Last week on my Barefoot Facebook page I shared this lovely illustration:
It caught my attention because I’d done a few posts on discernment, aka “figuring out what the heck we’re supposed to be doing with our lives,” a while back. Also, because that is hands-down always one of the most popular topics when I’m speaking or teaching. And mostly because I am constantly trying to figure out what I’m supposed to be doing with my life.
So here’s what I like about this illustration: it takes a couple fuzzy ideas and makes them easy to understand. It had the full effect of an “a-ha” moment for me, lightbulb over my head and everything. The difference between vocation and mission? Passion and career? Yes! It’s a framework I’ll hang onto.
Here’s what I don’t like about this handy-dandy Venn diagram on steroids. That little star in the middle labeled “purpose.” Now that little star in the middle has to be labeled something because it is obviously a Big Deal. Actually, some other versions of the diagram label the center “the sweet spot.” Which makes more sense because it would be, obviously, a sweet spot. Getting paid to do what you love and are good at and the world needs? Hallelujah! It makes my heart beat faster just thinking about it.
And it’s fairly unrealistic. I know, I am always throwing water on the fire of hope that we can live the perfect life.
It’s not all living in a dream home, saving the world and getting paid for it. And more often than not, I really believe that looking for this perfect life–this amazing place where all of our hopes and dreams come together, starred in the middle so we can’t miss it–holds us back from living with purpose.
Now I’m not just picking on the poor person who adapted this diagram. (I feel bad that someone’s feelings might be hurt, even on the internet by some lady they don’t even know and/or care about.) It’s not really about the diagram, it’s about some bigger, human yearning that we’ve somehow tried to mash into a culture of status and consumption. It’s like we’ve taken the very best of what’s inside of us, this desire for Something More, and tried to wrap and package it for easy use.
Case in point: we talk about having a purpose. Having it. Like it’s something we own. And maybe that’s the problem right there. Maybe it’s time to stop thinking about “purpose” like it’s a commodity. Maybe, instead, we could think about purpose as something we do, a series of choices that we make. Maybe a life of purpose is built second-by-second.
Now here’s where it gets a little bit tricky because if a life of purpose is built second-by-second, then every second matters. And that sounds like a whole lot of pressure. There’s a downward spiral that starts with “making every second count” and ends with “never taking a break,” or “berating myself for those 5 minutes spend on Facebook.” Neither of those takes us down the path of fulfillment. So let’s hold that idea loosely so as not to make ourselves crazy.
What we might realize, though, is that there is power in this idea, too. We might realize that it frees us up to make a thousand small, purposeful decisions rather than frantically trying to nail down the One True Thing that makes our life worth living.
Now, this does mean that we have to make choices in line with our priorities. I know, right? This sounds so obvious. But it’s one of those principles that bears repeating because we are so bad at it. (Ok, I am so bad at it and I’m assuming some of you are too.) If you walked up to me today and asked me to name my goals right now, one of the things I would say is “I want to learn Spanish.” Now, ask me how I spend my free time. “I’m on season 4 of Murdoch Mysteries. Also, I am desperately waiting for the next season of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries to come out. Hey, did you know there’s a new trailer for the upcoming series?”
Now, watching every period mystery series ever made does not make it onto my list of priorities but sometimes I find myself living as though it’s my most important task. And I do it with big things too. I will rant and rave about the importance of taking care of the poor and walk right by the homeless person at the intersection. I can cite chapter and verse about letting the children come and fail to make time for the children living right in my own neighborhood. Sometimes the problem isn’t that we don’t know our purpose(s), it’s that we aren’t carrying them into daily life.
You know what? I don’t think that’s just because of laziness. I think sometimes that’s because we don’t really believe that it matters. There’s this thing that happens to me when I’m faced with a really dirty house. It’s called Dirty House Paralysis and it should be diagnosable because it is a real thing. I look at my dirty house and I know it needs cleaned and I can’t figure out where to start. I’m not making this up. It is so totally overwhelming to me that I turn my back on the whole thing.
Sometimes we suffer from Broken World Paralysis. We look around and we truly believe that we can’t make a difference. There are so many needs and our hands, wallets and purses are so limited. So we turn our backs on the whole thing.
If you’ve battled Dirty House Paralysis, you know that the same solution applies to Broken World Paralysis. Start anywhere. I was greatly comforted to have this thought pop up in my email recently:
It’s important to do something even though we find it difficult to imagine how our small contribution can have any impact at all on this immense and hopelessly complicated problem. Leave that to God.
Br. David Vryhof, Society of St. John the Evangelist
You know what’s really funny? I hear people all the time talk about feeling like they don’t make a difference with their lives. I hear them say that they don’t feel talented or worthwhile enough to do something. And every time, every single time, I am astonished. “What!? You!?” Because to me, it always looks like those people should be walking around in complete assurance that they matter and they can do amazing things.
So I feel confident saying this to you–the ones I know in person and the ones I don’t–you matter and you can do amazing things. Start anywhere.
linking up this week with #wholemama