If the titles lining bookstore shelves and the authors featured on television's Oprah are any indication, people are on a quest these days to find their divinely ordained life purpose.
From New Age authors to evangelical preachers, the topic of “what I was meant to be and do” is attracting plenty of interest, especially among Baby Boomers.
Books like Rick Warren's The Purpose Driven Life, Caroline Myss' Sacred Contracts, and Cheryl Richardson's Stand Up for Your Life are just a few examples of popular guides being sought out by readers who want help figuring out what they were meant to do.
In Stand Up for Your Life, Ms. Richardson, a “personal coach,” writes that for years she felt haunted by a persistent inner voice telling her she was meant to do something more with her life, even though she was earning a decent salary and had a good family and circle of friends.
After consulting a therapist, she said, she found the courage to do what she wanted to do. She now writes and speaks about finding one's life path, urging people to discover and follow their “divine assignment” by building a strong relationship with themselves.
Ms. Myss, author of Sacred Contracts: Awakening Your Divine Potential, takes a similar tack, encouraging readers to imagine their lives as they were meant to be and to discover the sacred contract she believes each person writes before birth.
Jana Riess, religion book review editor for Publishers Weekly, said the life-purpose theme runs through a number of other recent books, including Bruce Wilkinson's A Life God Rewards, The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama, and A Time for Every Purpose under Heaven: the Jewish Life Spiral as Spiritual Path by Arthur Waskow and Phyllis Berman.
Although some might say this preoccupation with finding personal purpose is just another facet of Baby Boomer self-absorption, Dr. Riess, who holds a doctorate in religion, sees it as a healthy development in the nation's newfound interest in spirituality.
“I think it's actually a bit of a maturation of the dabbling in spirituality because people are starting to understand there needs to be a little bit more depth and rootedness in every aspect of their lives.”
Dr. Riess said she has observed a trend in Christian self-help books, especially those about family and marriage, toward urging people to understand the purpose of their marriages and relationships with their children before they can fix what's wrong. “I think it's actually a new depth and that's good to see.”
Rick Warren, founding pastor of California's trendy Saddleback Church and author of The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here for? said he thinks more people are getting interested in discovering their life's mission in part because they've tried everything else and found it wanting.
Mr. Warren believes people live life at one of three levels: survival, success, or significance. Most, he said, are at the first level, just getting by, putting in their time, and living for the weekend. But those who have stepped up to success, he said, often find that once they get there, they still feel unfulfilled.
“We were made for more than survival or success. We were made for significance. That comes from knowing the meaning of life, how much you matter to God, and from knowing God's purposes for your life.”
He said he thinks all people struggle with why they are here, whether their lives matter, and what their purpose is. “There's nothing more basic than figuring out what am I here for. There's an innate thirst for meaning and purpose.”
He wrote his take on finding life purpose as an antidote to the kinds of approaches featured on TV talk shows. “A lot of the books you hear about on Oprah you can summarize in two words: look within.”
The better answer, he believes, is for people to look to God who created them and to consult the “owner's manual” for guidance as to why. “It's so typical of Baby Boomers to start with us ... When we look to ourselves for self-fulfillment, we go to a circular reasoning that doesn't get us anywhere. We don't get to make up our purpose. God decided.”
To help people find their life purpose, Mr. Warren said he starts with the Bible's teaching that humans were created for God's pleasure, formed for God's family, created to become like Christ, shaped for serving God, and made for a mission. Discovering that, he said, can't come without consulting the Bible as the authority for life.
He said people who have used his Bible-based system have written him more than 3,000 e-mails testifying that their lives have taken a new direction. In his church, he said, more than 4,000 people went overseas on a mission project somewhere in the last year. And, he said, 196 ministries have been started in his church by people who said, “I'm wired for this.”