Should We be Striving for Purpose?

I used to look for the meaning in everything. I wanted to have a grand purpose for the Kingdom of God, something that made me special. So every word of encouragement about my writing, every Disney movie I watched about following your dreams, every chapter in The Purpose Driven Life, and even a book found at Goodwill on Writing to Change the World were signs that I needed to write. Writing was my purpose. My calling. If I didn’t write, then I would fail to fulfill God’s plan for me.

Now, I’m pursuing publishing, and a terrible fear continues to creep into my head.

What if I fail?

What if I don’t succeed in harvesting this purpose that God has planted in me?

Or what if I do succeed, but in the wrong way? Maybe God wanted me to write literary fiction or Christian romance, and I’m over here trying to write fantasy? What if I’m taking the right steps in the wrong direction?

But what if our purpose isn’t about having purpose? What if it isn’t about what we do but who we are?

I recently watched the movie Soul by Pixar and was blown away by the subversion of the typical Disney “purpose” message. I won’t spoil the film here; go watch it instead! I will say that it made me reconsider how I think about my “purpose” and recognize the faults in my subconscious thoughts.

I used to believe everyone had a specific gift, purpose, and calling. Mine was to write. But what if I just did that? What if I said no to any other opportunity or relationship or responsibility that didn’t have to do with writing? What if I died tomorrow without ever publishing a book? Would I have fulfilled my purpose?

I have grown up. I know that meaning goes beyond vocation or occupation. I have read Practicing the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence and My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers; I understand that God uses us in our daily lives and that everything we do can be done for God’s glory.

But there is still this voice in my head telling me that if I don’t publish then I will be a failure. All those years of dreams and encouragement from others would be wasted. These fears aren’t just about God, though, or meaning. They are also about fulfilling the expectations of others and myself. Writing always came “naturally” to me, I enjoyed doing it, and others saw potential there. It would be a waste of talent to not use my gifts. So I got a degree in English and Creative Writing, and then an MFA in Creative Writing.

But I had made two assumptions.

One was that all of those “signs” really did mean that I was “made” to be a writer. In reality, I was a good writer because I had parents who read to me. My mom was an English teacher who taught me basic grammar. I loved books and films that changed the way I felt or thought about something, or that simply awoke my imagination. I wasn’t born a writer. My experiences shaped me in a way that drew me to it.

The second assumption was that writing would fulfill a specific purpose in my life, and that this involved publication.

Shortly after watching Soul, I was listening to a podcast interview with a writer who’d had many failures. When asked how she dealt with this, she said that, being a religious person, she knew her purpose wasn’t to write books. Her purpose was to be a child of God. Even if she never published a book, she would have been okay because she knew her true identity.

Our purpose is to be children of God.

This answer frustrates all of those beliefs I had about purpose, but I can only sigh in relief. For so long, I thought I had “to something big for God,” and I felt guilty when I believed I had wasted my time. But maybe it didn’t matter what choices I made or what paths I took. Maybe what really mattered was who I traveled with.

We have creative freedom in our lives through the gift of free will, and God delights in watching us make choices. My decision to write may or may not have been encouraged by God. God may or may not have plans to use it in some way. But, even if God does have plans, my job is not to determine what those plans look like. My job is to be a child of God.

So much is out of our control. What is in my control is that I do all things for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). I can keep myself in the presence of God and trust that God will guide me when I need guidance.

In this, I can only fail by ceasing to try. When I do fail, God is gracious and lets me try again.

This knowledge gives me peace in everything I pursue. What I choose to do with my life is a creative act, not something that I need to fret over as if I might stray from God’s plans. When God does direct me, I must only be willing to follow.

And, if this is true, then I can’t fail my purpose. I can write every day and never get published, and that will be okay because my purpose is not to get published. My purpose is to love and follow God and let that love overflow in all that I do.

We put a lot of pressure on ourselves and others to do big things, and I think this is especially true of women right now. We want to be more than wives and mothers (as if being a wife or mother is less-than). We want to pursue difficult, high-paying careers and make a name for ourselves. So when a woman graduates college and chooses to be a stay-at-home mom, we click our tongues and say, “What a shame. All that wasted time and talent. She could have done something with her life.” Or when a young single woman gets pregnant and chooses to keep the baby, we say, “She’s wasted her life.”

Are we making idols of careers and “higher purposes”? Are we forgetting that we are here for relationships and love? Are we forgetting that jobs exist so that we can live? So that we can eat, breath, sleep, play, and love? Yes, when we left the Garden, we had to work and strive, but it was not our original purpose to work and strive. Our original purpose was to walk in the Garden, to nurture, and to be in relationship with God.

I’m not saying everyone should get married and have babies and never pursue anything else. We all have different desires, and pursuing a career that you love is a wonderful thing. But we can celebrate all choices, remembering that there is no “higher purpose” other than being children of God and loving our friends and family. I love writing, and I would do it for a living if I could. But even writing doesn’t come close to the time I spend with the people I love and knowing that I am loved by God.

God wants you, friends. All of you. That’s the point. That’s the meaning. When you give yourself to God, and when you let that shape everything you do, then you can shed off all of your anxieties about what you should or shouldn’t do. Simply be, and remember that you are a child of God.

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