Tag Archive | life purpose

Why Was I Created?

Over the last few years I’ve had the practice of starting the day with reading from two or three devotional books by my favorite inspirational writers. This year I’m reading:

  • The Monastic Way by Joan Chittister (a pamphlet that comes monthly, with the readings of each month based on a common theme),
  • Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith by Henri Nouwen, and
  • Through the Year with Jimmy Carter: 366 Daily Meditations from the 39th President.

I’ve mentioned some of the readings by Chittister and Nouwen in my blog, but I don’t think I’ve mentioned the Jimmy Carter book – until today.

Through the Year with Jimmy CarterI picked up this book at The Frugal Muse used bookstore last December, and I thought it might provide an interesting addition to my morning meditations. The blurb on the back of the book said, “Unique among the multitude of daily devotional books, Through the Year with Jimmy Carter combines the grace and wisdom of a deeply spiritual Bible study with personal stories and prayers for each day of the year, all drawn from the Sunday school lessons former president Jimmy Carter taught – and the life lessons God taught him.”

Last week, one of the readings was especially interesting. The title of the reading was “Called by God.” It started with this Bible verse: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” [Jeremiah 1:5] Then Carter cited a nationwide poll that had been published by USA TODAY. The question asked in the poll was, “If you could come face-to-face with God what would you ask?” The most popular responses fascinated me:

6%          How long will I live?
7%          Is there intelligent life elsewhere?
16%        Why do bad things happen?
19%        Is there life after death?
34%        Why was I created? What should I do with my life?

Carter commented, “Just as God had told Jeremiah, ‘I knew you in the womb, and even then I had a purpose for you,’ so God knew us in the womb and has a unique purpose for us.”

I told Mim about this poll, and she mentioned the popularity of the book The Purpose-Driven Life a few years ago. She wasn’t surprised that the most popular question people would ask God is what their purpose in life is. People want to know if there is a purpose for their life.

I remember thinking about that question a lot when I was in high school and college – what was I supposed to become? Or, what was God’s purpose for my life? Or, does God really have a plan for my life – or can I figure out for myself what I want to do with my life?

Marian TDS Caricature

Caricature of me created by a roving artist at a corporate Christmas party during my TDS years.

My ideas on that question have changed over the years. One of the most significant conversations I had with myself about the purpose of my life happened when I was working as a manager of financial systems at Telephone and Data Systems (TDS), a large privately-held telecommunications corporation. I wasn’t particularly happy in that job, mainly because I was routinely working 60 or more hours per week for the sole purpose of making more money for the Carlsons – the very wealthy family who owned the corporation. I didn’t see that any social good was being accomplished by all my efforts. I was convinced I was wasting my life by doing that job. When I reached that conclusion, I started to seriously look for another job. After having two interviews with the State about a position that sounded like a good fit for my skills and interests, I was pretty sure I would be offered the job, so I quit TDS. I didn’t want to waste any more of my life doing meaningless work for the Carlsons.

Oops… I didn’t get offered that state job. I guess I failed to convince the State that I was as good a fit as I thought I was… Which leads me to what Joan Chittister was prompting me to think about last week. The theme for the month of March is failure. The quote she is focusing upon is by St. Teresa of Avila, “To reach something good, it is useful to have gone astray.”

Chittister’s comment on Monday of last week was, “Failure is what teaches us that we belong somewhere else. Only by embracing this new possibility can we become the fullness of ourselves.”

When I failed to get the state job, I decided to spend a few months working full-time with Mim to turn our farmhouse into a bed and breakfast, and to do a little small business consulting on the side. That was 17 years ago. Our business, Korth-Jacobson LLC, has evolved over the years as Mim and I have recognized needs and opportunities to live the lives we think God wants us to live – and that we want to live. My unwillingness to stay in a job that seemed like a waste of time, coupled with my failure to get another job, gave us the opportunity to explore being self-employed – to explore doing the things in life we felt called to do.

Welcoming guests to our bed and breakfast

Welcoming guests to our bed and breakfast in the late 1990s

Thanks to Jimmy Carter and Joan Chittister, that’s what I’ve been thinking about over the past week – the purpose of my life and the importance of the failures in my life – so far. And there’s still more to go… I’m sure I’ll experience more failures before I die, and I expect I’ll gain more insights into what God wants me to do with the life I have left on earth. (I hope there’s some time left for retirement!)

