At my company, we have many discussions and activities related to the subject of well-being. Most of these are related to the health dimension of well-being, but we still acknowledge and work toward improving well-being in other areas as well, such as security, belonging, and purpose. This post addresses a little about the purpose dimension of well-being.
If someone asks you “What is your purpose in life?”, how will you respond? Will the answer today be different than a few years ago? Does one’s purpose remain relatively constant throughout adult life, or do you think it’s subject to periodic change?
For a few decades, when I have heard the question, I have immediately thought of the first part of the Westminster Shorter Catechism created in 1647:
“What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.”
I’m not telling anyone else what their purpose should be by posting the above – just stating that such a clear, concise understanding has helped guide me for many years and continues to do so. But what does that mean? It’s a rather broad statement and certainly open to interpretation at the level of implementation detail. For me, the overall purpose remains constant, but how that fleshes out from one year to the next or even one day to the next is up for grabs. I certainly have some consistent beliefs, practices and commitments related to that purpose, but there is flexibility that can make what I do today a little different that what I did yesterday, and there’s even a little wiggle room in some peripheral beliefs. A sense of purpose may provide wide guidelines and boundaries within which we operate, while still being open to momentary, unexpected events that tie to the purpose, yet could never be planned in advance.
I believe each of us is uniquely positioned in this world to do something and to be someone unlike any other. Nobody else has the exact experiences, motivations, passions, trials, and opportunities as you. Nobody. So it seems that each of us has the opportunity to live out our purpose in a wonderfully unique way that has not existed before and will not be repeated again, even if we share the same overall purpose. It is as though we are actors in a tremendous drama where we get to write part of the script as we go, making the most of each moment.
This unique fleshing out of one’s purpose recalls to mind an insightful thought from one of the main characters in the grand story from the Old Testament book of Esther in the 5th century B.C. As scenes change from one queen losing favor with the king, and a young Jewish Esther becoming queen, evil Haman plots to kill all the Jews in the Persian Empire. Esther’s cousin, Mordecai, in discussing her risky option of approaching the king to help save the Jews, tells her ”who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). Being in that place at that time for those actions was central to Esther’s purpose in life. I wonder how many little things along the way not recorded in the book contributed to the unfolding of events as they played out. She, and only she, was in a unique position to make a difference in that situation for all time.
Decisions may be seemingly small, random and passing (such as to help that needy person on the street), or large and obviously consequential (e.g., career choices, relationship decisions, and leaps of faith). It’s possible that coincidence is involved in the timing of some things, but it is just as likely (more so in my opinion) that there is more at work than mere coincidence, even in the daily unexpected moments that bring meaning to our days and that relate to our purpose.
My takeaways from thinking about this: Know the broad overarching purpose that gives your life meaning and significance. Plan your days and work hard, but always be open to unexpected opportunities uniquely presented just to you at just that moment. You will respond to them either in accordance with or contrary to your perceived purpose.
Who knows whether you have come for such a time as this?