A sense of purpose is elusive. I can grasp it for a moment. My action has meaning. I connect with something more than myself.
But there are days and weeks that I’m not able to firmly hold my sense of purpose. I’m drifting, wandering. Doubts come, nagging questions.
Is it worth it?
Why am I doing this?
How long should I press on?
Is this really what I’m supposed to be doing?
We can think about a sense of purpose in at least three levels. The first level is action to meet basic needs like food and shelter. I work to buy groceries and pay the mortgage. It’s that simple.
A second level of purpose involves actions designed to meet higher level desires like love and approval. I’m motivated to show up at my kitchen table for supper. That table is a place where I belong. I am loved and approved, that’s where I’m supposed to be.
We’ll use the word ‘Altruism’ to describe the third level of sense of purpose. We sense the value of those around us and our action benefits them. I mow the lawn and pick up litter which makes our street more attractive. Respecting others in line at the grocery store esteems my fellow shoppers as having value equal to my own.
Let me make three observations about the three levels of purpose. First, as described above, levels one and two are selfish and level three is selfless. Second, almost every action results from a mixture of multiple levels of motivation. Third, the whole concept of ‘purpose’ has a fundamental inadequacy.
Let’s flesh this out with an example. I get paid every two weeks as a reward for caring for patients. That compensation is tangible and transferrable to Safeway for food and to PennyMac so they will let us live in our yellow house another thirty days. My patients and staff reimburse me with approval in the form of warm smiles, handshakes and four-star reviews on healthgrades.com. Caring for each soul that wanders into my office pushes my altruism buttons. My typical office day is a rush of actions, fueled by a mishmash of selfish and selfless motivation. On those days that I’m tired, and during the visits with exceptionally challenging patients, all that sense of purpose is inadequate to keep nagging questions from bouncing to the surface.
The secret sauce is to connect to a fourth level of purpose, bigger than obtrusive doubts.
Jesus stood before Pilate, bloody but unbowed. Exhausted, confident, suffering, calm, determined, a prisoner, completely in control. Pilate’s question: “are you a king?” Jesus responded with a statement of purpose. “I came into this world to teach the truth, to BE the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to me.” (paraphrase)
From the moment Jesus entered a human shell, he understood his direction toward the cross. His whole life pointed forward to that hour.
Can you and I grasp a divine purpose for our lives? Yes! Perhaps not as clearly and consistently as Jesus, but I believe we can connect with His overarching plan for us.
Connecting with God’s purpose for our lives transforms each of the above levels, decreasing selfish motivation. When our focus drifts and everything seems fruitless and futile, may we plant our feet on the Rock. May we look to the Author and Perfecter of our faith.