Money. Fame. Relationships. Knowledge. Having all these things—or even one—would make you happy, right? Well, maybe for a second. At least that’s what King Solomon learned—and he tried all those things on a HUGE scale and still wasn’t content. In fact, chasing those ideas and getting what he wanted actually made him more depressed. So what are we supposed to do if the wisest man in history couldn’t make those things work? Thankfully, Solomon left us a whole book of his trials and errors.
Maybe you’ve looked at other people’s lives and thought, “If only I had that, my life would be perfect.” The problem is, those same people are asking the same question when they come across someone else. Even the wisest man in the world, Solomon, struggled with it. In Living a Life that Matters, author and “wisdom expert” Mark Matlock unpacks Solomon’s big “If only” questions on happiness in the book of Ecclesiastes to connect his timeless questions to yours, and explores what really makes a perfect life. Living a Life That Matters lets you gaze over Solomon’s shoulder as he indulges every pleasure, exercises every power, and emerges with a radical conclusion about how to live. You’ll also find ways that his search for meaning connects with yours today and how your story can connect with your friends’ as they seek meaning in the world.
Living a Life that Matters:
- makes the book of Ecclesiastes relevant to teens’ lives—and also easy to understand
- contains contemporary examples from pop culture and everyday life
- explores what it means to live in the world today, as well as the real issue of depression and its effects
About the Author
Mark Matlock has been working with youth pastors, students, and parents for more than two decades. He’s the Executive director of Youth Specialties and founder of Wisdom Works Ministries and Planet Wisdom. He’s the author of several books including The Wisdom On series, Living a Life That Matters, Don’t Buy the Lie, and Raising Wise Children. Mark lives in Texas with his wife, Jade, and their two teenage children.
Read an Excerpt
Living a Life that MattersLessons from Solomon - the Man Who Tried Everything
By Mark Matlock Chris Lyon
ZondervanCopyright © 2005 Youth Specialties
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTOO MUCH IS NEVER ENOUGH
What if you could have it all?
Money. Power. Love. Sex. Respect. Popularity. Absolutely anything you want. Many of us spend our lives wishing for that very scenario-or at least imagining what it would be like. But not many of us get there.
Mel Gibson got there.
Once an unknown Australian actor, Gibson got his first big break starring in the cult classic Mad Max when he was twenty-three. More big roles followed in blockbusters such as the Lethal Weapon series, Maverick, Ransom, Conspiracy Theory, Payback, What Women Want and Signs. As his international stardom grew, so did his bank account. He is now one of the top-paid actors in the world. For every movie he stars in, he now gets $25 million.
But acting wasn't enough for him. In 1993 he stepped behind the camera to direct The Man Without a Face. Two years later he earned two Academy Awards for directing and producing Braveheart.
Gibson's success didn't stop with his career. He's been married to the same woman for 25 years, and they have seven kids together. People magazine named him the Sexiest Man Alive. Premiere magazine listed him as one of the most powerful people in Hollywood.
Worldwide fame. Unlimited riches. True love. Fatherhood. Widespread respect for his talent. International renown for his sexual appeal. Virtually limitless power in his career. Rarely does one man get so much in one lifetime.
Mel Gibson had it all. So he must have been the happiest man on the planet, right? He had the power to do almost anything he wanted. The money to buy almost anything he could imagine. Almost nothing was out of reach for him.
Yet Gibson felt something was missing. All that he had wasn't enough for him. So he added some new experiences to the mix. "I would get addicted to anything," he admits. "Anything at all, okay? Drugs, booze, anything. You name it. Coffee, cigarettes. Sometimes I used to drive inebriated. I mean, this is the height of careless stupidity. Done a lot of things I'm not proud of."
Eventually Gibson sought treatment for his addictions. But after getting clean and sober, he found himself right back where he had started: with an emptiness in his life.
"I just didn't want to go on."
That's what he told Diane Sawyer in an interview on ABC's Primetime Live. All of his personal success had brought him to a place where the most appealing option to him was to jump out a window and end it all.
