Living (and writing) off-purpose

I’m not big on “living with purpose”.

I should really clarify (and maybe even apologize for the attempt at a hook-y first line?).

The concept of Purpose in life is a good one. Probably even a great one.

It’s the phrase itself that I’ve lost a bit of faith in, if I’m being honest. Assuming I ever had a real faith in it? Has it always been a bit saccharine to my mind? I don’t know.

It seems to have become one of those phrases that means “different things to different people” (a phrase which in itself, oddly enough, has held its meaning quite well. Nice.).

Actually, I think it’s the “purpose” I get hung up on. Maybe THAT’s what has become diluted, at least in my limited view. One person feels a “life’s call” to minister to the hurting and lost, sacrificing their own comfort to help others, while another’s sworn “goal in life” is to make as much money and gain as much good old fashioned clout as possible, because, well, YOLO, amiright? Yet another’s “deepest longing” is to make the best guacamole this or that side of the Mississippi.

Who’s to say which is the right, if not nobler, pursuit? (I actually have a hunch Who, but perhaps that’s too ambitious for this already overly-long post.)

You add the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob — a being that I believe in and pursue knowledge of, and who most definitely asks lives to be dedicated to HIS purpose — to the mix, and well, the (holy?) water, for me at least, clouds real fast. Did the Westminster Assembly hit it on the nose when they said that the chief purpose of man was to glorify God? That jives with what I see in scripture, and I’m not even Reformed (note the capital R, please).

Still, if the latter is true, are parenting and art and corporate employment just time- and space-fillers between the moments of explicit God-glorying activities (such as evangelism and material outreach and wholesale self-sacrifice)? Or, are all of our pursuits, no matter how pedestrian and mundane, sanctified when we dedicate them to a God who designed our better desires and programed our talents within us?

The aisles of our Christian bookstores (or more accurately, the pages we see when we apply the “Religious” filter on Amazon.com) have tomes declaring one or the other, and many nuanced positions in between, to be the case, with compelling evidence abounding.

While I seek an answer to this, and have for some time, and while I have enjoyed the fruits of that seeking in the God-given self-understanding and sanctification, at this point I don’t really know which is closer to the truth. Does God sanctify the desires of our hearts, or do we sacrifice our desires in the fires of God’s calling, one which might or might not take into account our talents?

Well, if I’ve not entered the rabbit hole yet, then I’m prancing through the barley field like a lollipop-laden schoolboy on the first day of summer break and I’d better watch my step.

Let me bring it back to the PURPOSE of this post.

While I might not FULLY grasp what it means to have life-purpose, what I do believe is that my life’s purpose, such as it is, at least in part, has been severely skewed for most of said life, in that I have been overly concerned with what others, particularly what the negative folks in my life, think. Or maybe more to the point, what I IMAGINE they think.

More germane to this outlet, my skewedness in (or flat-out lack of) purpose has affected my writing. I too often filter my words through the lens of what a particular person must be thinking (classic mind reading, or so I’m told).

For example, If 100 people read something I wrote (a large number for me) and 10 say they appreciated it, 89 said nothing, and one was critical, I’d focus on the one and, in my spare time, wonder what the 89 were thinking, often conjuring the worst (some didn’t care enough to read it, and the rest have joined each other at a local pub and they’re laughing at me over a bucket of Bud Lights).

And in the process, I miss a chance to interact with the 10. My audience, and a gift by all means.

Further still, I question the act of writing itself – does the time it takes to do it, and to improve in it, really represent a noble purpose (particularly when your bent is to make inane attempts at humorous observations about parenting, pet-rearing, and fast food?)

Part of the aforementioned “God-given self-understanding” has convicted me in recent weeks that, until and unless God tells me that my purpose in life is to, under no circumstances, write another word, I should write. And while self-editing is important, any hesitation needs to be driven by a healthy respect for language or understanding of an audience, and not a fear of the 1%, who likely are either (1) not paying attention anyway, (2) have a different taste in the written word (heaven forefend!) or (3) are just mad at everything.

So, to those who have read, commented on, and even shared this blog over the past years, not only do I thank you for taking time to read it, but I dedicate that I will write more faithfully, and with less concern for the ghost-critics in my head.

Actually, if I can fix the latter, the former will happen as a result, I think.

