Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor
As we continue on our journey through the book An Altar in the World, this week we focus on the chapter that looks at the practice of living with purpose. Brown Taylor begins the chapter with her call to all sorts of different types of work. The common thread seemed to be that all of these jobs allowed her to encounter others in ways that she wouldn’t have before. Every job allowed her to learn different things and revealed abilities she didn’t know she had. All of this, she thought in her earlier days, would lead her to one particular thing that she was supposed to do with life. As seminary life happened, she continually went to God to ask what this thing was that she needed to do in life. God responded, “Anything that pleases you and belong to me.”
When we look at living with purpose, we have to look at where we might be called to be and do. Many associate this with profession life. This seems like a natural flow to where we might seek purpose since this is where we spend a good chunk of time. But at the same time this is the same place that many people are missing a sense of purpose in their life. The job is deadly dull or extremely hard. Perhaps the job can’t last forever or it is even hard to get a job in the first place. Or even worse, the job is much too small for us in life. While we deeply dream of something that gives passion, we feel as though we are stuck in what we are doing now. This can eat away at a person.
What if we looked at purpose outside of work or even in addition to whatever work is happening by looking within our tasks in ways to belong to God? Work connects us to other people. What if we looked at how purpose is seen through connecting to others? Every interaction offers you a chance to make things better. Work connects solitary workers to other people even. “No work is too small to play a part in the work of creation.” Every little bit helps in finding that moment. Everything from changing a lightbbulb to washing a child’s face is part of creation (aka putting on a show and raising a being.)
In addition, what if our paid work isn’t the work that fulfills purpose? It seems to be advantageous to see that perhaps vocation is the stuff we do for free. Perhaps this is what God is telling us when God wants our purpose to be something pleasing to us. When baptism happens in our reading in Acts, this connects those gathered to a larger purpose and refocuses the disciples to a new way of life as they connect to others with passion. Their job was to recognize that. Their job was to realize that they now, as baptized followers, were good for something and not just good.
When we get caught up in feeling too small or too stuck to fulfill living with purpose, it may be time to step aside and do a small menial task to remind us of our life. Brown Taylor ends this chapter with these words, “The point is to find something that feeds your sense of purpose, and to be willing to look low for that purpose as well as high. It may be chopping wood and it may be running a corporation. Whatever it is, perhaps you will hold open the possibility that doing it is one way to learn what it means to become more fully human, as you press beyond being good to being good for something, in a world with the perfect job for someone like you.”
Quotes for the Week
You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life. ― Albert Camus
The only purpose of our lives consists in waking each other up and being there for each other.
― Johanna Paungger, Moon Time: The Art of Harmony with Nature and Lunar Cycles
When you dance, your purpose is not to get to a certain place on the floor. It’s to enjoy each step along the way. –Wayne Dyer
What is success? I think it is a mixture of having a flair for the thing that you are doing; knowing that it is not enough, that you have got to have hard work and a certain sense of purpose.
My life has no purpose, no direction, no aim, no meaning, and yet I’m happy. I can’t figure it out. What am I doing right? –Charles M. Schulz
Acts 10: 44-48 (NRSV)
While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.
John 15: 9-17 (NRSV)
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
Questions for the Week
Have you found a single purpose in life or many?
What purpose would you say defines you or defines your life?
Have you found work that allows you to be “good for something” or can you think of something that might fall into this category?