For as long as I can remember, I have been determined to lead a purposeful life. One of those lives that brings change and inspiration and beauty. The kind of life that makes people want to stand up and do something. For years, I prayed that God would call me up something great, to a life of purpose.
As a little girl growing up in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, surrounded by historic farms and ancient forests, I craved an existence where what I did mattered. Where I mattered. I felt lost in the fields and in the trees, disconnected from the world. It seemed that everything of substance happened elsewhere. And so each fall with the new school year, I would form a new dream – actress, news anchor, writer – but I always envisioned myself in the same place. I wanted nothing more than to escape to the mythical East coast, to the land where people lived out their dreams, where people made things happen.
And so, I began to dream of Boston and all of it’s concrete beauty, the opposite of my childhood landscape, and the fashionable, high profile life I would live there. I imagined myself strutting along the streets, off to some very important meeting, my brown hair flowing in the wind as I walked. I didn’t know if I would be a news anchor or an actress, but to me, it didn’t matter what I did. As long as I found a place where I mattered.
When I arrived in Boston as a spry 18-year-old, I expected that my dream would come true in just a few short years. I played the part, wearing the “right” clothes and taking the “right” classes. I would venture into the city to explore, and would imagine all of the historic men and women that had lived there—John and Abigail Adams, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Robert Gould Shaw—and the incredible lives they lived. I walked the streets of Boston for years, the fall leaves crunching underneath my feet, amongst the history for years, but there was never an important meeting or a fancy outfit to don. The life of substance that I had dreamed of wasn’t materializing. It was just me and the ghosts of history, flowing in the wind.
I graduated from college with honors, but without a road map. My frustration with a lack of purpose and direction grew, and I began to fight earnestly and with intensity. I left Boston and moved across the country, from coast to coast, trying to figure out where and what my purpose was, where I belonged. I sought mentors and churches, but nothing seemed to fit. After all of my travels and lessons learned, I still didn’t feel like who I was or what I was doing mattered.
As a child, I had believed, as most of us do, that once we become adults, we just figure out what we’re supposed to do, who we are supposed to be. As if one day, we awoke to our destiny, written out on a card like a schedule our heavenly Manager wrote out for us. And the more years went by where I was told, by my parents and professors and peers, that I was supposed to have figured this out, the more I began to panic. I hadn’t received my card. I had no idea what purpose meant.
And as the anxiety grew, I began to realize that the prayer I had prayed all of those years as a child wasn’t really the truth. Yes, I wanted God to call me to something great, but I wanted it to be simple. I wanted a picture-perfect life of ease. And, as we all discover at some point or another, life is anything but easy. The challenge of discovering who you were made to be is an eternal one, full of danger and worry and persecution. There are rarely straight and smooth concrete paths below our feet. Instead, the terrain looks more like the landscape of my youth, with roaring rivers that sweep us up and rocky crags to climb over. And occasionally, still waters and green pastures where we can rest. But then more mountains to navigate and climb. Jesus told us it wouldn’t be easy. Why didn’t I listen?
Once I admitted that I had been praying for an effortless life instead of a purposeful life, things changed. I stopped fighting and started living with awareness. My days now are often hard, and sometimes, they’re lonely. But they are, for the first time in years, authentic and honest and real. I spent years looking for intention, for a place where I mattered, but it turns out, it was all around me. I just had to change the lens I was viewing the world through from perfection to purpose.
Living a life of purpose where we have value doesn’t require fancy clothes or a big-shot job or Pinterest-worthy dinner parties. It is never about having it all together, nor is it about a life of ease. It is all about your heart, and how you view the world. Once I stopped trying to live a perfect life, and started giving compassion to myself, started trusting the gifts that I was born with, started living a life of thankfulness, I experienced a greater sense of community, and of my value in that community, than I had ever known.
I used to pray that God would call me up to something great, to a life of purpose. And now, I realize that this prayer was answered a long time ago, I just didn’t have the eyes to see or the ears to hear it all around me. Everyday is an opportunity to engage others, to help others, to learn more about who we are in God’s story.
And now, as the days grow shorter, it’s the perfect time to readjust our lenses and reconnect with God’s purpose. We can sit around crackling fires and steaming cups of cider. We can rest together, and remember how blessed we are that we are never walking alone. That although we will not always have notoriety or wealth, that we will always be able to come together and just be ourselves. We can remember that when we share our truth with one another, there will always be someone to say “you matter” and “me too.” Because whether we live lives in feast or in fallow, we are still connected to God and his life-giving story.
Image via A Venturing Soul