Finding Purpose at the White House
One Saturday in 2002, I gave a White House tour to a pastor from California. I'd never heard of him or his book...
When I worked at the White House, giving after-hours West Wing tours wasn't ever drudgery. No matter how crappy things were at work or how annoying any colleague became, the tours were a reminder that you were a very, very, very temporary and minor custodian of the people's house.
One Saturday morning I was to meet and greet some pastor from California. It was, I believe, early 2002. I'd never heard of him or of his church, something called Saddleback. He seemed like a nice guy and so did his wife and the couple of friends with him. I walked him through the place dispensing the little bits of history that you pick up just by being there: The West Wing was built, in part, so that Teddy Roosevelt's staff could escape the terror of his children; the White House Situation Room is down that hall; that series of paintings by Norman Rockwell depict people waiting to the see the President; Steven Spielberg gave that painting to the White House during the Clinton Administration; that is Teddy Roosevelt's Nobel Peace Prize. This is the Oval Office.
There was a remarkable lack of pretension to the pastor. He kept saying, "Cool!" with all the enthusiasm everyone who saw the place really felt but was usually afraid to say. He asked questions and was genuinely excited to be there. He was fun to be around.
I asked him what he did. He told me a bit about his church, but never mentioned that it had upwards of 50,000 members. He was most excited about something called pastors.com, where he helped other pastors from around the country--and world--prepare their sermons. He mentioned a book he'd written called "The Purpose-Driven Church." Then he handed me his card, gave me a big bear hug goodbye and went off with his friends.
As I drove home, I didn't feel like I'd had some amazing encounter with a spectacularly holy or exceptional person. I felt like I'd met a great pastor who seemed comfortable with himself and confident of his place in God's world.
Some months later Rick Warren's next book, "The Purpose-Driven Life," appeared on my desk. He thought I might like it. I picked it up, flipped through a few pages and set it down. It seemed like a nice little book... nothing more.
But in February of 2003, a former colleague and I decided to go through its 40 days of readings one day at a time, emailing our thoughts back and forth. As I began to go through the pages, I rolled my eyes at a syrupy-sweet poem by another writer that began, "You are who you are for a reason. You're part of an intricate plan. You're a precious and perfect unique design, called God's special woman or man."But the deeper I went, the more soul I found. The leavening insights were everywhere: I was never meant to be the center of my life, "You exist only because God wills that you exist." God is the author of this grand story and I am a part of that larger whole. "...being successful and fulfilling your life's purpose are not at all the same issue!" How different that idea was than the one I was given as a child, "Make something of yourself for the family name!" My emails with my friend became hour-long soul-searching discussions about our lives.