"You know, I was looking down thinking, man, this is just easier this way," he said. "I don't know, you have to be mad, you have to be insane to despair in that way. But that is the height of spiritual bankruptcy. There's nothing left."
If Mel Gibson had made that jump-if he'd killed himself at the height of his success-he would have joined a list of well-known people who "got it all" and then decided it wasn't enough. One of the best known is Nirvana's Kurt Cobain. He and his band turned the music world upside down in the early 1990s with what became known as grunge music. They enjoyed enormous success with critics and music lovers alike. Despite that success, Cobain refused to become a corporate icon and stayed true to his "slacker" roots. And a generation of fans loved him for it.
Worldwide fame. Big money. Artistic respect. Influential power. Love (Courtney that is). Integrity. Fatherhood. Drugs. Alcohol. Sex. Kurt Cobain had it all. But all of it wasn't enough to help him overcome his lifelong battle with depression, addiction, and chronic pain. In fact, some people who knew him said having it all might have made things worse. Eventually, he just couldn't enjoy any of it.
A note he had written shortly before his apparent suicide offered some clues about the burden his success had become: "I've tried everything within my power to appreciate it (and I do, God, believe me I do, but it's not enough).... I need to be slightly numb in order to regain the enthusiasms I once had as a child." Later he wrote, "I don't have the passion anymore, and so remember, it's better to burn out than to fade away."
Trent Reznor knows what it's like to have it all, too. The world-famous front man for the band Nine Inch Nails is respected by fans of industrial metal music for honestly expressing his rage and despair at life's injustice and emptiness. Reznor's lyrics describe his sometimes shocking, usually depressing, views on everything from relationships to sex to religion to love.
Worldwide fame. Big money. Love from black-clad fans and music critics. Power. Drugs. Alcohol. Sex. Reznor has almost everything anyone could possibly want out of life. And here's what he said about it: "It didn't make sense ... nothing brought me joy. After I got everything I ever wanted, I was ****ing worse o. than I was before."
Something's not adding up here, is it?
If getting everything life has to offer doesn't bring happiness or peace or joy, what's the point of living? That's the question Mel Gibson, Kurt Cobain, and Trent Reznor-as well as countless other rich and successful people-came face to face with. Those guys got to a place most of us never will. They made their fantasies reality. They indulged in everything life has to offer-alcohol, drugs, sex, art. You name it, they tried it.
And what conclusion did they reach? Nothing satisfies. Not in the long run, at least. Not in a way that matters.
They weren't the first guys to reach that depressing conclusion. In fact the viewpoint is as ancient as the Old Testament. A poet-king named Solomon reached the same conclusion about life on earth 3,000 years ago. In a book called Ecclesiastes, he spells out everything he tried in his quest for meaning in this life-and how all of it left him feeling empty. Like Mel and Kurt and Trent, he desperately wanted to find something that brought him satisfaction.
Maybe you're beginning a similar quest yourself. Most people do, especially when they're young. One thing these searches all have in common is that they contain the word if.
"I would be happy if ..."
"I could be satisfied if ..."
"I could get past this emptiness and depression if ..."
The list of things people assume will fill the holes in their lives is long and wildly varied, but here are a few of the most common:
"I would be happy if ...
I had a boyfriend or girlfriend."
I could have sex."
I could have lots of fantastic sex."
I could be free from my parents."
I could have a close and loving family."
I could get married and have kids."
I could get my parents to love me."
I could get my parents to love each other."
I had enough money to be comfortable."
I had enough money to get everything I want."
I could get into the college I want."
I were smarter."
I were faster, stronger, and more athletic."
I were popular."
I didn't care so much about what people think."
I could do something really important with my life."
I could help people in a meaningful way."
I could make a difference in the world."
I could be a great artist or singer or actor or magician."
I could just relax and party all the time."
I didn't have to worry about anything."
I could experiment as much as I want with drugs, alcohol, or anything else."
I could be with the people I love the most."
