Viktor Frankl wrote a book in 1959 entitled Man’s Search for Meaning. The fact that Frankl was a Jew who survived three years in a Nazi concentration camp adds some value to his perspective. In short, Frankl struggled to cope after being taken by the Nazis. Everything he had and everyone he knew were taken from him. His family, his home, his profession as a psychiatrist, his freedom, everything. He started seeing most of the prisoners around him give in and give up to their situation. Frankl struggled to find a reason to have hope.
What Frankl discovered was that in order to have hope he must find meaning. He needed to find his “Why?” Not why he was put into a concentration camp and subjected to such brutal treatment, but why he was put on earth to begin with and what he can do in his current situation! He decided he was not going to die without finding his purpose. He then set out to discover how to defeat the all-encompassing depression that most concentration camp prisoners fell into shortly after arriving. He eventually found meaning to his life, a life that he assumed would end very soon, by helping others. He turned his attention away from his own dire situation and awoke each day with the expressed purpose of finding someone worse off than he was. At meal times he would search out those hungrier than he was so he could share some of his food, and at all times of the day he made a conscious effort to locate those who were in a visibly deep depression so he could share a positive and encouraging word or gesture. Not only did he once again feel human, but he once again felt like his life had meaning. He was eager to awake each day because he knew he had a real purpose in life. Consequently, countless of others benefited from Frankl’s new found meaning. Frankl survived the concentration camp and went on to live a very influential life. He didn’t allow an unthinkable situation to steal meaning from his life.
The only thing I wanted to be when I was growing up was a professional baseball player. I didn’t feel the need to complicate my life by coming up with a “Plan B.” We all know how my childhood dream worked out. What is the meaning of your life? What is your purpose here on earth? What is your ‘Why’? Have you ever wondered? It’s good if you have and it’s probably normal if you haven’t. God wants you to wonder and He wants you to know. The real questions are ‘how do we find out?’ and ‘how will we know if we find it?’
You may feel everyone is telling you what your ‘Why’ is or should be. Parents, teachers, coaches, friends, society…you probably hear it from many different directions. While many of those people probably have great intentions, the truth is that each of us has to discover our ‘Why’ ourselves. Our family and friends can definitely help steer us in the right direction, but it’s a personal discovery. God wants us to know. He doesn’t purposefully keep it hidden from us wanting us to have to go on some extravagant scavenger hunt until we see the “light” and discover our meaning for existence. Some seem to find it at an earlier age than others. Some apparently discover it, only to find out it was something else all along. Others, most tragically, never find it. Is your passion your ‘why’? Is your favorite sport your ‘Why’? Is your most prolific talent your ‘why’? One or all of those may be true, or none of those may be true. Only God knows…and that is the key to finding our ‘Why.’ We first must find God’s ‘Why’ for us. How do we do this? We must talk to God, but most importantly, we must listen to God. No one else can tell you what God has planned for you. His plan is always perfect. It may be the last thing we want to do but it’s flawless. The trick is for us to accept it as such and be willing to be used by God.
“A man’s heart plans his way: but the Lord directs his steps.”
I mentioned God’s plan is perfect, but you know what? We don’t have to be. God knows us inside out. He knows we aren’t perfect. I have a friend who keeps putting off playing golf because he is afraid he will embarrass himself. He says he has to practice before he goes. He’s been saying that for over 2 years. Think of all the fun he’s missed in the last 2 years because he’s avoiding “looking bad.” Many Christians do the same thing. We put off things, things maybe God is encouraging us to do, and things we know we should do, but we put it off because we feel ‘I’m just not ready yet. I’ll do it though.’ Time is too precious.
Also, it’s a tough distinction for us to make sometimes, our ‘Why’ or God’s ‘Why,’ because we are all selfish in our own special way. If we spend all of our time and energy finding what we want or what we are good at, assuming that must naturally be our meaning for life, we will spend much of that life wandering aimlessly with little true joy and accomplishment. But if we find what God wants for us, we can experience joy and accomplishment through God because we are living out His will. Have you ever wondered why so many wealthy people are seemingly so miserable while others who have much less in the form of material goods seem to be so happy? How can this be? God no doubt appreciates the hard work wealthy people put in to get what they have, but that wealth is a temporary crown.
“Do not overwork to be rich;
Because of your own understanding, cease!
Will you set your eyes on that which is not?
For riches certainly make themselves wings;
They fly away like an eagle toward heaven.”
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
God doesn’t hate wealth or success, but once they alone become our ‘Why’ then we’ve put them above all else and we can’t serve God like that. There are countless rich and successful people who have been able to keep things in perspective and use their elevated platform to advance God’s word, but there seems to be so many who squander that opportunity.
I encourage you to watch the I Am Second videos below, which show how Albert Pujols and David Murphy, two Major League Baseball players, who have learned to keep their fame and wealth in perspective and not let it become their ‘Why.’ One thing I remember from Pujols’ testimony was a friend challenging him to ask base runners when they got to 1st base, “What is the most important thing in your life?” We see fielders talking to opposing base runners all the time, but I never imagined that may be what Pujols was saying to them. Not only was it a great opportunity for him to share his faith and testimony but I’m sure it also forced others to think about their own life and their true ‘Why’ and whether or not that’s how they really wanted to be remembered.
I’ve seen a quote that has been attributed to William Shakespeare and to Pablo Picasso, so I’m going to call it anonymous. But either way, it’s fitting. The quote goes something like this: “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to share it with others.” The quote itself is fine and it conveys a positive message on using our talents to help others, but I doubt whoever said it was doing so from a Christian perspective. The gift we’ve all been given, regardless of class, race, fame, talent, profession or nationality, is the greatest gift possible. Jesus died for our sins so we can live forever…if we ask God into our hearts to become our Lord and Savior. We all have been given that gift. The greatest purpose or meaning that we can attach to our lives is to help others hear about and understand that message. There are so many different avenues and platforms for this, but, as a Christian, if our ‘Why’ doesn’t have something to do with reaching and influencing others for Christ, we must take a long hard look at our lives and genuinely challenge our purpose, our meaning, our ‘Why.’
That is my challenge to you. Question why you do what you do. Question why you treat people the way you do. Question why you squander opportunities to influence others for Christ like you do. Question why you allow jealousy and competition to destroy or prevent friendships. Ask yourself if you are being what God would have you be. I believe the true meaning of our lives, or value of our lives, is yet to be determined. It will be determined by those we help and lead and influence in the name of Christ. In short, God alone will determine the meaning one day. He surely knows what He wants for us right now. He will evaluate how we did.
What did your life mean? What was your ‘Why’?
“…For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.” Luke 12:48