Will my ACTUAL audience care to read what I write without that inherent fear? I don’t know.

But, let’s find out.

4 thoughts on “Living (and writing) off-purpose

  1. Yep, it’s a constant struggle to know exactly what we should be doing every hour of every day. I agree that we should keep moving forward with our preferences for food, fun, fellowship and work (both money-making and not) unless they are specifically prohibited by the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In that, we are acting as image-bearers of our Creator.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Phillip, I always enjoy reading what you write, though I do not always comment, and as in the present case I am often late to the party (commenting in October on a post you uploaded in June).

    I agree so much with what you have written here. We are harangued throughout our lives to “find your calling,” “discover your purpose,” and – my all-time favorite – “do what you love.”

    As for “He will give you the desires of your heart,” my opinion (interpretation) is that this is not about us wanting something and Him giving it to us. I think this scripture means that the desires of our heart come from Him. Now, of course, we could say “the desires of our heart” have to do with lust, greed, revenge, and so on. In which case, we are not aligning with the Kingdom, so I would say (again, my opinion) that He is not in the business of indulging our sinful natures. Anyway, insofar as we are living in accordance with His instructions, whatever desires we discern within our hearts – those came from Him. He gave them to us. When we are walking with Him, He “gives us the desires of our heart.”

    So, yeah, like… I agree with you! Every moment of our lives is sacred to Him, and our “purpose” is to love Him and love each other.

    […please pardon my editorial compulsiveness, but I think you meant ‘jibes’ when you typed ‘jives’ in para 8…]

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for taking the time to read and especially leave this wonderful comment!

    I agree very much with your “desires of the heart“ comments. Especially in my more lucid spiritual moments :-).

    I don’t see God as being interested in indulging my sinful nature. Yet, if I’m honest, I start to indulge in things that are not necessarily or blatantly sinful, but that I suspect are steering me from his will. It’s those times that I wind up feeling kind of shellshocked or unmoored, so to speak. I’m doing some perfectly legitimate things that I truly enjoy, but also feel like I’m living outside of the purpose for which I was created. Not sure if that makes sense.

    For some reason, I see this very particularly in writing. I have a legitimate desire to write, and I think in its purest form that desire aligns with how I was created by God. But often times the motivation is mixed. Am I writing because it’s something I truly believe and think is important? Am I writing so more people will give me a thumbs up and leave nice comments? Am I trying to be like some other writer who I admire, but maybe not for the right reasons?

    Having said all of that, what you ended with is so true – if I am walking with him, then the desires of my heart should be his desires. I have absolutely experienced that. But, again if I’m being honest, what I tend to do, especially with something like writing, is start to feel some of that“true purpose” momentum and joy, and then I start forgetting to align myself with God and things start to come a little bit undone. The image that continues to come to mind is that of a father trying to teach an impatient child how to ride a bike. He’s holding on to the back of the seat, because he knows I’m not quite ready, but I gently push his hand away because I’M ready to go thousand miles an hour. Flash forward a few feet and I’ve wobbled into a mailbox.

    I know that’s a far from perfect illustration, but that’s what my relationship with God and his leadership in my life feels like sometimes.

    So, absolutely did not mean to leave such a rambling response, but really good things you’ve caused me to think about, and I very much appreciate it!

    And folks like you are always welcome to leave editorial comments 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I enjoyed your “rambling response” a great deal.

    You have described nearly to a tee what I have experienced much of my life in trying to be who I was created to be. I struggle with the same thoughts and emotions and distractions around writing, wanting to writing, and wondering what my motives really are. Even more, I wonder if the content of what I write is what it should be. Should I be all evangelical, theological, doctrinal, exegetical, hermeneutical, religious, spiritual, philosophical? I don’t think so. At least not all the time, or even primarily.

    I think I should be writing in my own voice, the voice God gave me. The question then becomes what is “my voice”?

    Music, life experiences, analogy, illustration, humor, irony, satire. Those seem to be the primary elements of my voice, but are they my “purpose”?

    Learning to ride a bike. I’m afraid I may have been not-so-gently pushing Abba’s hand away too soon, too many times, for too many years. I mean, like, a lot of years.

    I believe in never too late, though.

    Let’s ride!

    Liked by 1 person

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