The Challenges in Finding Purpose
On radio and television you constantly hear ads about planning for a well-funded retirement. Suppose with the help of a financial advisor, and/or through pluck and true grit, you do it. You wake up on Day One of your next ten years in retirement (whatever that is), and you, and the one you love, if a couple is involved, have all the money you ever needed, more than enough to do whatever you want. What would you do?
A longtime friend, prolific author, speaker, and trainer, Mitch Anthony, author of The New Retirementality and other books on both the meaningful and destructive uses of money, has said that in retirement you need enough money to sleep soundly at night, but you also need a purpose to wake up to in the morning. Lack of purpose is destructive. So, what is purpose?
Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), British statesman, Scottish essayist, historian, and philosopher, wrote, “A man without a purpose is like a ship without a rudder─a waif, a nothing, a no man. Have a purpose in life, and having it, throw such strength of mind and muscle into your work as God has given you.” Substitute woman or person for “man” if you wish, but you get the point. Life without purpose leaves one adrift.
Life expectancy in England in the 1800s was approximately forty years, which included high numbers of infant deaths. Life was hard and most people did not contemplate retirement as we know it today. They worked until they dropped. Very few lived into their fifties, let alone their eighties as Carlyle did. In the long history of mankind’s struggles, that you have the option of contemplating longevity, and actualizing a well-funded retirement, is a gift from your Creator. And He has a plan for overcoming boredom, a by-product of retirement.
Boredom is the downside of having ample time on your hands sans a plan to use it well with energy-bolstering purpose. When a person is asked what retirement looks like to them, most answer with a laundry list of activities...travel, play more golf, fish or hunt, spend time with children and grandchildren, move to a retirement community, etc. These are activities, what a friend called “excessive leisure.” After sleeping, eating, grooming, and taking care of other daily necessities, over the average day you will have about fourteen hours to fill, 5,110 hours in a year, 153,300 hours over a potential thirty year retirement. Beyond the activities listed above, which are fine but cannot be done to excess, what are you going to do to bring meaning and purpose into your life outside of “busy work?” What happens if you wake up morning after morning with ample money but no purpose? Boredom, loss of energy, physical and mental deterioration, restlessness, destructive behavior, drinking to excess, filing for divorce in search of something new, are potential results, but not positive outcomes!
Lots of things go into having a sense of purpose. Being useful and appreciated, perseverance, for example. Another British statesman, Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881), opined, “The secret to success is constancy of purpose.” The apostle Paul was verbally abused, stoned, beaten, and driven away by skeptics and disbelievers, but he persisted in his mission aided by the Holy Spirit. Hardship and resistance often brings greater resolve to a purpose-fueled quest. Tenacity is a sign of dedication and purpose.
The Baltimore Catechism was published in 1885 as a compendium of Christian doctrine, posing a series of questions and answers. Question one affirmed that God made the world. Question six dealt with our purpose on earth, asking, “Why did God make you?” The answer: “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him, and to be happy with Him for ever in Heaven.” That explains the purpose God had in mind for us when we were given the gift of life. Jesus gave us two great commandments that underpin purpose. The first was, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” The second was to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” (Matthew 22:37-39).
Folks who are not religious certainly can find purpose and meaning in life. For all of us, God’s commandments about loving and selfless giving can aid us in our quest for purpose. All around us are worthy charities that can benefit from your skills as a volunteer. Financial donations are welcome, but personal involvement will further bolster your sense of satisfaction and purpose. At a recent conference, this writer was asked what my guiding purpose was. “My purpose,” I said, “is to get to Heaven and take as many people with me as I can.” Supporting charities that do God’s work on earth is part of my mission.
An unknown author noted, “Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.” In addition to outreach efforts sponsored by houses of worship, we are blessed with charities in our community that provide essential services such as Atlanta Mission, Atlanta Community Food Bank, The Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Habitat for Humanity, North Fulton Community Charities, no-kill animal shelters and pet rescue, and so on.
Countless testimonials from volunteers attest to the power of God’s grace and the energy one receives from service. Giving, whether time and/or money, feels good. Loving one’s neighbor as oneself as Our Lord commanded is a proven antidote to boredom, listlessness, and a nagging lack of purpose, all silent killers of the spirit. Worthy causes are all around you. They need you!