Years ago, my sister, a food photographer, flew into Washington, DC, for a photo shoot with one of her clients. I met her at the airport, helping lug heavy bags of equipment to the car rental pick-up, only to be told that we needed to take a shuttle to a different terminal. After the frustration of carrying so many bags to the next counter, we were told by a different agent that, in fact, we needed to return to the first place.
As we got back on the shuttle to retrace our journey, she looked at me in exasperation and said, “Don’t they know it’s all about me?” The absurdity of that one sentence made us laugh, and the tension of the day evaporated.
That facetious remark also made me think about how often I live as if life were all about me. I repeat that sentence to myself to mock my self-centered ways. How ridiculous to act as if I am the center of the universe!
Yet most of us live like that at least sometimes. We expect to have our careless words overlooked or contextualized, yet we resent others’ careless words spoken to us, feeling deeply wronged. We expect to be treated kindly and gently when we come home frazzled from a long day at work, but quickly lose patience with others in the same boat. We want to be affirmed and appreciated, but we neglect to do that for others. We act like infants demanding to be fed, nurtured, and coddled.
Rick Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Life captures the truth that we are loath to admit:
It's not about you. The purpose of your life is far greater than your own personal fulfillment, your peace of mind, or even your happiness. It's far greater than your family, your career, or even your wildest dreams and ambitions. If you want to know why you were placed on this planet, you must begin with God. You were born by his purpose and for his purpose.
Exactly. We were made by God and for God. This truth shocks our sensibilities in our self-exalting, comfort-seeking society. We are bombarded with advertising telling us to “spoil yourself,” “obey your thirst,” “make your own road,” “have it your way,” “because you’re worth it.” Madison Avenue pushes the messages we want to be true, justifying our own self-centeredness.
Yet, to say that “it’s not about you” is not the same as saying “you don’t matter.” In fact, you are of infinite worth precisely because it is not principally about you. As created beings, we are made to love, serve, and adore the Great I AM. We derive our value from God. We have intrinsic worth, from the lowliest street sweeper to the superstar athlete, precisely because we are made in God’s image. Without God, we would be just dust in the wind.
Having eternal value is also completely at odds with the lie that we should spoil ourselves because we only live once. “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” propagates the fiction that, careening toward the inevitable, facing down our own death, we should indulge our every wish in the pursuit of personal happiness. I have heard divorcees explain to their grieving children, “I know you miss our family being together, but you want me to be happy, don’t you?” And we have all heard (and perhaps said ourselves), “if it’s not fun, why do it?” These lies ruin many lives.
God does want us to be happy, but in that deep and satisfying way better characterized as joy. And when the thorns of this fallen world are finally cleared away, joy will give way to enduring happiness.