How many people do you know who are trying to find meaning or satisfaction in one or more of those areas? How many people do you know who are convinced that money, good grades, a boyfriend, sex, popularity, a future, or a good reputation will make their lives complete? How many people do you know who are looking for something worth living for?
Have you noticed the same searching attitude in your own life? I've noticed it in my life. If we're honest with ourselves, we'll admit we all have an empty space or a quiet ache that makes itself known when we're alone with our thoughts. You don't have to be the king of Israel or Mel Gibson to be aware of it.
The question is: What do we do about that aching emptiness?
Before we commit the rest of our lives to chasing down our ifs, one by one, to try them out, let's take a close look at the experiences of people who've already done that. Let's see what we can learn from satisfaction-seekers who managed to capture every if on their lists. Let's examine the conclusions of Mel Gibson, Kurt Cobain, Trent Reznor, and King Solomon.
Let's answer the question: What do you do when you discover that nothing in this life can bring you satisfaction? Based on the experiences of those we mentioned, we get three possible answers.
1 :: KEEP SEARCHING ANYWAY.
Trent Reznor lost hope in things outside of himself and started looking inward. After exploring every pleasure life has to offer (including things many of us would never think of doing), he gave up on finding answers in external experiences. Remember his words: "After I got everything I ever wanted, I was ****ing worse off than I was before." With the help of psychological therapy, he's exploring his own heart and mind and says, "I feel better about myself as a human being right now than I ever did."
Reznor is convinced there's no meaning in anything life can offer. He still rejects religion, but he's holding out hope that there are answers in his own soul-apart from God. It feels good to him to keep looking. Like many of us, he just can't accept that nothing in this life will ever satisfy. He'll keep on searching.
2 :: GIVE UP.
Kurt Cobain apparently decided he had come to the end of his search. Outside of himself. Inside of himself. Nothing worked. Nothing could ease his depression or fill the lack of meaning in his life. His suicide note made it clear he couldn't find any excitement for his art or the things that used to bring him joy. All of his searching turned up nothing worth living for.
Bible teacher Steve Stockman says Cobain's life points directly to the message of Solomon: "I think Cobain is Ecclesiastes made flesh. He is the perfect conclusion to a life without God. Fame, wealth, or whatever the modern world can offer is meaningless without God. What a scream from the heart of heaven to the culture of the day. In between the lines of the newscast on that sad day in April '94, the words 'Meaningless, meaningless all is meaningless' echoed around the world. God speaks loud and clear in the heart of our culture."
According to Kurt Cobain and King Solomon, those who are paying attention and who are being honest with themselves can only come to one conclusion: Nothing in this life will ever take away your emptiness. You might as well stop looking.
Of course, that's not all Solomon said. We'll look deeper into his conclusions throughout the rest of this book. But in the matter of finding meaning in this life, he and Kurt Cobain were in agreement.
3 :: LOOK OUTSIDE OF THIS LIFE.
We've already seen that Mel Gibson came to the same conclusion as Kurt Cobain. And that conclusion almost brought him to the same end as Cobain. So what kept Mel Gibson from jumping out that window? He told Diane Sawyer he found an answer that changed everything for him. It wasn't in the world of things. It had nothing to do with money or power. And, it wasn't hiding in his own heart.
Gibson's answer lay beyond this world.
While talking about his most successful movie ever, The Passion of the Christ, Gibson said this about the subject of his film: "He was beaten for our iniquities. He was wounded for our transgressions. And by his wounds, we are healed. That's the point of the film. It's about faith, hope, love, and forgiveness. It's the reality for me. I believe that. I have to."
"Have to?" Diane Sawyer asked him.
"I have to," Gibson repeated. "For my own sake. So I can hope. So I can live."
After experiencing everything life has to offer, Mel Gibson decided there's no meaning on earth apart from Jesus Christ. He tried it all, and his answer inspired him to invest $25 million of his own money-not to mention his reputation in Hollywood and around the world-to make a risky movie about Jesus.
