Meaning, Stories, and What We Want

I’m reading a very interesting book right now by the late Viktor Frankl called Man’s Search for Meaning, and though I am not finished with it yet, it is quickly becoming one of my favorite books. Frankl was a prominent psychologist and doctor in Vienna during the Second World War who was taken to the concentration camps for being a Jew along with his mother, father, brother, and pregnant wife. He was the only one to survive. While in the camps he struggled with despair until he realized that in even the most painful and dehumanizing situation, life has potential meaning and that therefore even suffering has meaning. He used this revelation to help him survive the camps. He later used his experiences to form his theory of Logotherapy, which stated that the striving to find meaning in one’s life is the most powerful motivating and driving force in mankind, which is in direct contention with Adler’s theories of desiring power and Freud’s theories of the desire of pleasure being the most powerful motivations for human beings. I find this theory to be beautiful.

Donald Miller once said that what we want is the story that our lives is telling. I find this to be a very true yet also terrifying statement, because I often find myself wanting and doing things that are telling a horrible story. If people saw the story I was living in those moments they would either turn off the TV in disgust or become bored and change channels, and that’s something that has bothered me. I think the biggest problem is that we want the wrong things. We may want money or success, and yet at the end of the day that doesn’t equal a life well lived; it just equals a higher thread count bed to die in. We may want a spouse to complete us, and yet when we finally find them we realize that they never can because they’re just as human as we are. We want to find meaning and justification in things that can’t ever do it, and so we constantly miss the point of why life is the way it is. Instead of looking at money as a blessing and a tool to bless others, we hoard it for ourselves and try to find meaning in our stuff. Instead of looking at a spouse as a life companion, best friend, and a way to put someone above yourself, we ask instead what they can do for us, living selfishly by taking and never giving. Frankl said that in difficult situations we often resort to living in the past instead of focusing on the possibility of meaning in the present, and that instead of looking at present hardship as an opportunity to grow deeper spiritually, we hide our minds in the past. As human beings we tend to not focus on the positive aspects of our reality, and because of that we rob ourselves of potential meaning.

I’ve noticed that whenever I’m selfish, I am also often negative, or I partake in negative behavior. I think the problem with mankind as whole, the sin problem, can be boiled down to the simple motivating fact that we are selfish. Sin can almost always be boiled down to selfish desires, and I’ve discovered that sin as a whole is a meaningless exercise. It does nothing to advance my life, in fact it does nothing but take it in the opposite direction and suck the meaning out of it. In the moments of my life when I’m struggling with sin, I often struggle with selfishness, because sin is selfishness. I mean think about it. When people get abortions and kill a living thing because of surprise nature of the pregnancy, they do it out of the selfish desire to not be responsible. When people view pornography, they aren’t doing it to get fulfillment; they are doing it to satisfy a selfish desire. I’ve realized that when I’m selfish, I’m living a meaningless existence. If all I cared about in life was being rich and making my life comfortable, then what meaning has that life brought? Everything I own will rot along with my body, and it all amounts to nothing because I never thought of anyone but myself.

The question we all need to ask ourselves every day is simple: Is what I want bringing meaning to my life? Too often people equate success and meaning in life with more money, and that is as dangerous assumption. You won’t get meaning from money. You won’t find fulfillment in success, because life doesn’t suddenly stop and become perfect whenever you attain that which you thought would always make you happy. Having a meaningful life is knowing that you haven’t arrived yet, and you wont until you’re dead. Al Mohler was once asked a question in a meeting by a young pastor and he responded with this (I’m paraphrasing): “You’re making it sound like I’ve already arrived. I haven’t arrived. Sure, I’m president of a major seminary, I serve on different boards, I’ve written books, I’ve spoken with world leaders and presidents… but I haven’t arrived. I’m nowhere close. Life isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon, and I haven’t arrived yet”. I think that’s a wonderful attitude to have on life, because in my mind, once you think you’ve got it all and you stop doing, you start dying. Idle hands and an idle mind breed a meaningless existence. If we want our lives to have meaning then we have to be doing.

I want to matter. I want my life to have meaning not only to God, but to others. I don’t want to arrive at heaven in a leisurely and comfortable stroll, I want to crawl on my hands and needs, satisfied in the work I did to bring glory to God. I would rather live paycheck to paycheck and have a life that is full of meaning and purpose then live in wealthy comfort and not make a difference in the world or in someone’s life. My prayer for myself and anyone who reads this is this: Don’t devote yourself to meaningless things. Don’t let selfish and sinful desires be the story that you tell. I pray that God convicts me of these things on a daily basis and that he draws me in and shows me the important things I need to devote myself too. Meaning isn’t the same for everyone. Everyone has a different purpose and desire. My prayer is that my actions line up with God’s will and that my life is one that is full of meaning. That’s really all any of us can pray for really. If we pray that our actions will line up with God’s will and that our lives will be full of meaning, who knows where God will lead it? Francis Chan once told a story about a dinner he put on for the homeless and less fortunate, where there would be chefs, gifts, and music so that these people could be treated like royalty. As Chan would talk about it with his friends as it was approaching, he would say things like, “Man, these people have NO IDEA what’s in store for them! I can’t wait to see the looks on their faces! They are going to be so blessed! I just can’t wait for them to get here and see what’s been put together for them!” He then suddenly realized that maybe that’s the way God talks about us. What if God is up there saying, “Man, you have no idea what I got in store for you! You don’t even know how good it’s going to be. I can’t wait for you to get into my will and see how good I’ve made things for you! I can’t wait to bless you!” I want to be in that. I want to see how good it is. I want to be blessed. I want meaning in my actions. What about you?

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