November 13, 2015

Knowing Your Life's Purpose

Rick Warren said, "knowing your purpose gives meaning to your life," and I agree. Knowing the reason why you exist, and finding value in what you do, forms a good part of our human endeavors. For many of us, myself included, knowing your purpose has been a road fraught with miscues and mistakes, with missed opportunities, and misunderstandings. Knowing the reason why you are alive today, and why you are doing the "thing" you do can add meaning -- understanding -- to your life, and can in many ways, provide clarity and focus as well as direction.

Over the past two-three years, I have been on a journey to learn my life's purpose, to come to terms with my life, my expectations, my anticipations, and my hopes, my dreams, and my desires. The process has, at times, been excruciatingly difficult. I have learned a lot about myself, and I have grown as a person, an individual, and a child of God. In truth, I have come to understand myself well, and to accept a lot of my faults and failings as well as discover deeper resources than I thought possible. In short, I have learned to love myself, to accept myself, and to consider myself valuable and worthy.

This journey has not been easy for me, and as I have poured my thoughts, my feelings, and my deepest emotions out on this blog, I have realized that at times what I have written has not made a lot of sense. Furthermore, I also realized that my statements of faith, at times, seem overwhelmingly positive, and then just as quickly, my thoughts turn downward, and what comes out is contradictory, and at best, ramblings that are disjointed, and not clearly articulated. I guess this is what is called "life lived in reflection" and my blog bears testimony to a life lived in the open. My life is an open book, and while I don't always share everything going on inside my head, I have tried to be as authentic as possible. I make mistakes, and I fall on my face often. Still, I pick myself up, and I keep on moving forward. I am thankful for the Lord's grace because He is the One who calls gently to me, and He reminds me that we are not "there" yet. We still have a long way to go, and the journey is not over yet. So we walk on, we walk on...

Knowing Your Purpose

Today, I showed Adam Leipzig's TED Talk to my COM 100 students. This TED Talk is short, and while not the most dazzling of performances, is interesting to watch. My students didn't like it, but then I think they are young and not the best audience for his talk. In this short video titled, "Know Your Life's Purpose in 5 Minutes," Leipzig presents what he calls the easiest way to understand your purpose. He asks his audience five questions, and promises that at the end of his talk, their purpose should be clear to them. Of course, this simplistic approach really doesn't work, especially if you don't have a clue to your purpose or you don't really care about your life's work. For some of us, me included, though, I thought his presentation addressed some important points.

Leipzig asks the following questions, which don't really do much in and of themselves, but taken it their totality, can be a springboard for thinking more deeply and clearly about your purpose.
  1. Who are you?
  2. What do you love to do?
  3. Who are the people you do it for?
  4. What do these people need from you?
  5. How is their life changed as a result of what you do for them?
The idea, of course, is to get to the core of what you really love to do, and then to find a way to do it. If you are a cement truck driver who wants to be a writer, you may find this process ill-conceived. You may find that what you love to do, you cannot do for a number of reasons: lack of skill, education, experience or even resources. Of course, you can still do the thing you love. Leipzig is not telling you to quit your day job and become an actor simply because you "love it." No, he is just redirecting your thinking process to help you understand that often we are dissatisfied because we do not recognize that the thing we do now, is OUR LIFE'S PURPOSE. We think that all our ducks must be in a row, that we must be at the top of the heap, earning income, living high and mighty. We must arrive. We must achieve. We must prove ourselves worthy -- and then -- we will be satisfied.

His TED Talk opens with a story about his privileged life as a Yale Alumnus. This is a turn off to most students right away -- I mean -- come on? Leipzig is a famous director, CEO of his own company, and producer of many popular films. Of course, he is satisfied with his life. Of course, he is happy in his life. He has fame, fortune, and he knows his purpose because he is living it. While I will ascent to some of this as being rational and reasoned, the truth is that regardless of his position, his power, or his popularity, what he is saying has merit.

I thought about his speech last night after previewing it for my students today. I thought about it because for me, I am one of those people, who needed to hear his message. You see, I have doubted my worth. I have doubted my effectiveness. I have doubted my purpose. I am working in a job that is not 100% the best fit for me. I have analyzed it, almost to an extreme focal point, and come out the other side still scratching my head. I have examined my life, and as Leipzig says, "While the examined life is a good thing, if all we ever do is examine life, then we are not living it." I am guilty of this very thing -- examining my life to such detail -- that I have failed to see the good in all I do, and I have failed to recognize the purpose and value in the work I perform every day.

Purpose or Passion

Bishop T.D. Jakes once said, "If you can't figure out your purpose, figure out your passion. For your passion will lead right into your purpose." I think about this often because I am one of those people who is not really passionate about anything in particular. I guess it goes along with my personality, and the fact that I am an introverted personality type. I don't express myself, my passions with intensity, as some people do. Furthermore, since I was always told as a child to "simmer down" (meaning calm down) whenever I did get passionate, I learned to curb my enthusiasm and keep my interests to myself. I channeled my passions into practical pursuits, and to this day, I favor the practical over the passionate.

