What is your purpose in life?
What has God uniquely called you to do?
Do questions like these make you break out into a cold sweat because you feel like you are the only person on earth who has no idea what their purpose or calling is?
I’m sweating right there with you, sister. I have no idea what God has uniquely designed me to accomplish in my lifetime. I know there are a handful of things I’m fairly good at. I know what kinds of things I’m interested in and passionate about. But I do not have a clear picture of how to use those skills and passions to fulfill some grand purpose for my life.
We hear lots of people talk about “finding our calling” and fulfilling it, but most of the people I talk to have no idea what their calling actually looks like. And since I work as an admissions counselor for a university, I talk to a lot of people about their calling and purpose for life every single day.
I’m sure that some people know. I bet there are plenty of heart surgeons out there who know they are fulfilling their calling, living out their purpose by fixing and repairing hearts all day long. They love it, they are fulfilled by it, and they are making a difference in the world.
But I bet there are a lot of heart surgeons out there repairing hearts right now who don’t love it and aren’t really fulfilled by it anymore. There are also probably a few retired heart surgeons who have no idea who they are anymore because all their lives they fulfilled their “heart surgeon” calling and now they wonder what to do with themselves after their supposed “life purpose” has been completed through a successful career.
Earlier this month I ran another half marathon. This race was described as a “challenging, all trail, no repeat course” through a beautiful state park up in Michigan. I was excited for this run because I knew it would be fun to run through the woods and take in all of the fall colors. But I was also a bit terrified. Most people consider 13.1 miles to be challenging enough. I have a few running friends who specifically look for races described as “fast and flat” for a reason. Making 13.1 miles more challenging than it already is sounds a lot like torture. I had no idea what to expect from a race that specifically marketed themselves as “challenging.”
As we stood at the starting line, the race director warned us to be careful. He let us know that there would be hazards on the course, uneven ground, logs, roots, wet leaves, steep hills, and more. He promised us that we would never be bored on the course. The finish line was directly next to the starting line. I could see where I would end up, but all around me was woods and fields and meadows. I had never been to this park and I had not studied the course map.
I trusted the race director when he said that he had spent days marking the course. I only needed to pay attention and follow the signs and I would end up at the finish line after 13.1 miles, just like I had planned.
I think life is a lot like that race. We know where we are starting from and we recognize the finish line (that would be death or the return of Jesus, whichever way you’re dreaming of leaving this world). But all through the middle, life is a mystery. We don’t know what challenges are ahead. We don’t know what beautiful and amazing things we will encounter. We can only see the path directly in front of us in the moment.
We must remain alert to watch for the hazards that might trip us up. We constantly have to watch for signs indicating a change in direction. And most importantly, we must intentionally keep moving. We cannot stand at our starting line and hope that the other runners or the wind carry us through the race. We each have to run our own race. We each have to keep moving.
God is like our life’s race director. He has carefully marked out the path. He knows all of the hazards, the twists, the turns, the uphill battles, and the downhill seasons of blessing that we will experience. We must trust that if we pay attention and follow his gentle leading, we will overcome all of the obstacles and end up at our finish line, just as He has planned.
But the paying attention and following God’s leading is not a passive activity. We must live our lives with the intention of finishing the race marked before us. Each day we have to choose to keep moving forward, no matter how hard, no matter how obscure the signs, and no matter how tired we are.
Slowing down is an option, lots of people took walking breaks during my race to catch their breath or to slowly climb up a steep hill. Stumbling and falling might happen, several people fell during the race through the park, but they brushed themselves off and kept moving forward. And many people also made a wrong turn, they missed the signs and ended up headed in the wrong direction. And yet they still didn’t give up, they backtracked, refocused, and found the right path again.
Living a life of purpose doesn’t mean that you know what the future holds. It doesn’t mean you know exactly what that purpose is. Living a life of purpose means that you are living on purpose, with intention. You are noticing, watching, paying attention to the signs, the hazards, the detours. You are working, striving, and giving it your all. You show up, do the hard things, and keep pressing forward.
In a practical sense, living with purpose means working hard at your job, even when it feels monotonous and frustrating.
It means being kind and generous with the people you come in contact with.
It means showing up for a friend who is going through a hard time.
Living with purpose means playing with your kids and enjoying them.
Going on dates with your spouse.
Turning off technology a little more often and noticing the real life surrounding you.
Living with intention means actively pursuing the things in life that bring you joy and light you up on the inside.
It means dreaming dreams and setting goals that can lead you to your dreams.
It means saying no to things that leave us feeling empty and tasks that lead us nowhere.
It means taking risks and trying new things and realizing that taking a wrong turn doesn’t mean our race is over, it simply means we need to take a different path.
God has blessed each of us with one life. He has created us for a specific purpose, to be good stewards of this great world He has created for us. May we live our lives with gratitude for this gift. May we faithfully seek to live our fullest lives, actively pursuing the dreams and the passions He has uniquely placed in our hearts. And when we turn the final corner of our lives and the finish line begins to come into view, may we have the gift of knowing that we gave our all on the course, we ran our best race, and we finished strong.
Your turn: What are you doing today to live your best life? What actions are you taking to live today with purpose and intention? How can you begin to notice and pay attention to the signs that God is placing in your life, indicating your next path on this journey of life?