Finding Life’s Purpose—Part 1
From the Roadmap series
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Jesus [said]: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”—Matthew 22:37–401
You’ve probably heard the Quaker adage that says: “I shall pass this way but once; any good, therefore, that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”
Life is very busy; it’s easy to get wrapped up in all that there is to do. Regardless of your occupation and lifestyle—whether you’re studying, working, or managing a mission work on a foreign field, whether you are single or a parent—the many details of daily living can occupy our time and energy so completely that we neglect to stop and think about what we’re doing with our lives and why.
Simply put, for Christian disciples, the why we do what we do should be love. After all, God is love. To love is our highest privilege, our deepest obligation—love first and foremost for God, followed closely by love for others.
What is it that makes us able to love others, to sacrifice for others, to live unselfishly?
These are tough questions to answer. The fact is that none of us have it within ourselves to consistently exude love, unselfishness, care, and concern for others. That is, unless we have God’s love in our hearts and we’re willing to share it with those around us.
The thing about love is that it’s not something that we can put on and take off; we can’t wear it like a jacket. It has to be a living, breathing part of us. We have to first be filled with love through God’s Spirit in our hearts. Then we have to choose to show love when opportunities arise. Showing love doesn’t usually come as naturally to us as we would hope. Certainly, individually, we don’t have sufficient love to live like Jesus has instructed us to live, to love one another as He loves us.
In order to live the life of love that the Lord intends for us to live, we have to reach out to Him and receive His Spirit and His love.
How do we do this? We must take time with Jesus; we must receive His Word in our hearts and let Him give us the strength to love others as He wants us to. That is where the secret lies, in taking sufficient time in communion with the Lord, so that His love springs up from our hearts and can overflow on those around us.
There are times when showing or expressing love is a sacrifice. Often, following God’s nudges to show love goes against our nature, it isn’t convenient, doesn’t make sense, or just seems unnecessary. For some reason or another we frequently skip or delay expressing the love and admiration that we feel for those around us. The sad offshoot to this common scenario is that when you put off appreciating someone, you may be missing an opportunity to offer very needed encouragement, or to tangibly show someone how God sees them. Someone once said, “Feeling love and not expressing it is like wrapping a gift and not giving it.”
Here is a story told by a man named Tom Anderson that sheds a new light on showing love and appreciation.
I made a vow to myself once, on a drive down to our vacation beach cottage. For two weeks I determined I would try to be a loving husband and father. Totally loving. No ifs, ands, or buts.
The idea had come to me as I listened to a commentator on my car’s CD player. He was quoting a biblical passage about husbands being thoughtful of their wives. Then he went on to say, “Love is an act of will. A person can choose to love.” I had to admit to myself that I had been a selfish husband—that our love had been dulled by my own insensitivity. In petty ways, really: chiding Evelyn for her tardiness; insisting on the TV channel I wanted to watch; throwing out day-old newspapers that I knew Evelyn still wanted to read. Well, for two weeks all that would change.
And it did, right from the moment that I kissed Evelyn at the door and said, “That new yellow sweater looks great on you.”
“Oh, Tom, you noticed,” she said, surprised and pleased. Maybe a little perplexed.
After the long drive to the cottage, I wanted to sit and read. Evelyn suggested a walk on the beach. I started to refuse, but then I thought, Evelyn has been alone here with the kids all week and now she wants to be alone with me. We walked on the beach while the children flew their kites.
So it went. Two weeks of not calling the Wall Street investment firm where I am a director; a visit to the shell museum, though I usually hate museums (and I enjoyed it); holding my tongue while Evelyn’s getting ready made us late for a dinner date. Relaxed and happy, that’s how the whole vacation passed. I made a new vow to keep on remembering to choose to love.
There was one thing that went wrong with my experiment, however. Evelyn and I still laugh about it today. On the last night at our cottage, Evelyn stared at me with the saddest expression.
“What’s the matter?” I asked her.
“Tom,” she said, in a voice filled with distress, “do you know something I don’t?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well … that checkup I had several weeks ago … our doctor … did he tell you something about me? Tom, you’ve been so good to me … am I dying?”
