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Last week we explored the question: “What is my life?” in our attempt to get behind MEANING and explored that we find meaning through a process of “un-knowing.” Today we explore the question of: “What do I do with my life?” in our attempt to get to the heart of PURPOSE.
The vast majority of people do not have a sense of PURPOSE. Most of us go through life, along with the herd, doing what we have been told to do and assuming that our purpose is linked to our vocation or job. If we ask a life-coach to help us find our purpose, they will say to examine those things in our life which inspire us or appeal to our interests or passions and then follow them. On the surface, this sounds nobel and it works for quite a few people. But our passions change throughout life as we grow, and passion doesn’t equate to “opportunities”. Our circumstances, economies, and environments change through life and these kinds of changes can quickly lead people to dead ends, futility, frustration, disillusionment, and ruin. Following passion not always the best advice. I’ve found it better to follow opportunities where we can serve others and let our passion germinate in step.
Purpose is not ultimately derived from our occupations. Since that is the predominant ethos which is inscribed upon us, we tend to have no understanding of purpose beyond that. If I ask, “If purpose does not come from vocation, then from where does one’s sense of purpose come?” Most people struggle for an answer. Some will look to their children or loved ones. Some will try and source it internally or intrinsically. Yet, just like MEANING last week, we do not really understand PURPOSE for the same reason, we do not know who we truly are.
So much of our lives is a fictitious narrative that we keep scripting in order to try and make sense of things. We have become so over-identified with the institutions which have named us, that we simply cannot consider who we might be apart from them all. We actually believe, due to a life of heavy programming, that we may even cease to exist at all without the fake ID given by these principalities and powers. Without a true center of BEING, we barely scratch the surface of meaning and remain utterly confused about purpose.
Once again, paradox reorients us to True North. In the same way that our life is preserved by losing it (Luke 17:32), so joining one’s purpose is obtained by the deconstructing process of unknowing until we get to the point of true seeing. Now this sounds very vague and mystical to many of you, I know, but I believe these are the rails upon which the abundant, integrated, successful, joyful, and fulfilled life runs.
Some people know what they want to do and they set out to do it. They accomplish their goals and live fulfilled and there isn’t much more to it. They are true to who they are, and they give this authentic self back to the world in service and without much consideration, their purpose is established without much consideration of the fact that it was established in service rather than passion.
The rest of us must un-learn, or decouple our notion of purpose from vocation and that can be hard. Like those who simply presuppose purpose, our purpose in the world is know who we are in God, and to give it away in service to the world. In my un-coaching practice, it is a huge relief when people discover that their purpose can perfectly be fulfilled in the world under an endless stream of vocations. How about a couple of examples.
I started out believing that I was going to save the world through religion. I was trained as a pastor and went to work in the Church. I was a square peg in a round hole everywhere I served. At first I thought it was a doctrinal or denominational difference so I moved around a bit, but each time met the same end with me getting the left foot of fellowship. I’m an inspirer, an enthusiast, a catalyst to others. I see through a wide angle lens and the really big picture. I discovered that the transforming effect this has on people was not limited to the four walls of the church. I discovered that the more I self-empty and give this away, the more connected I am to my sense of purpose. I do it everyday at work, I do it with this online ministry, and I do it in my sphere of influence. I simply be me, do me wherever I am. It may surprise you to learn than I discovered this not in my seminary training, but in my job cleaning portable toilets.
Most people who feel depressed are mostly bored, disillusioned, and disconnected from a sense of purpose in life. Depression, in one sense, is the inability to give ones self away. It’s a life which is always looking to be filled rather than emptied. Despair is a dis-integrated life.
Jesus’ disciples were fishermen, tax collectors, religious elites, prostitutes, invalids, soldiers, the unemployed, and politicians. Some had forsaken their careers and followed him. Others remained in their roles and returned. What each of them gained was healing from their fake ID. Christ showed them who they truly were, and (liberated) them from the institutional powers of family, friends, tribes, social strata, government and religion. This new identity, this new freedom did not place them outside of institutions, but it reoriented them within any and all of them. Healing was their ability to be “in the world, but not of the world” as Jesus said in John 18:36, “My kingdom is not of this world.”
This paradoxical kingdom, where down is the way up, giving is how to receive, dying is how to live, is truly a way of living under a set of rules that are counter-intuitive to the rules of the world. Giving ourselves away is how we find our purpose. We’re used to the “kingdom of this world” insisting on our own way, taking what we want, seeking any advantage over others, competing, fighting, and running down others. This is our default mode. This is the predominant backdrop into which we learn the world and this is why we cannot find purpose, find meaning, or find our true life, yet alone launch it.
If we would launch our life, we must first find it. If we would launch our life we must first lose it. If we would find our purpose in this life, we must first separate it from a career before we can ever repurpose it for our places of employment, family, leisure, and living. As we self-empty in the most immediate spheres of life, our purpose becomes increasingly visible.
Our life purpose is the outflow of who we are. In a general sense this means we are beloved, therefore our purpose is to love. In a specific sense, our purpose can evolve into countless creative, satisfying, and prosperous ways to invest this love into every sphere of life.
I think that is worth exploring.
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