Finding Your Purpose

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Since Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life was first published in 2002, “purpose” has become an everyday word in the Christian community. So far as it keeps us motivated to seek God’s will, that’s a good thing. But it has its dangers, especially for Christians who tend toward perfectionism and legalism.

Who’s in the Driver’s Seat, Anyway?

I admit I don’t care for the phrase “purpose driven.” Drivenness in general is responsible for much frustration in my life: too much hurry, too little rest, too much fear of failure, too many “urgent” short-term activities at the expense of forward-thinking action that fits real purpose better. While it’s good to have a larger sense of purpose guiding daily activities, the only One with the right to drive our lives is the Lord of the easy yoke and light burden.

It’s not really a purposeful life if you’re wearing yourself out trying to steer it personally.

Rest Stops

One classic time-management tip, called “Lakein’s Question” after author Alan Lakein, is to ask oneself regularly: What is the best use of my time right now? Anyone intending to make frequent use of that question, though, had better first run a check on tendencies to equate “useful” with “obviously productive.” There are always a few more things that need someone to do them, but just because no one else is doing them right now doesn’t mean you have to–especially if you’re already frustrated, burnt out, and sleep-deprived.

Just about everyone needs one full day off each week; seven or more hours of sleep every night; regular breaks in the course of a day’s work; and a few week-or-more vacations each year. If you’re getting less than that (or if you’re going through the motions but still thinking about “what else I could be getting done”), chances are you’re sabotaging your own ability to discern and fulfill your life’s purpose.

As anyone who’s ever memorized the Ten Commandments knows, “time off” is an entirely Biblical concept. God may be more displeased with nonstop motion (often used in attempts to usurp His authority) than with outright laziness.

Enjoy Life, It’s Good for You

Perhaps unfairly, the “Protestant” or “Puritan” “work ethic” is frequently construed as containing an Eleventh Commandment: “Thou shalt not enjoy thyself.” This world has its share of sinful pleasures, but choosing a career or volunteer activity that appeals to your personal passions isn’t among them.

More often than not, your natural skills and passions are clues to God’s purpose for your life–and while not everyone can turn a love of painting into a full-time career, we all can find opportunities to glorify God, bless others, and cultivate our favorite talents through volunteer projects or leisure activities. Nothing is idolatrous or self-indulgent if it enhances your ability to love God and neighbor.

The Greatest Purpose

We individualism-minded Westerners tend to forget that the Bible was created in societies where the average person had little direct say in what career he would pursue or whom she would marry. While that worldview is hardly without disadvantages, its forming the backdrop for Scripture is evidence we needn’t fret too hard about the one exact career/spouse/education/hometown that coincides with God’s will for us. Stay in touch with God, cultivate your natural passions, consider big decisions against the question, “Will this help me seek God and serve my neighbor?”–and then act in confidence that our Lord will work all things out for good.

Centuries before The Purpose Driven Life, the Westminster Shorter Catechism summed up purpose in the simple statement: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” That’s applicable to any believer in any life situation.

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How Tough Should “Tough Love” Be?

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As noted last week, I have mild autism (Asperger’s syndrome)–and it’s caused more than a few financial and vocational problems. Not to dwell on the past or blame anyone for anything, but sometimes I wish my family and friends had been less generous in automatically saying “Yes” to requests for financial help. We “Aspies” aren’t lazy, but we’re particularly averse to stepping outside familiar comfort zones–including current living situations, leisure hours, spending habits, and work/work-seeking habits (or lack thereof). A few “earn your own money” kicks in the pants might have done me some good.

Special needs aside, many parents fret over the question, “What can I do about my adult child who’s still living under my roof letting me do his cleaning and cooking? What’s the alternative–tossing my kid out on the street to starve?”

The standard answer is, You’ll have to risk the “tough love” approach–withdrawing all support and letting him take the consequences–or be stuck in this situation forever. But the best approach doesn’t necessarily follow a script. Remember the prodigal son? His father let him experience the consequences of irresponsibility–but only after giving him everything he initially demanded. And, when the son came back begging for help meeting his basic needs, the father gave him more than he asked, without a word of “Promise me you’ll never do that again.”

Whether it’s your adult child with one foot still in dependence, your friend who “needs to talk” for hours, or your spouse battling alcoholism–how can you find the line between genuinely helping them and simply enabling them to continue in irresponsibility?

Does This Person Have Legitimate Special Needs?

These include any diagnosable physical or mental disability, including chemical addiction. It’s best if you go to therapy with your loved one: you’ll be too emotionally involved to judge how much responsibility the other party can and should handle. Under a counselor’s guidance, reach a solid agreement on what will be expected on both sides. Then hold firm to your side of the agreement (which may require both saying painful “no’s” and inconveniencing yourself for legitimate needs).

Are They Even Aware of What They’re Doing?

If someone has no special needs confirmed by an objective third party, but is simply in the habit of asking for “help” the moment things get challenging, sometimes all that’s needed is a frank person-to-person discussion. If you genuinely try to understand your loved one’s concerns, and if you encourage them to explore what’s needed to achieve their real dreams, you may be able to reach an effective agreement on new boundaries and mutual accountability. And your relationship will be stronger for it.

Are They Unwilling to Learn Any Way But the Hard Way?

If, after giving your loved one every chance to share their point of view, they refuse to consider any option except “I tell you what I need and you give it to me” (or if they agree to boundaries which they then repeatedly violate), then it’s time to get tough with your love. Tell them clearly what you won’t do anymore: no more cash on demand, no more taking calls between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. Then, hold firm throughout the inevitable period of “just this once” and “I thought you cared” pleading.

You’ll probably need help yourself to ride out this transition, especially if your loved one is heading into serious trouble. Parents, in particular, feel morally bound to save their “baby,” even if “baby” is fifty-five years old and milking them dry to support illegal activities. Enlist support and prayers from trusted friends. Get qualified counseling. Confirm, as often as necessary, that you are doing the right thing.

Above all else (this applies however extreme or manageable your situation), commit your loved one to God and trust Him to work it all out for good. He’s the only One Who can handle any situation and Who loves everyone in perfect wisdom.

  • A blog for naturally melancholy Christians tired of being told to "snap out of it"; for Christians who struggle with mental-health issues and long for assurance God delights in them nonetheless; and for naturally optimistic Christians who want to understand their "gloomy" loved ones.

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  • About Me

    I am the go-to writer for people with tough stress issues and special emotional needs—and for those who love them, organizations that serve them, and anyone who just wants to better understand the world of mental/emotional struggles. Or who just wants to pick up some good stress-management tips! Visit my main website at www.PositiveContentFactory.com.

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    Bible quotes used in this blog are from the New Living Translation or the New International Version (1984). See http://www.biblegateway.com/ for copyright details.
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