A version of this post first appeared on the Delight Ministries blog.
How do you make important decisions for a future that has yet to unfold?
In 5, 10, or 15 years, will you look back on your decisions and celebrate them or regret them? How do you avoid the struggle that you are scared will hit you once you join “the real world”? Will you have chosen correctly? Will you have done enough? Will you be able to find stability, joy, and fulfillment, and still be able to pay back loans or afford a decent place to live? Won’t everything hang on the decisions you make right now?
It sure feels like it. For some of us asking these questions, we feel the constant pressure of choosing well. For others of us, we are so overwhelmed by the questions that we try to put off any important decisions as long as we can.
College is fun. College is hard. College is a time to gain an education. College is a time to enjoy a social life. It’s all true. But how do we set ourselves up well for the best possible future?
It is amazing how many factors contribute to a fulfilling life of purpose. How do you find that thing that you love doing, that the world needs, that pays well, and that you are great at? How do you mix your passion, mission, vocation, and profession?
Here’s the truth: If you think that by graduation, you will be ready to step boldly into fulfilling your purpose, think again. That’s not where anyone is at 22, and that might actually be okay! Stepping into your deepest sense of purpose is the journey of your life. It will take time, trial and error, continuing education, helpful mentors, important decisions, motivation, courage, and probably some risk in order to get there.
I think back to an activity from my high school bible study where a question was posed for us to discuss as a group:
If you could ask God one question and get a direct answer, what would it be?
Surprisingly, the same question kept coming up again and again. People wanted to ask, “God, what is my purpose?”
Purpose is an idea that is often linked to faith. Purpose is supposed to tell us the reason why we’re here, what we are supposed to do, and who we are supposed to be. It is no wonder that many people look to an all-knowing God when seeking an answer.
The only downside is that God isn’t exactly in the habit of answering our personal questions so directly. How wonderful would that be! It would save so much time to hear exactly what kind of work will fulfill us. While God may know the answer, finding our life’s purpose is not meant to be delivered from above, but rather discovered within ourselves. Rather than an answer, God gives us important markers through which we can find clarity and direction that lead us on that path of discovery.
When we’re looking for our purpose, one of the most important indicators we receive from God is when our hearts break.
When our hearts break from a story on the news, a tragic life event, or even an encounter in our daily lives, we have to resist the urge to avert our eyes because it’s too painful. Instead, what if we really started listening to that heartbreak and confronted the true source of it? What if we used that heartbreak to discover the passion and mission that is hidden inside of our hearts? What if our heartbreak unlocks something that brings us to partnership with God in healing the world one step at a time?
Maybe stepping into your purpose is less defined by your major and more defined by your ability to stay vigilant—to keep paying attention to what’s going on around you and within you, and then use your skills, experience, resources, and education to meet those needs.
Before we come to understand the purpose driving our lives, we have to discover answers to some essential questions about ourselves. It may take us decades to be able to answer some of them, while others we may have learned when we were kids.
What do you love doing? What sets your heart on fire? What do you want to keep learning about? What section of the bookstore do you find yourself scouring for fun?
What does the world need? What are some needs in your community that you’ve seen up close? What are some needs in other parts of the world that have grabbed your attention? If you had a million dollars to donate to any organization, where would you send it? What kinds of things have you needed in your own journey? Who provided them? How?
What are you great at? What has made you feel proud of yourself? Have you been recognized for some contribution you’ve made? What have you offered people that they were grateful for? What was the last thing that someone thanked you for?
It may take a while to find a job that fulfills all of these different hopes for our life’s work, but for now, we can try to answer them individually and incorporate them into our lives. Take a pottery class or do yoga just because you love it. Volunteer at a local non-profit that fills the need which breaks your heart. Find an internship or an online class to develop your natural gifts.
And most importantly, in each of these activities, be on the lookout for where God is present, teaching, and refining you. Allow yourself to walk through a newly opened door or to say yes before you’re fully ready. When there is an opportunity to follow where you think God is moving, give yourself the freedom to explore a new path on the way to purpose.