WAY TO LIVE_DOT I (GOD) // CHAPTER 2
In answering the questions, “What do I want out of life?” and “How will I measure my life?” you may arrive at the same answers I did.
What do I want out of life? To have a meaningful existence to me and others.
How will I measure my life? The impact I made in the lives of those closest to me.
Now that I know I want my life to mean something, I must ask myself the next question:
How can my life mean something?
This may be the ultimate question. “What is the meaning of life?”
Every religion, philosophy, seminar and personality profile is committed to help us answer this question. Yet we still wrestle with meaning as much as we ever have . I would hope that after millions (or thousands, depending on your beliefs) of years of human existence, we would have made a little more progress in this regard. Even though we are taught that life has meaning, most people seem to lead meaningless lives.
Growing up in church, I heard that question asked this way, “What is your calling?” It seemed like somehow, the big answer to the purpose of my life was right in front of my face, yet I was simultaneously blind to it. When I asked how I can discover my calling, the conversation became progressively more confusing. Was it the nine spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12, or the seven in Romans 12? Was it both? What about the five gifts in Ephesians 4? Or the eight more that are listed later in 1 Corinthians 12? This was troublesome for me. I have a hard enough time doing things that I understand I should do. How can I possibly hope to figure out something as vague as a calling?
Whether its wrestling with Scripture or a personality test, trying to find meaning or a calling seems unachievable. No wonder we’ve had such a hard time living a meaningful life.
I love simplicity. I’ve spent a good amount of my life trying to find a simple answer to this question of meaning. And I realized something. We are asking a question that has already been answered. In Scripture, the God that created us gave us one verse that answers the question of meaning. The apostle Paul says:
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. // Romans 12:2
Read this passage in reverse.
God’s will for your life is good and pleasing and perfect. The way to know his will for your life is to transform into a new person by changing the way that you think. The behavior and customs of this world will not teach you to do this.
This may seem basic to you, but when I read this verse this way, it really did change my life. God created me as one of one. The meaning of my life is for me to be the best me that I can possibly be. How can I do this? By allowing God to change my thinking.
Most of us (Christian or not) are pursuing the same things as everyone else and are achieving the same results. Namely, lack of meaning and purpose. I don’t believe this to be intentional. We all struggle with impostor syndrome. We’re human. We will pretend like we know what we are doing, even when we know we don’t. We do our best to keep up appearances, just like the rest of the world. We think that our meaning is found in a calling, gift, personality profile or something else. Call it a “calling,” “will of God” or a “meaning of life.” All of us are trying to figure out what that is for us as individuals. Yet the answer to the question of “what is it?” is so elusive.
Christians will try to convince you otherwise, but look at our reputation (especially in America) and compare that to the New Testament. You will see how many self-proclaimed Christians are well versed in the “behavior and customs” of everyone else.
What many of us notice is that the behavior and customs of Jesus are not the behavior and customs of many people who claim to be Christian. You already know this without me saying it, so let’s say that the playing field is level for all of us regardless of belief system concerning the will of God and trying to understand it or live it out.
We [need] to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual...questions about the meaning of life can never be answered by sweeping statements. ‘Life’ does not mean something vague, but something very real and concrete, just as life’s tasks are also very real and concrete. They form man’s destiny, which is different and unique for each individual. No man and no destiny can be compared with any other man or any other destiny. No situation repeats itself, and each situation calls for a different response. // Viktor Frankl[i]
Viktor Frankl said it better than I could. Most of us will live our lives believing that we are asking the question, “What is the meaning of life?” We think that we are asking this question and that life will provide an answer for us. Maybe God will speak to us directly, or we will have a mountain-top experience with a sensei who will finally help us understand what our life means. We go through life as if we are asking the question, continually searching for the answer. We think that a relationship will answer this question. A job. A house. A car. Power, prestige, wealth and influence. We go from place to place, person to person. And we never feel like this question gets answered for us.
That is the problem. We think we are asking the question. We think that the question of “what is the meaning of life?” is meant to be answered for us by something external to us. A person, place or thing will come along and give us meaning and purpose.
