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.
Several years back, it became clear to me that what I had assumed was my calling, my “special place,” was not in fact. Or rather, it was no longer. Naturally, I became obsessed with finding a new purpose. I deeply searched my soul. I meditated. I prayed. I had some counseling and coaching. I couldn’t figure out “the right plan,” but I went ahead and moved and started a new job. My hope was that by taking action, by doing something, even if it wasn’t the thing, I would come closer to finding my new purpose.
Fast forward a couple of years, and I was no closer to knowing my “new purpose.” I was frustrated. Worse, I felt guilty. I felt that there was something I was “supposed” to be doing and I was missing it.
When you meet someone new, one of the questions that’s bound to come up within a few minutes is, “What do you do?” I find that a difficult question to answer. I have a job, which is something I do—every day, in fact. But does my role at a nonprofit, which I enjoy and feel good about, truly sum up “what I do” in the sense of what my life is about? Does it define who I am? It really doesn’t.
It’s important for me to have meaningful work that I feel good about doing and enjoy, and I think my career always will be a big part of me and also play a part in how I live out my purpose in life. But I believe the meaning of a person’s life, like life itself, isn’t etched in stone, never to be revised. And it most likely isn’t one thing, or even just one thing at a time.
As for me, my purposes for the time being include doing what I can to make the lives of those around me a little better. I’ve also been finding a lot of meaning by learning to love and care for myself. I spent many years focusing so much on getting things done—for the sake of others, I told myself—that I all but forgot that I matter too, that God wants me to be happy and fulfilled too. I’ve found a joyful sense of meaning through learning new things, traveling to new places, having a variety of new experiences, as well as taking in more literature, art, and music—enjoying the experience of being alive and connected to other beautiful people in this amazing world.
I’ve also gotten over the mental block that in order to find meaning in life, I have to have some grand and glorious and consuming passion—that I have to be some kind of “savior.” I’ve stopped stressing myself out and beating myself up over a perceived sense of failure of not doing something that I felt was big enough or good enough. It’s liberating.
Every now and then, I still have a tinge of guilt around the edges of my consciousness. I get the nagging sense that the new me isn’t ambitious enough, that my life isn’t as purpose-driven as it could be. But then, who gets to say that one life’s meaning is more valuable than another? Don’t we all play our own part in making up this tapestry that is humankind?
I’ll close with something I received from Jesus in prayer during one of my moments of struggle a few years back. I’ve come back to this many times, and always find it reassuring:
Your “purpose in life” isn’t something that is always clear, obvious, and completely understood at the time. Sometimes it doesn’t seem like you have much of a special purpose at all. It just seems like you’re going from day to day, working, living, going on. It doesn’t feel “special” or filled with purpose. But it is! Every day of your life is significant. Every day is an opportunity, an open door. Every day can have its own special meaning. It all matters to Me. It all counts to Me. It’s all precious to Me.
“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”—Howard Thurman (1899–1981)