I met Gibson while I was speaking at the DC/LA conference in Washington, D.C., and he was promoting The Passion of the Christ to Christian audiences around the country. Well ... maybe met isn't the right word. He slapped my hand as he walked by me on stage in an auditorium filled with several thousand Christian students. People were going crazy over him, calling friends on their cell phones and shouting, "Mel Gibson is standing right in front of me!"
When everyone finally calmed down so he could talk, Gibson looked over the crowd and said something amazing: "I wish I had been like you. I wish I had spent more time honoring God when I was younger." Think about those words. The man who had it all, who had tried it all, wishes he had spent his life differently.
"Remember your Creator in the days of your youth" (Ecclesiastes 12:1).
This book isn't about Mel Gibson. I don't think he's necessarily a great role model or a great teacher. He's just a man we can learn something from before we set off on our own search for meaning.
It's also not about Kurt Cobain. Or Trent Reznor. It's about someone who had more than all three of them put together. More fame. More power. More money. More sex. (Way more sex.) More friends. More romance. More good deeds. More artistic achievement. More world-changing success.
And more to say about all of it.
Solomon, the poet-king, learned the truth about life on earth the hard way. Before continuing your own search for something to fill the nagging emptiness of life-and before deciding you're already a Christian, so why bother-why not find out what he learned when he conducted the greatest experiment the world has ever known?
It could change everything about the way you live the rest of your life.
HOW TO TALK TO UNBELIEVING FRIENDS ABOUT FEELING EMPTY
It's not always easy for Christians to talk to unbelievers about things that really matter to us. We're worried about offending them. We don't want to make things weird in the friendship. But if you really care about your friends, these are conversations worth having. And the book of Ecclesiastes gives us a great place to start.
1 :: ASK YOUR FRIENDS IF THEY'RE EVER SURPRISED WHEN THEY HEAR ABOUT SOMEONE WHO HAS IT ALL BEING DEPRESSED OR SUICIDAL.
Ask why they think really successful people get depressed. What's missing? What's the real answer to feelings of sadness, depression, and the sense that there must be more to life than what we're experiencing? Ask your friends what helps them when they experience those feelings.
2 :: TALK ABOUT IF ONLYS.
Ask your friends to talk about the things they thought would make them feel satisfied with life. Be honest about your own list of if onlys, whether it includes money, a relationship with a specific person, or some incredible experience. Talk about the idea of unlimited wishes and how much it would take to truly satisfy. Be ready to explain the perspective that there's no such thing as "enough" to take away the emptiness of life on our own. Point to people such as Mel Gibson, Kurt Cobain, Trent Reznor, and King Solomon as examples.
3 :: TALK ABOUT THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN EARTHLY RELIGION AND LOOKING TO GOD FOR REAL ANSWERS.
For some people, religion is just another if only. "If only I could become good enough for God, then I'd find true meaning in life." Ask your friends what they think about that idea. Explain that you don't believe it and Christianity doesn't teach it. The Bible doesn't say meaning is found in being perfect, because we can't achieve perfection. Be prepared to explain your understanding of the difference between practicing a religion in an effort to reach God and finding hope in a loving God, who has already reached out to you.
1. Look around your own life. Do you know any people who have come to the same conclusions as Mel Gibson, Kurt Cobain, or Trent Reznor? They don't have to be rock stars or millionaires. Even students can decide there's no meaning in life or there's only meaning outside of themselves.
Excerpted from Living a Life that Matters by Mark Matlock Chris Lyon Copyright © 2005 by Youth Specialties.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
CHAPTER 1: TOO MUCH IS NEVER ENOUGH
CHAPTER 2: THE HARD WAY
CHAPTER 3: WHAT SOLOMON HAD THAT YOU DON’T
CHAPTER 4: SOLOMON’S PARTY PALACE
CHAPTER 5: ROMANCE AND SEX
CHAPTER 6: I WANT MORE
CHAPTER 7: NOT GOOD ENOUGH
CHAPTER 8: THE BEST YOU CAN DO UNDER THE SUN
CHAPTER 9: TIME WILL TELL
CHAPTER 10: A LIFE THAT MATTERS
CHAPTER 11: WHAT ABOUT TODAY?