This one is a repost from last year, but I think I need it now even more than when I first wrote it. Enjoy.
So let’s sit down and talk. Knee-to-knee, eye-to-eye. I’m a pastor, that’s what I do. Let’s ask a lot of questions. Questions take us on journeys, ones that help us find what we’re looking for.
Let’s be honest. Let’s pretend we’re in a confessional booth (even though I don’t do that in my tradition). We can tell the truth and no one else has to hear our answers. We’re safe. Let’s talk.
Let’s talk about how bored you are right now in your current, actual life, even though on paper, you shouldn’t be. Let’s talk about how you got what you wanted and it isn’t what you thought it would be. Let’s talk about how you’ve given up desiring anything that would be really satisfying because you just can’t take one more disappointment.
Let’s talk about your marriage, the one that actually is, not the one that should be. Or let’s talk about your lack of marriage. Let’s talk about what is bubbling and brewing beneath those two glasses of wine every night, or the pornography, or the office romance that excites you more than you’d like to admit, since you’re married and so is he.
Let’s talk about finding a way towards honesty. Not the kind of black and white, declarative, ping-pong honesty that is all sound and fury, but the kind of honesty that knocks you down first, and then sets you free.
What makes you angry? What are the news stories that you can’t even watch, because it would cause a forest fire inside of you that would blaze out of control, engulfing you?
What makes you giddy with joy, just thinking about it?
Or let’s talk about how numb you feel, because you can’t find any answers to either of the last two questions.
Let’s talk about how finding your purpose in life is how our culture is currently trying to answer all of those questions.
What’s your purpose in life?
Let’s talk about the question that lurks behind that question.
I think the question behind that question is some form of: How can I be ridiculously happy all the time, avoiding all the boredom and conflict and addiction that I currently have, while saving the planet and looking heroic while doing so?
Isn’t that the paycheck we’re hoping to land once we get the answer to that question?
Let’s talk about how “You can be whatever you want to be” is lazy and dishonest, because there are certain things you can’t be and shouldn’t even try to be.
The problem is that most of us look outside of our actual life to find our purpose in life, as if it’s just sitting in someone else’s house, on their cracked leather couch, waiting for us to ring the doorbell, if only someone would give us the address.
Oh, I hope you find where your deep joy meets the world’s great need, as someone once said. But I don’t think that happens by reading lots of books on finding your purpose in life. And I don’t think you’ll find your purpose in life by looking outside of your actual life.
The dirty little secret behind finding your purpose in life is that it’s right there, right in front of you, it’s just buried under the expectation that finding it will solve all of your problems and make you ridiculously happy.
I was standing in the doorway of my four year old’s bedroom this morning. As I was watching Elijah pull out clothes that he would wear that day, he said, “Dad, I love that you’re standing there. I love you.”
He smiled at me and gave me a gift, and I grabbed it.
Standing at the threshold of his room and the rest of the world, that is my purpose in life. It’s one of them, anyway. Watching him get ready for the world, and sending him out into it, that’s what I will do as a father. Being there when he wakes up, being there when he goes to bed. Being there when he doesn’t want to come home, when he wanders. Sending him out into it when he doesn’t want to go.
Let me be the one to say it out loud, parents: This standing at the threshold stuff will not make you deliriously happy. It’s scary and won’t seem heroic. It will require things that you don’t think you have, day after day, and nobody will stand up and cheer when you do it. But that’s your purpose in life. It’s one of them, anyway.
You don’t have to be a parent, or a spouse, or an employee, to find your purpose(s) in life.
You do have to be awake, and honest, and you have to slow down long enough to see what thresholds you are standing in, right now, and you have to decide what you will say, or be, so that you and others can safely walk through them. This is brave work, standing in thresholds, calling people towards something they maybe can’t see. But when you find yourself in those thresholds, and you can see something that maybe other’s can’t see, you’ve found your purpose, at least in that moment.
That’s what Martin Luther King, Jr., did on that day when he decided to write those words that would become that speech about that dream. He saw how the world was, and what it could be, and he had the courage to stand in that threshold and invite us all into a different way of seeing each other.
It’s what Rosa Parks did when she decided to get up and do something different on that bus that day. She saw how the world was, and what it could be, and she had the courage to sit in that threshold and invite us all into a different way of standing up into who we actually are.
And it’s what you and I can do every day in tiny little ways if we simply notice the thresholds where we find ourselves.
So wake up and notice where you actually are, and see the gifts that are laid out in front of you, and grab them, and be you.
My suggestion is that you maybe do that, instead of asking what your purpose is in life.
And I will do that, too. Then after living that way for awhile, let’s climb back into that little confessional booth, and we’ll talk about it some more.