I was a jerk. I knew that as I flew to Africa for no particular reason. But something happened there that changed my life. This moment was when I met a little village girl in a remote part of north central Ethiopia called Antsokia Valley, which had been hard hit in the mid-1980s by a terrible famine. This little girl was six, the same age as my own Sarah. This little girl was a beautiful child, and something about her opened up my heart. There was nothing tangible that happened, nothing to make a great story. All I know is that something within me finally gave way.
Later that evening, around a bonfire in those hills, I gave up all that I was and all I’d been clutching about my old way of life. I offered the balance of that trip to God—and, if He wanted it, the balance of my life. Immediately, as I made this transaction in my spirit, a powerful, all-embracing sense of peace flooded across me. One little girl, in the hands of God, had opened the dam.
I was experiencing that moment of discovery when one finds that the world does not revolve around himself, that what I perceived as needs were merely wants, and that my life goals were superficial and material. I wanted money, but I also wanted admiration, fame, power, and, if at all possible, to be the king of my own private universe, god of my own cosmos. I knew there was one true God, but He would have to fit into my plan accordingly. This was the moment when one grasps the power of the first sentence in Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Life: “It’s not about you.”
Africa was my humbling experience. It brought me to my knees. Africa showed me that everything I thought I knew was wrong. Just when I thought I had all the answers, Africa changed the questions. In Africa, the hard-and-fast rules are soft and slow. The things of epic importance, weighing down your heart, suddenly don’t register. When I returned from Africa, my focus had shifted. I worked on being less me centered and more God centered. I tried setting my heart on eternal things rather than material things. And I began to see how I could find more capacity for my life, more margin to devote to things that mattered, and more selfless presence in the moment.