There are two questions I have seen people wrestle with: Who Am I? Why Am I Here? This is a common theme in the University classroom, in the business sector – especially in Human Resources or Management coaching, and in conversations around the teapot at my house. The world tells us things we should do everyday. Use this toothpaste for whiter teeth, drink this coffee to help sustain coffee plantations in South America, or wear these clothes so you can fit in with others.
I didn’t have these questions when I was growing up. Traditions in the Asian culture has parents make those decisions. They choose what school you will go to, which college you will attend, what professional degree program you will join and also who you are going to marry. It’s all planned out… nice and neat. You are told that you don’t have to worry about dating because they already have in mind a family who has a nice son. They tell you that you will probably end up making this much money because you will be a doctor, engineer or lawyer. This is not a bad thing, it’s just the way the Eastern part of the world sees things.
Of course, the problem with me was that I was NOT living in that part of the world! Even though my parents enrolled me in a college I didn’t want to go to, in a field I did not want to pursue – (they chose the school based on their Dentistry program, obviously dismissing the fact that I was scared of the Dentist). Much to my parents’ dismay, I changed my school to one that had a medical school and changed my intent from Dentistry to pre-med (I did keep my major in the Biological Sciences though, as a consolation prize). In other words, I didn’t do what I was supposed to do.
Things didn’t stop there. I ended up meeting my husband and we decided to marry. So, I didn’t go to the school they wanted, the profession they chose, and I disregarded the marriage future they chose for me, for I was to have an arranged marriage as my older sister did. After college, however, I settled in neatly to a job at Campbell Soup Company.
The first change came when the Vice President of Human Resources asked me what I wanted to do? Guess what… no one had EVER asked me that before. I was dumbfounded! I must have looked like an idiot because I told him that with my eyes open in surprise. He sat back in his chair and said “Well, have you ever thought about what you are good at or what you would like to do for work? Do you like what you are doing now?” For a person who loves to talk, I had nothing. I stared at him again. I did manage to ask him “What do you think I should do? I am willing to learn.” Apparently that was a good question because he had me look into Human Resources – a career that I adore and have done now for two decades.
None of this ever pointed to my spiritual life. This was just work and career related. Again, I was pretty clear on who I was as a Muslim (= God is the Master, you are a Slave) and what my purpose was (= to live a good life and do the five pillars so I could get into Heaven). I didn’t need to have a purpose. I just obeyed like I was supposed to… well, kind of.
I tried fasting, but would get major headaches. I tried praying five times a day, but it was really tough with holding down a full time job and two children at that time. So, even in that, I didn’t do what I was supposed to do.
What is someone’s purpose in life? Is it to get that degree? Is it to get the next promotion or raise? Is it to get a bigger car or nicer house? Have you achieved your purpose when you have 2.5 children? I have done those things and even more (we have 3.0 kids!), but that has left me with wanting more. I really thought that getting a big home would truly satisfy me. The only thing it does is give me more rooms to clean. It sounds very ungrateful.But I think that’s the TRUTH. I truly believe it is ungrateful to God to continue to want more than what He has provided for me. The promotions, career, home still didn’t tell me why I was created. What am I supposed to be doing? Is this all there is to life? You get in your nice car, go to your nice job, come back to your nice home and do that again over and over again?
I think what leaves us flat is that the purpose of life has to be bigger than simply fulfilling our own desires. When you go to the Bible, you get a very clear answer for the purpose God created you. It’s in Isaiah 43:7 ~”Everyone who is called by My name, And whom I have created for My glory, Whom I have formed, even whom I have made…” This verse says we are created for one reason and one purpose: to glorify God in all we do. This seems a bit strange at first. Why shouldn’t I follow my own purpose? The answer is that you can, but by running after these transitional things, you will not be satisfied. If you look to others for your purpose, they may be contrary to your desires. If you get your purpose from doing things, you will get burned out because you are doing it on your own power and not on God’s provision for you.
I love the story of Jonah in the Bible (not just because of the whale). I love it because he chose to say “no” to God and insisted on doing his own thing. God gave him a clear purpose and marching assignment. Jonah ignored, turned away and ran off to do his own thing. THEN he got swallowed up by the whale.
It reminds me of when our oldest son was little. We would ask him to do something little like clean up his toys in his room. He said “No! I won’t do it” His refusal didn’t change our mind or outcome or anything else. It just added more time and drama to the thing we wanted and needed him to do. I think that’s how it is with us and God’s purpose. I think we sometimes know what God wants us to do and we say “No! I won’t do it” and run the other way. Other times, we try to do things on our own power like serving in the church or other ministry that we wanted to do (and not necessarily what God desired for us to do), and we burn out. We get swallowed up… just like Jonah.
So what should we do? For the Christian, purpose for our life can be narrowed down by asking God. Prayer is a wonderful way to start. It can be very simple, like “Lord, I will be obedient to your will and serve you in the way you have planned for me.” The next thing is to read and study His Word. God’s Word in the Bible is true and holy. It shines light into our life and brings comfort. God is really clear on how He has made you and what He thinks about you (see my post on Identity). Jesus told us “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” ~ Matthew 7:7. If we ask the Creator, you will be given what you are looking for. If you are searching for answers to other questions, you will find the answers in His Word. If you think that God has closed the door to reconciliation or to your dreams, knock on it. You will find that Jesus had already been standing there, patiently waiting for you.