Here’s my 2-cents worth on working

I guess I was a little older than this when I started working, but not much. I cannot remember a time when I didn’t work.

The earliest job I can remember having was before I started school. My Mom hired me to do two jobs – clean the bathroom and dust all the furniture in the house. Each job paid 2 cents, and each job usually took me about half an hour. (I wasn’t fast, but I was pretty thorough.) I was expected to do both jobs every Saturday morning, and I was given 4 cents for my labors.

I received a big promotion and a slight raise when I turned 5 and started kindergarten. Instead of being paid each time I cleaned the bathroom and dusted, I received a weekly allowance of a nickel. In exchange for that allowance, I was expected to clean the bathroom, dust, and do whatever other jobs my Mom occasionally asked me to do, like scour the kitchen sink, or carry the trash out to the burning pile.

A couple years later I got another promotion and a really big salary bump. My weekly allowance grew to a dollar, but I was strongly encouraged to give 10 cents to Sunday School, put 75 cents into my plastic bank to save for college, and use the remaining 15 cents for spending money. With this promotion, I was also given more responsibility. I had to do dishes every day (shared responsibility with my brother), and help with more house cleaning.

Growing up on a farm, I also was expected to do lots of other jobs, especially in the summer. My favorite job was baling hay. It was always a beautiful, warm, sunny day. I sat perched on top of the red “H” tractor, and slowly drove the tractor around the field, pulling the baler and a wagon behind. My dad stood on the wagon, pulling the bales out of the baler and stacking them on the wagon. My instructions were to steer the tractor so that the baler would pick up all the hay, and to drive smoothly enough that I didn’t throw my Dad off the wagon. (Unfortunately, that happened a few times when I stopped too abruptly or turned a corner without slowing down enough.) Other than the noisiness of the tractor and baler, and the hay dust in the air, it was a beautiful place to spend a summer afternoon.

Obviously, that’s not me on the tractor – but that’s the kind of tractor, baler, and hay wagon we had.

By the time I graduated from high school, I knew how to work. Some of it I enjoyed. Some I didn’t. In college I had a variety of jobs, from doing dishes in the dining hall, to doing clerical work in an office, to being a church organist. But my real reason for being in college was to figure out what kind of work I wanted to do for the rest of my life, and to get prepared to begin my career.

Reflecting back over the past 40+ years, I realize now that the basic premise that I would have one career in my lifetime was wrong. After college I was a high school English teacher for a couple years, then an editorial researcher for a couple more years, and then I got into business – earning an MBA and working for a large corporation in downtown Chicago. As I moved through these post-college jobs, working became mostly a means of paying my bills rather than actually doing something meaningful with my life. That was a frightening observation! If that was true, was there really any purpose to my life? The only areas of my life where I felt I was doing something that could possibly make the world a better place was in my volunteer activities – serving on the boards of a couple not-for-profit organizations.

It really wasn’t until I became self-employed – first as a business consultant, then as a B&B owner, assisted living provider, church musician, writer, and retreat coordinator – that my life calling seemed truly related to the work I did for a living.

Sr. Joan Chittister talked about finding purpose in your life work in her book, Following the Path: The Search for a Life of Passion, Purpose, and Joy, with these words:

We need to ask ourselves again why we were born. What is it that we have that the world needs and is waiting for us to provide? That is the star we must follow to its end. Then we will not only hear the silent applause of all those who benefitted from our having lived but we will find the whole of ourselves now wholly developed, waiting for us, as well.

For some people, and for some parts of their lives, the work they do for a living is the fulfillment of their purpose in life. For these people, you might hear comments like, “he’s a born teacher” or “it’s obvious she was meant to be a pastor.”

For others, the labor they do for a living is just that, earning money to pay the bills. Doing the jobs that need to be done.  These people still have a purpose in life that God has called them to. They just don’t receive a paycheck for fulfilling their life purpose.

So, what’s my 2-cents worth on working this Labor Day weekend? Not all jobs reflect our life purpose. Some do. Some don’t. But we were all born with a life purpose. Discovering how to fulfill that purpose is the most important job of our life. Frederick Buechner gave us a clue about how to discover our purpose in his book Wishful Thinking. He said, The place God calls you to is where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.