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.
We are unlikely to have Abraham’s calling to become the father of nations.1 Not many of us have the strength of Samson to bring the perpetrators of evil to justice.2 It is rare to be given the responsibility, like Esther, of safeguarding the people of our nation.3 And most of us don’t have the fearlessness of the prophet Daniel, risking life and limb for our faith,4 or even the vigor of the apostle Paul, who evangelized almost the entire known world of his day.5
Have you ever come across a construction site where the workers were laboriously laying a tile floor—one of those mosaic floors with thousands of tiny tiles that create a picture when finished? While it’s being put in place, the picture isn’t clearly visible because the workers use grout to fill the spaces between the tiles, and the grout leaves a heavy gray film over their work that hides the beauty of what they’ve done. But then, once the grout between the tiles is dry, the film is washed off and the picture is revealed.
That’s similar to how God works in our lives. In His infinite wisdom and all-encompassing love, He understands exactly what we need and goes to great lengths, with intricate detail, to provide those things.
When I turned 60 last year, I did some soul searching. I clearly hadn’t achieved all I could or should have in my life so far. Was I therefore a failure? Give me a minute before I answer that.
I’d gone through some changes recently and was now at a place both geographically and career-wise that was not what I had had in mind. I wasn’t unhappy, but I wasn’t entirely pleased with my circumstances either. I felt like I was becalmed at sea, no wind in my sails, monotonous stretches of ocean in all directions. The horizon was in sight, but that didn’t help. I couldn’t decide which point on the horizon to aim for, and even if I could, I had no means to propel myself towards it. What and where was my purpose in life?
Today I’m 65. I have officially entered the ranks of the elderly. As of today, I’m an “old man.”
What a wretched little word—“old”! It conjures up other words like “decrepit” and “declining” and “dementia.” It doesn’t describe what I am or how I feel. It’s almost insulting!
When you hit bottom, when dreams give way to disappointment, when all you’ve worked so hard for goes to pieces, you are tempted to despair. In extreme situations you may even be tempted to end it all yourself, right now.
That’s when you must remember that you were created for a purpose, and that purpose isn’t a single, one-time thing; it’s multifaceted and complex. As long as you live, there will be something more you can accomplish, something more you are meant to accomplish, and there is always more to get out of life. The end of one dream doesn’t mean the end of all dreams. Just as the seasons come and go in their cycle, periods of success or setback, fulfillment or disappointment, and emotional highs and lows come and go. You may be down now, but that won’t last forever.
If you sometimes feel like nothing, cheer up! God can use you. Little is much if God is in it. In fact, God doesn’t have to have anything to begin with. He made the world out of nothing (Hebrews 11:3). Pretty good old world, isn’t it? He hung it on nothing (Job 26:7). Hangs pretty good, doesn’t it? And He can make something out of nothing—even you—if you will let Him.
God doesn’t go very much for greatness after the manner of this world. In fact, He specializes in using people who seem most likely not to succeed; yet by the miraculous power and grace of God they become shining lights to others. God only makes great people out of little people, to show His greatness (1 Corinthians 1:26–29).