So far – except for the Great Northeast Polar Vortex, in which some places in the country got colder than Antarctica (Antarctica!) – my New Year hasn’t seemed all that new. I’ve been trying to catalog the actual novel and unprecedented things I’ve tried so far in 2019, and all I’m coming up with is:
- Put chia seed in my smoothies: Great for the digestion. Although they tend to clog up straws.
- Used a new ointment my allergist recommended.* (Side question: Does the word “ointment” make anyone else cringe? It just sounds like only smarmy people in smarmy situations should say it. I have the same feeling about “lubricant.”)
Basically, I am an old person whose body needs help. Any day now I’ll be tottering around braless in my pastel house dress, looking for my false teeth.
Meanwhile, my friend had a new baby! That’s the best kind of newness.
However – and I do think this is typical for the new year – in many of my conversations lately – with my directees, with church members, with my college-bound daughter – the question of purpose has come up. How do you find your purpose? Once you have, what do you do about it?
A few of us at church have been reading a book called One Life by Scott McKnight. I think it’s especially helpful for young people but also for anyone who feels like exploring – or refining – their understanding of why God has put them on this planet, and how to begin to live out God’s dream for them.
A few insights that I thought were important:
Jesus didn’t expect perfection or surround himself with it. He gathered around him a bunch of raw, untrained, and at times petty and self-aggrandizing individuals. He loved them, taught them, corrected them, and empowered him with his Spirit to carry out his mission. Whatever you choose to do, allow yourself to be discipled by Jesus. Allow yourself to be flawed, to fail, to be taught and loved and empowered over time. Most growth doesn’t happen overnight.
If we love Jesus, we are on his mission, too! The how and the what will be different – we’re not all called to be evangelists or healers or teachers or artists or accountants or grocery checkers – but the why is the same: “When you give yourself to Jesus, your life becomes the Kingdom life” (118). Your life becomes part of Jesus’ stated goal to reshape humanity and all creation to God’s original vision: one of wholeness, health, harmony, joy, and unity with God.
Once you’ve committed to the why – to Jesus and the furthering of his Kingdom – you can begin to discern the specifics of how his dream for you as an individual fits into his dream for the world.
One exercise I’ve learned of recently to help in this discernment process is to write a five-word mission statement. For example:
To facilitate people experiencing God.
Teach others to live well.
Live creatively in all things.
Use business to end poverty.
Feed people, body and soul.
Compassion for self and others.
Five words aren’t a lot! You’re not going to get down to the granular details of your calling. (That might come later.) But these words can function as a kind of guiding star. For example, if the person whose mission is to “Use business to end poverty” is making a decision about a potential partnership, he or she could ask these questions: Do this company’s values align with mine – and the Kingdom’s? Do they pay their employees a living wage? Do they make use of materials that are responsibly sourced and made without slave labor? Do their executives make out-sized salaries to the detriment of their workforce?
What if your mission is to “Teach others to live well?” First of all, you’re probably a teacher, even if that isn’t your mode of gainful employment! And encapsulated in this phrase is probably a lot of unspoken beliefs about what living well means. As you unpack those beliefs, you’ll be able to use them to shape your decisions about who to focus your teaching efforts on. Who do you see that isn’t living well? What skills or mindsets can you offer that will help them? What skills or mindsets might you need to learn in order to help others?
I confess that I haven’t quite nailed down my own five-word mission statement yet, although I have some candidates, like “Do what brings you joy,” or “Be fed by God’s hand” (both things that God has said to me in prayer at one time or another).** Part of the problem is that I struggle with focus. I do a lot of things, but I’m not necessarily sure all that energy is productively used. I sometimes feel like an octopus, flailing my arms in all directions. Maybe – I hope – writing a mission statement will help me!
Here is a prayerful process to go through as begin writing a personal mission statement – remembering that (to borrow a phrase from feminism) the personal is the Kingdom! Your life is a Kingdom life! The process is essentially a modified Daily Examen, but looking back at your life instead of a single 24-hour period.
First, ask Jesus to come and shed his light on your prayer time. Ask him to show you who you truly are and how you fit into his dreams for you.
Second, ask yourself: What gifts, talents, dreams, and drives are constant in your life? Which ones bring you life, and bring life to those around you? Which ones help bring all created things just a little more into alignment with the Kingdom? Ask Jesus to help bring to the forefront current or past experiences, or words from other people, that show you working/playing/living most completely in your “Kingdom” zone. Pay attention to those memories and experiences that make you feel light and free, relaxed, hopeful, joyful and loving.
Third, ask yourself: What are the things in your life that do not bring life to you and to others? What dreams might not come from Jesus and the Kingdom? What false messages and ambitions may be claiming your attention? Ask the Holy Spirit to show you clearly lies that you may have believed or desires that are at bottom empty and will lead to destruction rather than life. Consider asking the Lord for forgiveness and freedom.
Finally, ask Jesus to help you look back over this prayer time and put what you’ve noticed into words! Perhaps ask the Holy Spirit to highlight key words, phrases, images, even smells or sounds, from your prayer time. Pay attention to which seem to have the strongest hold on your imagination or emotions. These will be the building blocks for your mission statement.
It may take several tries and some tinkering, but see what you and Jesus come up with together!
*Vaniply – Actually awesome for winter-dry facial skin. Works better than my staple for the rest of the year, the much more outrageously priced Dermalogica Active Moist, which I can only justify (kind of) because it lasts forever and because every other lotion I’ve tried makes me break out, burns my skin, or both.
**Here are some of my discarded mission statements:
Limit procrastination to Netflix only.
Poison no one with cooking.
Beat writer’s block into submission.
Make a living wage . . . someday.
Just use your Ph.D. already.
Octopus image credit: https://drawception.com/panel/drawing/nqkg6336/confused-octopus/