As I think about my life's purpose, I realize that I am passionate about some things. I am passionate about:

Helping others and encouraging them to succeed, to find their purpose, to understand God's plan for their lives.

My desire is for others to see the goodness of God, to recognize that He has a wonderful and unique plan for them (personally), and that they have a voice (opinions, thoughts, feelings), and that they do matter (have value and worth). This is my deepest desire, and it is the THING I am most passionate about -- day in and day out -- it is the THING that drives me, fuels me, and gives me purpose.

Moreover, I am passionate about communication, language use and meaning, and I desire to help others learn how to communicate better, to engage in healthy relationships, and to build lasting friendships in this life. I desire to see individuals and families learn how to live in harmony, unity, and in connection so as to share in this community of Christ's body. This is my overarching purpose, my ministry, and my strongest pursuit. I am committed to this calling because it is the call I received from the Lord and it has set me on this course, this path that includes my advanced studies at Regent University, and it is the reason I exist today. God purposed and planned me, and He assigned this special task to me. Therefore, this is my ministry. It is the WAY I lead others to Christ, and it is the WAY I build, affirm, and encourage them to follow after Him.

As I think about this today, my purpose and such, I am convicted (in some ways) by my insistence on knowing all the details, knowing what my tomorrows hold, and knowing how my life could turn out. I realize now that I have wasted precious time with my preoccupation, when in reality, I should have been content to be about the business at hand, to do the work God has assigned to me, and to stop the cycle of examination once I started to see the big picture come into focus. Yet, in my own way, I took the extra time to process the details more thoroughly and to come to terms with the root cause, the root cause of the deep-digging, deep analysis. Yes, I have spent too much time examining my life, looking for clues, when those clues were right in front of my face all the time. Why? Why did I do this?

I think the answer is simple. It is straightforward. It is obvious to most, but it wasn't to me, because I didn't want to see the truth, to acknowledge the problem, and to face the fact that I was dissatisfied in my life. I mean, after all the dissatisfaction I experienced over the course of the past 30 years, how could I still be dissatisfied when I am a graduate student (two times over --well -- almost), and I am doing the THING I said I wanted to do more than anything else. How could I admit that I was still not happy when the Lord had provided everything to me, everything I mean, that I could want, need or desire?

Being Satisfied in Life

How do you know you are satisfied in life? How do you come to the place where you can say you are truly content?

Merriam-Webster defines the word, "satisfy" as meaning "to cause (someone) to be happy or pleased, to provide, do, or have what is required by (someone or something), or to cause (someone) to believe that something is true." With this in mind, what does it take to satisfy you (or me)? What makes you (or me) happy or pleased?

When we think about the state of being satisfied, the first thing that comes to mind is to be happy. We all want to be happy, but happiness is an emotion response to stimuli and it is fleeting, fickle, and at times, all together fallacious. We place a lot of stock in happiness, in feeling happy, and for some people, their entire purpose in life is to be happy.

I see happiness as a by-product of a life well-lived, a life predicated on knowing God, and living out each day in relationship with Him. Contentment, the Apostle wrote, is what we should strive to live. Contentment is another word used in place of feeling happy or satisfied. In Matthew 6:25-33 we read Jesus' words on the matter,
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life ?  And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?'  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
I am guilty of not choosing contentment. I am guilty of giving into doubts, feelings of insecurity, and to worry and fear over all the unknowns, all my tomorrows, and all my "need" to control the details of my life. Rather than choosing to be content with what I have, I have chosen instead to seek happiness outside of the Lord, Himself. You see, He is our contentment, our joy, the object of our affection, and as such, it is He who satisfies all our needs.

Isaiah 58:11 NIV says, "The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail." Moreover, in Psalm 118:7 we read, "The LORD is with me; he is my helper. I look in triumph on my enemies." And, likewise in Psalm 63, verses 1-3, David writes,
O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, In a dry and weary land where there is no water. Thus I have seen You in the sanctuary, To see Your power and Your glory. Because Your loving kindness is better than life, My lips will praise You.
Thus our joy, our portion, and our cup is filled by the presence of the Lord in our life. There is no satisfaction outside of Him, and when we seek satisfaction, contentment, happiness in any other person, place or thing, we end up worshiping the created thing rather than the creator. The THING becomes our passion. The THING becomes our purpose. And in this way, we idolize what that thing represents. We are not to do this because the Lord is the Lord overall our life, and He is a jealous God. He desires our full attention, our full satisfaction in Him, and in His way, His will, and His word.

Today, I recognize that my purpose is clear. My passion is focused. My life therefore is directed and moving toward the fulfillment of His will. He has made a way for me, and His way is good. I am able to say with certainty that I am where He wants me to be, and I can be satisfied in this way simply because I am seeking my sense of fulfillment and satisfaction in Him and not in anything else. He is good, so very good to me.

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