“What is the meaning of life?’’ is a question that we are supposed to answer. Not ask. Life—existence itself—asks this question of us, and we must have an answer. We are not supposed to be asking the question. We are supposed to be answering it through the way that we live our life every day. Romans 12:2, live your life to be the best you that only you can be. When you become your best, your life begins to mean something more than you ever thought it could.
Purpose isn’t discovered, it is created.
Everything that exists, exists for a purpose. A knife has a specific purpose. If a knife didn’t have a knife’s purpose, it would not exist. The purpose of the knife necessitates its existence. A knife doesn’t one day discover its purpose. The knife plays its role, and in playing its role, it fulfills its purpose. Now, there are clear differences between knives and humans; however, we are similar in that without purpose and meaning we wouldn’t exist. Unlike kitchen utensils, we get to decide the role we play in the world. In deciding the role we play, we get to decide what our life means. Too many people go through life and wait for purpose to find them. They go through life like an inanimate object, just waiting to be used by someone or something, somewhere at some point.
Imagine you’re working at an airline counter and I’m asking you a question. “How do I get from Texas to Hawaii? Instead of answering my question, you turn around and ask me, “I don’t know, how do you get from Texas to Hawaii?” How confusing is that? What if you really don’t know the answer? What if you didn’t know cars, boats and planes existed. This journey would seem impossible.
Let’s continue the analogy. You and I work for the airline. The people in our lives are our customer. To help people get to where they want to go, we have to know how to get there ourselves. We must know the way so that we can show the way.
So, the question “what is the meaning of your life?” is not a question you get to ask. It’s a question you get to answer. It is a question that life asks of you. Your existence asks this question, and the life you choose to live is the answer. What does your life mean to your friends? Your family? Your spouse? Your children?
Meaning cannot be “found” or “discovered”—only created. God created your life to mean something. The meaning of your life is created by you.
How will you measure your life?
What do you want out of life?
What is the meaning of your life?
These three questions all ask the same thing: How are you going to live?
The way I answer these questions will determine how I live.
It will affect how I see how things are “supposed” to be.
It will affect how I see everything that happens to me.
It will affect how I feel about things that happen to me.
It will affect what I decide to do about things that happen to me.
Philosophy and meaning
The word “philosophy” is largely confined to academic circles today. Most of the time when we think about philosophy, we think about books that are one thousand pages long that somehow say nothing and solve nothing. We think about old, poorly dressed men who ask questions that don’t have an answer and identify problems that can never be solved. This is not what philosophy is supposed to be. In fact, all of us are philosophers, and we practice philosophy every day. The original meaning of the word is the pursuit and love of wisdom.
Philosophy is thinking through and deciding what is right and good and applying those things to your life with your actions. How you decide to live displays to the world what your philosophy is, how you define a good life. The way you live will be what determines if your life is meaningful. Philosophy is like the boat or plane that gets you from Texas to Hawaii. Philosophy takes us from where we are today to a better life tomorrow. A meaningful life.
What does God want us to do? To realize our potential by allowing his thinking to transform us. We shouldn’t just pursue meaning, we should pursue wisdom. Wisdom is the thinking of God. Wisdom is eternal knowledge—knowledge of unchanging principles, virtues, knowledge of what it means for your life to have meaning. Think like God thinks and watch what you think about become how you live. We owe it to the world, God, and ourselves to not just consider what our life means. We must decide that it means something and commit ourselves completely to making our lives meaningful so we can impact the lives of everyone we encounter.We must decide to become good philosophers.
Think about the three questions below as you read the rest of this book. You may not want to, or be able to, answer them right now, but at least take some time to ponder them. Remember, the way that we eat an elephant is by taking one bite at a time. In the next chapter, we will begin walking step by step through that challenge.
You have the power and responsibility to make your life mean something. Empowering yourself and taking responsibility starts with making the decision to live a meaningful life. Living a meaningful life starts with answering these questions.
How will you measure your life?
What do you want out of life?
What is the meaning of your life?
[i] Victor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1959).