I love biographies. Historical movies, books, and even web posts are a great way to get a bird’s-eye view of a life. Through their commendable or detestable examples, we have the benefit of seeing how a life develops and how it ends—either in fame, shame, or maybe obscurity. Sometimes the plot goes places that no fiction writer would dare go.
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
It was summer and I was on a youth mission trip on the northern coast of Poland. As our trip came to a close, our base in Warsaw was sending a van to pick most of us up, while Nick, René, and I planned to head back by train/bus/hitchhiking. I have no idea how this harebrained plan was conceived, but for some reason, we thought it was great.
The great British writer Gilbert Keith Chesterton wrote a series of short stories about a parish priest, Father Brown, with a knack for forensics. This lowly priest investigated criminal cases while maintaining compassion and understanding toward the guilty.
The Bible has a lot to say on the topic of what our purpose in life should be. King Solomon, described in the Bible as the wisest man of his time,1 discovered the futility of living only for this world. He gives these concluding remarks in the book of Ecclesiastes: “Respect and obey God! This is what life is all about.”2
Do you ever wonder if you are doing what God wants you to do? As in, what’s that purpose you were created for? What is it that you’re meant to do that will give your life meaning? I’ve wondered those things, and I still do sometimes. These are the sort of big questions that we don’t always easily find the answers for.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve felt strongly that I needed a purpose, a “mission,” a life plan. It’s both part of my natural personality type and how I was brought up to understand that God worked—that He had a calling, a “special place in His kingdom” for each of us. I still believe that … but differently.
In their 1960’s hit “Can’t Buy Me Love,” the Beatles capitalized on a simple, well-worn truth. They could just as well have sung, “Can’t buy me truth” or “happiness” or “peace of mind.” Those things weren’t for sale either, and they’re still not. While this is a simple truth, it’s not an easy one to live.
We went down 378 spiraling steps into the Wieliczka Salt Mine in southern Poland, wondering what we would find and thinking about how easy it would be to get lost in the underground maze around us. I marveled at how anyone could spend so much of their life underground and retain their sanity.
When I was growing up, I was a loner with acute social anxiety and never had a close friend. I wanted there to be someone with whom I would feel comfortable enough to share anything, and who wouldn’t be afraid to tell me all her secrets—a friendship where I would be understood and accepted, and could just be “me”—but I wondered if those friendships only existed in books.