I tell my husband he fell in love with me before I knew myself. Then I tell him he should be grateful I found myself.
Those years between the marrying and the finding? They got a little ugly. I’m not saying my husband has never doubted himself, because he surely has. Neither am I saying he’s never doubted his work, because he sometimes did. But he never wavered in the confidence that he could make things happen. Instead he just charged ahead through insecurities and unknowns and pretended like he was made for it and that he knew what he was doing. And I’m telling you, it worked for him. Everything he touched was successful.
And I watched and wondered why I was paralyzed. It wasn’t that I didn’t try new things—I did. I tried everything in fact. I majored in biology, and then nursing, and economics, and back to nursing, Spanish, business, and English before I finally just stopped. I felt like a girl in a dressing room with all the wrong size clothes. Nothing fit and the reflection in the mirror was a little too brightly lit. I wasn’t digging what I saw.
And so I call this stage of my life purposelessness. And let me tell you purposelessness is death while living. I also call it my 20’s. So there’s that right of passage stuff, too.
But what are your options if you find yourself hunkered down under the covers afraid to face another day because you have nothing to accomplish that feels like a life’s work?
- You could just keep sleeping and document the years and decades as an individual scientific study aimed at answering the question: Does more time in bed slow the aging process?
- Or you can do the hard work of getting to know yourself.
I have met one on one with more women who, when asked the question, “What makes you come alive?” are silent. And I want to wrap them in a hug and whisper something in their ear, give them the answer, help them cheat on the test, because I know that silence isn’t really silent at all. It’s the heart crying out, “Why am I here? Am I good at nothing? Will my life matter when it’s over?”
There are entire books written on this topic. I’ll recommend some at the end. But for now, I want to put out some starting points, some “one-foot-in-front-of-the-other” ideas for those of us who are tired of standing in this same spot, looking at every single fork in the road and wondering, “Is this our path? Maybe I’m supposed to walk this one?”
I wasted years taking paths that don’t belong to me. What I wish I would have done sooner is this:
1. Know your roots.
I want my children to know their roots, where they come from. I want them to know the story of their dad and I and our love—the love that brought them into our family. I want them to know the ugly parts, too, so that they can see how far we’ve come as a family. I am convinced that these roots, this knowledge of their origin, will create a deep tap root so that they can grow strong and tall and confident. No storm can blow them over. This same biological idea applies to our spiritual rootedness, too.
The first step in finding purpose is to find your roots. Knowing God is knowing you life wasn’t random or meaningless, it’s knowing your Creator—your roots, your origin. And it’s not just knowing about Him, it’s experiencing intimacy with him. So many of us have owned scriptures since childhood but aren’t sure how to read them to hear God speak. But this is the starting place. Intimacy with God. Knowledge of His anticipation for your life. Grab someone who can teach you to read and internalize what His Word says and soak it up. This is where we find meaning.
As I’m writing this, I’m wondering—in the Garden, Eve could have eaten from two trees: knowledge or life. I wonder if she didn’t understand her purpose either? In my early 20’s, I hungered for more knowledge. This is what would qualify me and make me worthy. I would have eaten with Eve. But in my 30’s, I hunger for more time. This work He’s given me is my worship and gratitude and I could continue like this for ages. I would have chosen life.
2. Make peace with your story.
My husband swears his story is boring, but I love it. It gives me hope for my kids. I swear my story is disgusting, yet I share it because it gives me hope I’m not alone.
Most of us have pain in our yesterdays. Relationships that are broken. Hurtful words that are stuck on repeat. Poor choices that left a layer of dirt on our souls.
But these stories of ours are essential to our purpose. God’s kingdom was green before it was cool because nothing is wasted. Not one tear. Not one hurt. Not one abuse. Nothing is wasted.
So, while I know it’s terrifying, do the hard work of making peace with your story. And not just peace so that you can live with it, but such a high level of peace that you know it can be used in the lives of others and you dare to wrap that ugly story up with pretty paper and a bow knowing it will be gift for someone.
3. Cleanse your to-be list.
How in the heck are you supposed to know what you’re most passionate about if you’re trying on more identities than than a teenager girl tries on dresses for prom? Just stop.
Name the identities that are rock solid in your life:
Child of God
Only name solid, unchangeable identities. And then list your favorite parts of these roles.
For example: I love meeting with people one on one. Coffee is an integral part of every relationship I have (Ok, maybe coffee is an addiction, but I think it’s truly part of my purpose). Teaching my kids creates clean space in my mind—even in the midst of chaos. Being a wife is more about partnering in God’s kingdom than it is about being happy. I feel most in love when we’ve watched God work together. I am not a giver in friendships, I am a listener. I feel like a good friend when I have listened and encouraged. I feel closest to God when I journal or write. I hear him through His word. I stink at prayers unless they are in ink on a page. I delight in showing others the things he shows me in scripture.
And my list goes on…
This is the person I already am. And from this list comes the woman I’m called to be.
I am a writer and a teacher for others. I use my story in friendships and relationships because I want everyone to know they aren’t alone. I write because I believe company in life matters. I hope my words are the machete that clears the path. And all this is better done with coffee.
Spend time on what you love most about yourself in these relationships. Who did God create you to be? How can you worship Him with your time and resources? What temptations have you fallen into—are you wasting time waiting, or are you numbing the ache for meaning by in ways that leave you feeling empty?
For those of us who are parents—what does it look like to be a mom, but also a child of God? Many moms hide their purposelessness behind the busy demands of parenting. Because we don’t know what our gifts and passions are, we find our purpose in our kids—and while that’s beautiful devotion, I think it’s rooted in fear…Fear that this is the only thing we’re good at and even then we get online and see the bento-box lunch complete with ham roll ups that look like sushi that so-and-so packed for school today and we falter because we aren’t even sure we wrote a check for the hot lunch account and the stupid peanut butter is all gone from last night’s spoonful piled high with chocolate chips. And we are failing and will be failing for the next 18 years.
And what after those 18 years?
Our purpose cannot be our children and our children’s purpose should not be us. When I look at my kids, there is no doubt God has something special for them. So why, when I look in the mirror, would I doubt the same is true for me?
I have to wrap this up. It’s too long.
Get to know God—not about him, but know him. He has something special for you here and has equipped you with some passions and skills. Like a parent under the Christmas tree, he’s excited to watch you unwrap what he’s chosen for you.
Find the beauty in your story and offer it up to others. We need each other. We fear we are alone. This is a lie. Prove it wrong.
Cleanse your to-be list and discover what you already are. You’re beautiful. You’ve already been operating in your gifts and passions within relationships and don’t realize it. Take one relationship at a time and reflect upon who you are in that relationship. At the end of that reflection, you’ll know the person in the mirror a little better.
And stop hiding. The world needs you. Your communities need you. Your neighborhood needs you. Your apartment complex needs you. Your church needs you. Your family needs you. Your presence has unlimited worth. For whoever you are with is one more person who is no longer alone.
Resources: A person near you. Find a mentor. Ask and don’t be afraid. God used my mentor to change the trajectory of my life. Together we went through this book, A Pathway to Purpose by Kate Brazelton. Also, my friend Ashleigh @ Ungrind recommends The Land Between by Jeff Manion. Finally, I’ve heard incredible things about Jennie Allen’s Restless.