What Your Purpose Is Not

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Purpose. No topic is too big for the #wholemamas. Follow us over at Erika Shirk’s Overflow blog.

By Amanda Cleary Eastep

Every night I take it to bed with me, wake up with it, and feel it breathing down my neck when I’m not giving enough attention to it.

(No, it isn’t an overly affectionate labrador.)

It’s my purpose.

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Sometimes purpose manifests itself in many ways throughout our lives and sometimes as one activity that drives us, brings us joy, and is the hardest work we do.

What is it for you?

Maybe parenting or preaching or growing a business…

For me, it  has always been writing, even in the midst of more important work, like raising my children.

Poet and scholar Francesco Petrarca expressed his relentless need to write in a letter to a friend:

This inexorable passion has such a hold upon me that pen, ink, and paper, and work prolonged far into the night, are more to my liking than repose and sleep. In short, I find myself always in a sad and languishing state when I am not writing, and, anomalous though it seems, I labour when I rest, and find my rest in labour.”

Purpose, obsession…whatever.

Even with the exhaustion and pain brought on by writing, Petrarca said his “tireless spirit” seemed to be “reclining upon the softest down.”

That is how I’m feeling right now as I type. Despite the strain on mind and emotion, I sense a soft euphoria.

I recently asked my family and friends about their sense of purpose. The answers ranged from crossing tasks off of a list — to caring for pets — to helping others — to not really knowing at all…

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Their responses confirmed that purpose is deeply personal and unique to each. But they also revealed what purpose is not.

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Purpose is NOT

Our aphrodisiac–My husband, a missionary to India for 20 years, said he and other young Christians became passionate at one point about sharing Jesus with a tribal gypsy group. “Yeah! Let’s spread the Gospel among the Banjaras!” they rallied, their good intentions punching the air like cheering fists. But they never did. Likewise, we may feel called to a task, like writing or evangelism, but we become more enamored with the idea of it. We pour our efforts into dreaming and discerning and planning but never act. 

All about us–The other day I interviewed a college student for her school’s alumni magazine. She compared her college life to a line-up of dominoes. “What I do in the place God has set me will touch the next person and the next and the next.” Ultimately, the work we are purposed to do affects a broader community.  Our responsibility is to carry out our purpose, to work hard, and to trust that it means something to someone someday, like Pertrarca’s words surfacing hundreds of years later and inspiring me in my writing.

About being Moses–Most of us don’t have a “burning bush” moment. No hot minute in our desert when a voice comes out of a flaming shrub and proclaims, “Hey, you, I’m God, and I’m sending you on this mind-blowing mission that will alter the course of humanity!” Even after this supernatural encounter, Moses doubted. I imagine that one more irritating “but Lord” from Moses, and God may have moved on to the next sandaled guy. Which makes me ask myself, Have I answered God’s call with a resounding Yes! or am I squeaking out a response that prompts God to not ask so much of me the next time?

Whole Mama

Graphic: Caris Adel

Read more from this series:

What He’ll Be When He Grows Up

Dance of the Elders

Why Life Between the Lines Matters More than You Think

The Spaces that Hold Our Gardens and Barbs

How to Pray Like a Refugee

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Writer, editor & blogger | business, higher ed/nonprofit, technical

6 thoughts on “What Your Purpose Is Not

  1. The beautiful thing is God never stops asking. No matter how many times we ignore or shut down or try to hide from God, that energy will continue to prompt us. Beautifully written post. I’m so glad to carve out time to read your posts!

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  2. This is full of wisdom. The point about trusting “that it means something to someone someday” is dead-on. Isn’t that the challenge with everything? Even people who are in jobs that would clearly be labeled “purposeful,” wrestle with this. Teachers, social workers, chaplains…there’s always a point where we wonder if it really matters. Sometimes we do the work with a resounding “yes!” and sometimes it’s just got to be done with trust. Beautifully said!

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    1. Thank you, Amelia. And you’re right about people in “purposeful” jobs not being immune from wondering what their individual purpose is. I’m not sure why we seem to struggle with this so much. In my early draft I had written about my grandparents and if they ever questioned their purpose. They lived the same life day in and day out, never talked about dreams or wondered allowed why they were here.

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  3. Oh, I love that quote by Francesco Petrarca! Also, it was fascinating to read the results of your impromptu poll on purpose. Their was some great insight there. 🙂 Keep writing, keep that passion alive.

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