Finding Purpose in the Journey

staircase MLK

How often do you find yourself asking the age-old question: What is my purpose in life? We know that God is calling us, just like Jesus called the disciples to come and follow Him, as I wrote about last week. But how do we know what God is calling us to do? Where’s the roadmap…or the specific set of instructions?

I should be honest and say I don’t really have an answer to that question. But I do have a theory. For some reason, God doesn’t choose to reveal Himself to individuals in the same way. I believe those people who hear a more distinct calling—like the 12 disciples—are quite rare.

For reasons beyond our understanding, God wants the rest of us to embark on our journeys without really knowing where we’re headed. In many ways, this “not knowing” becomes the greatest stretch of our faith.   There’s a plaque that used to hang in my old office with the following quote by Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” What better way to show our trust in God than to set out on this blind journey, confident that He will reveal Himself to us when the time is right? That He will reveal our purpose when we’re ready to hear it. So for those of you who come up blank when you ask yourself, what is my purpose in life? It’s ok. Maybe you’re not supposed to know what your purpose is just yet. Maybe it’s enough to say you’ll know it when you see it.

So…what do we do in the meantime?

To quote a popular phrase, “Keep on keepin’ on!” Just because God has chosen not to reveal His plans for you just yet, that’s no reason to go running back to the security of your fishing nets. For now, let the journey become your purpose. Let the journey become your calling. Commit yourself to leaving the seashore and following Jesus, wherever He might lead you. Commit yourself to taking the next step on the staircase. To the belief that Jesus is leading you to your destiny.

The next time you see a spider web, think about—comparatively speaking—how far that spider had to travel to complete the web. If you stretched all the tiny little lines and squares of the web out into a straight line, imagine how long it would be. But a spider doesn’t travel in a straight line. I read this in a book, once, and it really stuck with me: to make a web, a spider must continually return to a center point. Like a compass that always points North, this constant return to center is what enables the spider to create that intricate and beautiful spiral shape we are so familiar with.

So a spider is really taking a series of little journeys, always coming back to center. I challenge and encourage you to do the same. Keep your relationship with God at the center, and venture out on an endless series of little journeys…with each one, learning more about yourself and more about your purpose in life. This allows you to keep moving, even when you don’t have all the answers. And I absolutely believe that’s the way God wants it. He wants us to venture out on the journey without knowing exactly where it will lead. He wants us to be open to it. He wants us to learn, to make mistakes along the way, to keep on keepin’ on. And this becomes so much easier to do when you know you can always come back to the center—to God.

The only thing that God does NOT want is for us to give up the journey entirely. For it’s what happens on this journey that will give our lives purpose.

Leaving Our Nets Behind

The Fisherman

Matthew 4:18-22 tells the beautiful story of Jesus calling two sets of brothers, Simon and Andrew and James and John, to drop their fishing nets and follow him. This reading is one of the gospel stories I remember most distinctly from my childhood. Not because I liked the story—although I did enjoy it—but because something about it made me supremely uncomfortable. It always boggled my mind how quickly those men dropped everything to follow Jesus. Twice Matthew uses the phrase “at once,” suggesting that they didn’t stop to think about it for even a moment.

As a kid, I wasn’t prone to doing anything spontaneously, preferring to think things through before making my move. And so I marveled at how these brothers were able to do that. I often wondered…what else did they leave behind? Their mothers? Sisters? Were they married? Did they have other commitments? If they weren’t fishing, who was providing food for their families? All of these musings really pointed to the one question I couldn’t bring myself to ask—the question that was at the root of my discomfort with this story:

If I was one of those fishermen, and Jesus called me to follow him, would I drop everything “at once” and go? There was a part of me that always wondered if perhaps I wouldn’t be able to do it. That I just didn’t have it in me.

Have you ever felt the same way? That you might be one of those people…clinging to your fishing nets, unable to let them go and follow Jesus. What holds us back? What are the nets that we’ve become tangled up in…that tie us down and prevent us from being free to follow Jesus? It’s important to reflect on this question, for if we can’t identify these nets, we can never be free of them.

I believe the answer can be found not in where we cast our nets, but in where we cast our eyes. Imagine for a moment, you are standing on the shore. The air smells of salt and seaweed, a warm breeze flits across your skin as you drag your net along the water’s edge. Jesus approaches you and says, in a quiet yet compelling voice, “Come along with me.”

Where do you direct your gaze when Jesus speaks to you? Are your eyes cast downward, unable to look directly at His face? Do you feel too ashamed or too unworthy to look him in the eye? I believe this feeling of unworthiness can be the single biggest impediment to living a life with meaning. And it’s absolutely without foundation. God loves us and accepts us exactly the way we are. The fourth Psalm says, “O God, you have declared me perfect in your eyes.” Does this mean we’re perfect? Of course not. Only God is perfect. So what does this line from Scripture mean? Years ago I attended an evening retreat where the presenter said the following: “God has a plan and a purpose for you, and He made you exactly the way He needs to you to be.” You can disagree with that statement, feeling you have far too many flaws for God to ever want to use you for much of anything – but you’d be wrong.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.” (And if you saw my garden last summer, you would know how wholeheartedly I embraced Mr. Emerson’s theory about weeds!) You may think of yourself as a useless weed, unworthy when you compare yourself to the beautiful flowers around you… but God knows who you truly are, and what you can accomplish, if you would simply drop your net and follow Him.

