helped me put my finger on exactly what it was that I wanted to convey to Brenna, and I hope it conveys something to you as well.

I’m sure all of you have heard of Christian author Rick Warren, who wrote the world’s top selling book. The Purpose Driven Life is a book of enormous popularity, selling millions upon millions of copies worldwide. I know that normally when I think of people hitting it big because of religion, my mind immediately takes a turn for the worse. I think of people like Tammy Faye Baker, Joel Osteen, and countless other people who have used religion as a means to get famous and capitalize on people’s search for meaning for their own personal gain. That’s why I was pleasantly surprised when I heard Warren talk about his life since success and the steps he’s taken to not be a member of the Get Rich Quick Off of God Club. When started making money, Warren added up all of his previous paychecks from his home church and gave all the money back. He gives 90% of his wealth away to different charities and churches in an act of what he calls “reverse tithing.” Besides his monetary modesty, his talk gives him the appearance of truly being a person who believes what he has written. He really does seem like a person of substance; I think he really is living a purpose driven life.

I realize that everyone has their own particular view of the world, and that’s going to change the way you hear Warren. I came from a conservative home. I read his book with a bible study I led back in high school. I’m very used to his message and the language he uses to get his points across. Actually, Warren took a surprisingly ecumenical, inter-faith tone when delivering his convocation (much to my delight). Even still, Warren is a very conservative man and I urge all of you liberally minded readers to keep an open mind if you choose to listen to him. It would be a pity to let his wisdom skip on by just because he is conservatively slanted.

Much like when I was trying to talk to Brenna about the way I felt about my self-esteem, Warren’s message is something I think many of us understand in our hearts but have yet to articulate with our thoughts or tongues. We feel like we have the most purpose when we dethrone ourselves from the center of our lives and put something else there. We need something bigger than ourselves to believe in. Selfishness and egocentrism do not lend themselves to happiness; instead, they lend themselves to “spiritual emptiness.” That’s not living, as Warren puts it, it’s just existing.

For Warren, belief in the salvific powers of Jesus Christ and having ultimate faith in the Bible and God’s plan is what guides his life. He does not appear to be the center of his own world view. It gives his life meaning. “Everyone is betting on something,” says Warren, “and I happen to put my money on the fact that Jesus was who he said he was.” Cool. He’s becoming a more loving person through Jesus Christ.

In my life, I’m given meaning by my capacity to love. Learning to love my neighbor as myself gives me purpose. It’s why I get out of bed in the morning. I realize that I fail miserably at it every day, but I’m getting better every day too. I’m learning how to take joy in other people’s joy, to empathize more fully, to nurture my coworkers and friends as if they were myself. And truly, I’m realizing that by making people around me more content, more happy, more peaceful, I myself am made more content, more happy, and more peaceful.

So Brenna, there’s my answer to your question. I find my self-worth in you.

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