Most of us overcomplicate things. I like to think I am better at this than most people but I know it is not nice to brag. It’s one thing to overthink where you want to go for dinner (I have heard some people do this). It becomes ever more complicated when we fixate on something as weighty as life’s purpose.
By middle age, if not as early as middle school, we realize life doesn’t always go as planned. Yet we live in a world where the plan is all important – we have books about it, calendars, and self-imposed criteria for how it’s all going to go down like we are detectives Sonny and Rico on the 1980s television series Miami Vice. If we just plan life with enough precision, our boat won’t crash, drug traffickers will meet their demise, and life will be as sunny as a sweat-less day at the beach wearing pastel T-shirts and a white suit. That’s the script we are asked to write from ourselves from as early as preschool when a sing-song voice inquires about what we want to be when we grow up. As if it’s merely a matter of picking what color space ship we want to fly during our mission to Mars.
I don’t mean to sound cynical because it can be fun to make plans, motivating to set a course, and rewarding to achieve goals, but you know what they say – “life is what happens when you are busy making plans.” A friend of mine, who could be anyone really because to some degree I think all of us have gone through this – is questioning her life’s purpose. Again, I don’t mean to brag but I have excelled in exploring the same question. “What am I doing with my life?” “What color is my parachute?” “What is God’s plan for me?” “Seriously, God, is that the plan?” I could go on because like I already said, I am really good at over-complicating things. My friend puts it more succinctly and asks: “what are they going to write on my tombstone, ‘a good friend to all?’” While that is better than “she was hit by a bus,” I certainly appreciate her perspective.
We live in a world that grooms us to ache for more. Whether that is for 20 percent more Doritos in the bag or more money, prestige, or accolades, we are promised that more of anything is better. Somehow this quest for more – even when it comes to more meaning in our lives, often leaves us feeling like less. Something as admirable and priceless as being a good friend is considered a side act, not a headliner. Yet can you imagine the emptiness of life without our friends? If it weren’t for them how many times would we have been hit by the proverbial bus?
It’s hard to always understand the difference we make in this world and I know how important it is to want to do something that fills us, that has meaning, and that leaves a legacy of the heart. Yet, I believe God is the answer to the lofty question of purpose. “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, Oh Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands,” (Psalm 138:8). He is in being a good friend, a loving parent, a generous person, a dedicated volunteer, and an active disciple. God never emphasized the glory. Instead, he embraced the gritty. By redefining what we value to be in alignment with God the only thing we will be looking for is more ways to serve him.
Sometimes the world’s glare distorts what has true value. It makes life about dollars instead of deeds. It confuses popularity with purpose. I can complicate a great many things — including life’s purpose. Or, I can trust what I learned in the catechism as a child “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in heaven.” I am going to go with that. It’s simple, and in my soul, I know it is true. Besides, now I can have more time to figure out where to go for dinner.
Do you know your life’s purpose? I don’t ask that to send anyone off the deep end and while I believe we are all created for a unique purpose, it is second to our ultimate call to love and serve God. For me, that has been a better focus and one that makes me feel more purposeful even when I don’t know where I am going!
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