Psalm 139 says: “O Lord… you made all the delicate, inner parts of my body, and knit them together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! It is amazing to think about. Your workmanship is marvelous – and how well I know it.” If God made each and every one of us so wonderfully unique and flawed and complex, why wouldn’t he want to use us for an important purpose? I believe if you stood on that seashore and told Jesus you couldn’t follow Him because you weren’t good enough, He would laugh gently and say, “Silly child, my Father made you this way for a purpose. Come… let’s see what you can do.”

Called to Holiness

old phone
When you think of a “holy” person, what image comes to mind? Perhaps you think of a priest, deacon, nun, or other clergy. Or that person in your parish who attends daily Mass. Or the volunteer who devotes his or her time to soup kitchens, food pantries, and other charitable organizations.

When you imagine a holy person…do you ever picture yourself?

To be holy is to be like God. Doesn’t that seem kind of lofty? How on earth could ordinary ol’ me achieve such a thing? The answer lies right in the question. Holiness doesn’t come from the “earthly” world. It’s not something we earn, or work towards, or deserve. It’s a gift from God. As St. Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians, “God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.” (Ephesians 1:4)

God chose us. How beautiful! Continue reading

Mary’s Yes

tanner_annunciation-sm

“The Annunciation” H. Tanner 1898

True confession time. For most of my life I did not pray to Mary. I wasn’t in the habit of saying the Rosary. And I did not have any statues of the Blessed Mother in my home or garden. Mary had always seemed a lofty ideal to me.   A heavenly image of perfection that I could not live up to or relate to.  I once heard a priest say that our Church hadn’t done Mary any favors by putting her up on a pedestal. The higher she was raised up, the more remote she became.

Years ago, a friend recommended that I read a book called Two From Galilee by Marjorie Holmes, a dramatic account of Mary’s story—a teenage girl chosen by God to bring Christ into our earthly world. The Mary depicted in this story was one I found infinitely compelling: young, scared, and facing an overwhelming responsibility. Discovering Mary through the prayer of imagination was the moment she became real to me.  And now I pray to her all the time.

Who was Mary? What was her life like? What was the historical context in which she lived? Only by learning Mary’s personal story can we find our own story. And the Advent season is where Mary’s story begins. Continue reading

A Time to Speak

shy

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…
A time to keep silence, and a time to speak
Ecclesiastes 3:1,7

As a young girl I was shy and deeply introverted. This resulted in a rock wall of silence that took me years to chip away. In my high school classrooms I never spoke. I answered every question in my head. I came up with witty responses to the silly banter of adolescence, but never actually delivered them. My teachers begged me to participate, but the words just wouldn’t come out. Looking back at my high school yearbook, almost every note from teachers and acquaintances remarked on how quiet I was. Only to my friends did I open up and reveal my inner life. I felt safe with them. I could trust them with my truth.

This reticence lessened in college and more so in graduate school, but only by a little. My graduate advisor understood. She knew I wasn’t just sitting there, disengaged with all that was happening in class. In fact I was quite busy. I was learning, discovering, uncovering, soaking in, turning over, deciding, proving, agreeing, dissenting. All this was happening within the safe walls of my own mind. I knew that more was expected of me, but the words just wouldn’t come out. Almost like a crowd of people trying to get out of an elevator all at once. They were wedged in. Stuck.  If you’re an introvert like me, this feeling is probably all too familiar. Continue reading

The Cracked Pot

As a follow up to my last post, Broken and Beautiful, I offer you this simple and lovely parable about a flawed pot.  Take some time today to think about how your flaws might be working toward a special purpose.

Photo by Giovanni Dall'Orto, 2009

Photo by Giovanni Dall’Orto, 2009

A Water Bearer in China had two large pots, each hung on the ends of a pole, which he carried across his neck. One of the pots had a crack in it while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water. At the end of the long walk from the stream to the house, the cracked pot arrived only half full. For a full two years, this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one-and-a-half pots of water to his house. Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, for which it was made. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do. After two years of what it perceived to be bitter failure, it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream. “I am ashamed of myself, because this crack in my side causes my water to leak out all the way back to your house.” The bearer said to the pot, “Did you notice that there are flowers on your side of the path, but not on the other pot’s side? That’s because I have always known about your flaw, so I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back, you water them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate the table. Without you being just the way you are, we would not have such beauty.”

~Source unknown

PRAYER

Divine Creator, you are the Water Bearer, cleansing us with mercy and forgiveness. Your water refreshes us like newly fallen rain.

Heavenly God, your amazing love has the power to set us free and make us whole. May we always turn to You for forgiveness and healing.

God of Love, bless our “cracked-pot” days, when we cannot see past our brokenness and flaws. May each crack become a place where your grace may enter.