Looking for Meaning and Purpose in Life? Wait for it…

By the Reverend Chris Harris, Associate Rector

During the first two weeks of Advent, 35 of us gathered on Wednesday nights to engage the search for meaning in our lives in a workshop called “Discovering My Purpose.” With literally hundreds of thousands of books and articles on the subject, our rational brain wants to hear the bulletproof “4-point formula”, so we can get our purpose in life squared away once and for all.  We even looked at a popular TED Talk that promised to reveal your purpose in life under five minutes!  (It didn’t.)  And when it doesn’t happen so easily, we noticed the quest can bring with it no small amount of anxiety – particularly as we get older and the perception sets in that our options in life are narrowing, and the time have to find our calling, growing ever shorter.  It’s all made more complicated by a culture that’s wired us to think that our purpose needs to be some big, earth shattering thing.

Needless to say, we soon realized we were going to need more a lot more than two sessions!  We came to learn the search for meaning and purpose is not a one-time event or decision.  It’s not something we can order up with the latest app or “how-to” seminar.  Nor is it something that will necessarily impress people conditioned to think we should have a plan to change the world. For Christians it’s a lifelong journey of learning to listen to the Holy Spirit. Like the response to our Baptism that becomes the work of our lives, it’s a listening that never ends, because the world of compassion we are called to build—the greatest remodel project in the history of creation—is never complete. And while we may get distracted from time to time or wander far off that road, life has a way of calling us back to the journey. A divorce, the loss of a job, having children, becoming empty nesters, retiring from a long career, a life-changing illness, the list goes on and on. The chapters of our life have a way of reminding us that our longing for meaning and purpose is still with us, and in some cases, feeling more urgent than ever.

Yet despite the urgency we might be feeling, we learned that one of the most important lessons of Advent, applied perfectly to our search: Waiting. Not waiting from the perspective of doing nothing, but waiting from the perspective of letting go. Letting go of our “4-point formula”, letting go of our urgency to nail something down, and letting go of our ego and desire to compare and impress. We learned that for Christians, meaning and purpose flow from a posture of listening for ‘the still small voice’ of the Holy Spirit, whispering to us, calling us back onto the path of greater Love. As with so much of the Christian path, its often the opposite of whatever the culture might expect. As Saint Thérèse of Lisieux reminded us with her “Little Way” and how following God’s calling can be lived out in the smallest of moments and the simplest gestures. It happens whenever we slow down enough to be fully present to the moment and whoever or whatever God has placed before us. Whenever we can be still enough to recall the presence of God and accept the invitation into the greatest, wildest, life-changing journey of them all that has been in front of us all along…if we can only wait for it.

If you would like to join an ongoing small group of fellow travelers supporting and encouraging you in this journey of discovery and responding to God’s call, email Fr. Chris.