Last summer, I went through an exercise to consider life purpose, vision, goals, etc. You might have been part of one of these in the past. Or five. I’d been through several already, but the one last summer proved providential for a few reasons:
1 – Our facilitator focused on holistic questions rather than asking us to think only of our professional environment. He told stories about people whose life situations drastically changed, but whose reason for getting out of bed each day stayed constant.
2 – I had been reading through various catechisms at the time. Long before self-help gurus began asking us to create mission statements, the Church had been talking about our reason for existence. (See my longer, more theologically-detailed reflection on all of this in “Your Personal Mission & Vision: Chosen or Given?”)
3 – The exercise came six months before a pandemic sent our country into our greatest extended time of upheaval since … World War II?
This week, I pulled out my notes from that exercise. I was deep into a moment of “disorientation” as the chart below would call it––counting all the ways that my little world had changed, grieving those changes, and struggling for future direction.
Maybe you’ve experienced some disorientation in the past few weeks, too. For me, this has been like a deep grief, at times without a clear sense of exactly what I’m grieving––just an awareness that things aren’t as they should be, and they’re not likely to be set right soon. It’s an awareness that the future has just changed and a grief for the dreams that died in the process. (A recommendation for those times: Andrew Peterson’s “Is He Worthy?”. Especially good accompanied by a walk and cry through the park in the rain.)
It was at this point of disorientation that I went back to my purpose/vision/goals notes from last summer. Those provided a great middle-of-the-pandemic moment of clarity for me. Nothing from that exercise had changed. Not the purpose. Not the vision. Not the goals. The reason for getting out of bed hadn’t changed one bit.
The context has changed considerably. The future likely has, too. And those will require some serious adapting. But it’s good to be reminded, especially in challenging times, that our purpose is bigger than our context.
Your Purpose: Chosen or Given?
On our own, we might choose a life purpose defined by success. All of us want this––to be successful in one, if not several, areas of life. And if we’re not careful, we might convince ourselves that success is our reason for being.
It’s interesting to hear a number of people we’d call successful talk about how their anxieties and insecurities increased with greater success. The comparisons got worse, not better. The pressure to achieve and advance grew rather than subsiding. Imagine Sisyphus pushing that boulder up the hill and actually making it to the top … only to find a bigger hill ahead. Such seems to be much of our striving for success.
Others choose a more modest goal for our lives: survival. We would all, after all, like to survive. But when survival becomes our reason for being, our lives are governed by fear.
This is where the Church’s historical understanding of our purpose is helpful. It’s based in neither success nor survival, but instead in faithfulness and delight.
The church’s catechisms ask about the chief end of humanity and give one unwavering answer: We exist to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Said a bit differently, we exist to know and love God.
We didn’t choose these reasons for our existence. God did. They’re based in worship and delight, exactly opposite any notions of existence that would lead us to anxiety and fear.
A vision for the future
In a parable, Jesus provides a related vision of the future. To servants who were good stewards of all they received, their master says, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”[note]Matthew 25:21[/note]
God’s intended future for us: To hear “well done,” to be given responsibility according to our faithfulness, to share our master’s happiness.
What if we don’t get to choose the purpose of our lives? What if God has already named it for us?
Anxiety & Fear, Faithfulness & Delight
Many people would reject this as God limiting their freedom, but I want to suggest to you that it’s actually the most freeing thing God could do for us. He has freed us from the anxiety that comes from our own striving and the fear that comes from potential failure. Our lives aren’t defined by the things beyond our control.
In a time when you may feel like you have lost a lot of control, what’s your reason for getting up in the morning? I think it’s the same as before. It’s to delight in God and any blessings God has put in your life. It’s to identify the few things God has entrusted you with and to be good and faithful with them.
This is, of course, why having the same life purposes doesn’t mean that we should all live the same lives. We’ve all been entrusted with different things. The good life, for each of us, is to be faithful with those things entrusted to us.
In a time of deep disorientation for many of us, a few important questions:
1 – What have you lost? Most of us have taken some losses in these past few weeks. We might anticipate more to come. It’s okay and good to grieve those.
2 – What are your blessings? Give thanks for them. Delight in them.
3 – What has God entrusted you with? And what does it mean to be faithful with those things? Perhaps our best goals are simply to be faithful with what we’ve been given. We can grieve what we’ve lost and hope for what we don’t have, but we can’t allow these to distract us from faithfulness with what we have now.
All of these would be great points of prayer since ultimately, God doesn’t invite us merely to delight in his gifts, but to delight in him. He doesn’t ask us merely to be faithful with what he gives us, but to share in his very happiness.
These are hard times for most of us. But they don’t strip us of our purpose or our dignity or our reason for getting out of bed each morning. Those are all given by God.