My all-time favorite psychologist is a guy named Viktor Frankl. I discovered him at some point in my undergrad days, and his thoughts have really stuck with me. He basically says that what human beings really want in life is a sense of meaning or purpose, and that ultimately it is this sense of meaning that keeps us going. A lot of his thoughts came from his own experience in a concentration camp during WWII, which make them even more powerful.
Frankl’s ideas guided me a lot when I was in college, and they continue to speak to me because I still have a lot of questions about what it means to live a purposeful life today. I’m only 25, and truly understanding something as large as purpose is obviously the kind of thing that comes with years and years of thinking and living. It takes life experience, the humility to learn from others, prayer, and a lot of thought. I’m pretty confident I don’t know a ton about purpose yet. Nevertheless, I hope some of the things that have been helpful in my own journey can be helpful in yours.
Your purpose is not somewhere else
How often, I wonder, do we flee the purposes God has for us by assuming they’re elsewhere? For years I imagined the purpose of my life being in some faraway land, waiting to be arrived at by some well-prepared superhuman. Nowadays, though, I try to be a lot more present to what’s right in front of me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat down to have a conversation with God about what I’m going to do with my life and at the end of almost every single one of those conversations, God, after being very patient, has asked me: “So how well are you loving the people right in front of you?”
As an example of what I mean: I’m a student right now learning skills for what I hope will be a future vocation of some kind, but my purpose right now is to be a student and to be present to the preparations right in front of me. By constantly seeing the purpose of what I’m doing as far away in the future, I can miss a lot of what God may want to reveal to me right now. I may even miss out on an interest I can pour into because I’m so focused on the future. When I get to the next stage of my life, my purpose will be in that career, place, etc., but for now, my purpose is here. Make sense?
You don’t have A purpose
You have several purposes. I am a big fan of history, but I think the one thing we lose from viewing a single life through the lens of hundreds or thousands of years is that people are simplified into beings who did one important thing that history remembers them for. However, this is never the case. We are multifaceted beings that live multifaceted lives, and the danger of making your entire life about one single thing is that you can end up destroying your family, your relationships, your health, and so much more attempting to pursue it. As Christians, I think we are called to live purposes that are always both/and. Can my purpose be to be beneficial to society AND to be a good spouse? Can I pursue mercy AND justice? Can I be driven AND content? If we desire to follow the kind of holistic life Jesus lays out for us, then the answer has to be yes.
You never know where your purpose might be hiding
To go back to Viktor Frankl, one of the things he says is that meaning can’t be created but only discovered. It requires searching. If we translate this idea as Christians, it means that God’s purposes are often different than the ones we attempt to create for ourselves. We have a hard time discerning where God may lead us, but that’s why it’s always important to stay close to Jesus. He reveals the way to true purpose, even if it’s in completely different categories than we typically think in.
If you are want to ReThink your purpose, in my experience, the best place to start is by looking at what’s right in front of you and asking God what he is trying to show you and where he might be leading you. You might just be surprised by the answer.
Trevor grew up in a small desert town in Southern California and graduated from Vanguard University in 2013. He moved to Portland, Oregon in 2014 where he currently lives with his beautiful wife, Ashlee, and enjoys of reading, writing, city-life, hiking, and investing in close friendships. Trevor is passionate about bringing the Church to the world and crossing the great divide between Christians and non-Christians that usually leaves both sides scratching their heads. He currently works at a small, Portland-based Christian university named Multnomah University as a Social Media and PR Specialist. He has spent some time in a couple different seminaries but is now getting his master's of English at Portland State University.