Several years ago Nissan had a clever commercial that ended with the line: “Life is a journey, enjoy the ride.” This initially seems to be a logical approach to life and in fact may be your approach. Life is a long, difficult journey and you might as well enjoy yourself as much as possible.
The problem with this philosophy is that we seldom stop and ask the question: If life is a journey, what is the ultimate destination? Where am I going? What is my ultimate objective in this life? And finally, when I get to the end of my life, what will it have been all about?
I believe one of the greatest American plays ever written was Arthur Miller’s Pulitzer Prize winning, “Death of a Salesman.” In the play, Willy Loman was a salesman who had been seeking business success and financial reward all his life. One of his principal tactics was trying to impress others, always putting on the airs of a big shot.
In reality, Loman struggled with his life. His family was dysfunctional. He had never experienced any type of success in his career. In fact, even on his best days he was quite mediocre.
At the end of the play he was fired from his job and faced with the harsh reality of a life that had not turned out at all the way he had planned. He had been living a charade, attempting to present to the world an image of success. In the end, he took his life.
Just after the funeral, Loman’s wife asked their son Biff, “Why did he do it, why did he take his life?”
Biff’s response was, “He had the wrong dreams. All, all, wrong. And he never knew who he was.”
In these lines from the play, Arthur Miller reveals what plagues so many people – spending lives pursuing empty dreams, not knowing who they are and not understanding the forces that drive them. If you ask them what is the ultimate object of life, they have no idea.
I remember years ago reading the biography of business icon Lee Iacocca. These words were at the end of the book: “Here I am in the twilight years of my life, still wondering what it is all about. I can tell you this, fame and fortune are for the birds.”
Iacocca reveals that for all of his life, success meant achieving fame and fortune. However, at the end of his life realizes that he was wrong, it is for the birds. This leads to a most obvious question; Do we really know what life is all about?
Nobel Prize winning author Alexander Solzhenitsyn provides some great insight into this issue. He spent eight years of his life in a Russian prison for writing some negative remarks about Joseph Stalin. He went into prison as an atheist, he came out a committed Christian. Instead of being angry and bitter over his imprisonment, the first words out of his mouth about his prison experience were: “I bless you prison, I bless you for being in my life, for there lying on rotting prison straw, I learned the object of life was not prosperity as I had grown up believing, but is the maturing of the soul.”
He went into prison believing in a godless universe that had no meaning and that the object of life was to be prosperous and enjoy the journey. However, his life and his ideas about life were transformed when he became a Christian, and it was then he realized the object of life has to do with the issues of the soul. Most specifically, knowing God and building your life around him. Solzhenitsyn discovered that in Christ life has purpose and coherence and that we do not have to spend our lives pursuing empty dreams.