It took a moment for it all to sink in. Then I burst out laughing.
“No, honey,” I said, as I wrapped her in my arms and kissed her, “you’re not dying. I’m just starting to live!”—Tom Anderson
Tom “chose to love” by setting aside his Wall Street worries and personal interests to focus positive attention on his family, primarily his wife, in this instance. What resulted provides further evidence that when we take time to love, we often make a tremendously meaningful and lasting impact. In this case, his wife was so surprised by the attention that she was receiving that she thought something must be wrong—even had thoughts that she might be dying. She turned out to be just fine, but there are many people in the world who are dying for a little attention, compassion, and love. We probably all know people like that in our lives.
In fact, we all feel like that at times, and if that’s the case, how would we want others to treat us? Why shouldn’t we then give that to others?
There are many benefits to living a life of love for God and others. One of the main paybacks is that when we live more for others than for ourselves, we find that life has purpose. When we live a life of purpose, we are living a life that has value. Not many things in our lives are eternal. Love is. Love has eternal value; how’s that for purpose? Over time, a life lived in selfishness will bring about a deep void inside, because God created us with yearnings that can only be satisfied by something greater then ourselves, by living in loving relationship with Him and others. He created us with a need to give to others, to sacrifice for others, in order to find lasting fulfillment and purpose.
Consider the following true story:
A man we’ll call Bill Wilkins, a Wall Street broker, woke up one morning in a hospital for drunkards. Despondently he peered up at the house doctor and groaned, “Doc, how many times have I been in this joint?”
“I suppose liquor is going to kill me?”
“Bill,” replied the doctor solemnly, “it won’t be long now.”
“Then,” said Bill, “how about a drink to straighten me out?”
“I guess that would be all right, given the circumstances,” agreed the doctor. “But I’ll make a bargain with you. There’s a young fellow in the next room in a pretty bad way. He’s here for the first time. Maybe if you showed yourself as a horrible example, you might scare him into staying sober for the rest of his life.”
Instead of resentment, Bill showed a flicker of interest. “Okay,” he said. “But don’t forget that drink when I come back.”
The young man was certain that he was doomed, and Bill, who considered himself an agnostic, incredulously heard himself urging the lad to turn to a higher power.
“Liquor is a power outside yourself that has overcome you,” he urged. “Only another outside power can save you. If you don’t want to call it God, call it truth.”
Whatever the effect on the young man, Bill greatly impressed himself. Back in his own room, he forgot his bargain with the doctor. Bill never did collect the promised drink. Thinking of someone else at long last, he had given the law of unselfishness a chance to work on him. It worked so well that he lived to become a founder of a highly effective movement in healing faith—Alcoholics Anonymous.
William Griffith Wilson was Bill’s real name, though in keeping with Alcoholics Anonymous tradition, most knew him simply as Bill W. How could he have ever imagined what a worldwide good would eventually come about as a result of the moment he shifted his focus from being selfish to selfless? It is in forgetting ourselves and investing in others that we often reap the greatest dividends.—Fulton Oursler
Here was a guy who was about as down and out as a man can be, having been in the hospital for drunkards 50 times. He must have felt so defeated and so without hope, especially being an agnostic. But even he found a new start in his life through caring about others and trying to help others.
Most of us have likely seen examples of this kind of renewal in our own lives. Maybe there have been times when you just couldn’t seem to make a needed change no matter how hard you tried, until the day you shifted your focus from yourself to another, and then the willpower was there to change, progress, move ahead in life, and even to help a friend in need do the same.
This concept is expressed well by Elisabeth Elliot, as follows:
Do you often feel like parched ground, unable to produce anything worthwhile? I do. When I am in need of refreshment, it isn’t easy to think of the needs of others. But I have found that if, instead of praying for my own comfort and satisfaction, I ask the Lord to enable me to give to others, an amazing thing often happens—I find my own needs wonderfully met. Refreshment comes in ways I would never have thought of, both for others, and then, incidentally, for myself.
Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.—Luke 6:38 2
Roadmap was a video series created by TFI for young adults. Originally published in 2010. Adapted and republished on Anchor January 2017.
Read by Simon Peterson