Replenish the toilet paper. Chaperone the field trip. Make a meal for the new family. Meet with a student. Often my sense of purpose feels incredibly piecemeal, scattered, unintegrated. With scattered roles to fill and needs to meet, I succumb to a patchwork purpose which inevitably leads me to seeing my life through the dull lens of boredom.
Rather than waking up with a sense of anticipation and wonder, I often wake up in the morning and quickly look to my planner or my to-do list to derive my pieces of patchwork purpose for the day. Today is a house-cleaning day. Today is an athletic-practice day. Today is a host-people-for-dinner day.
According to Henri Nouwen in his book Intimacy, the challenge of adulthood is boredom.
“Many people who no longer see the meaning of their lives, their family, often utterly dull, activities, feel bored. Boredom is the dullness of life felt all the way to your stomach….Boredom is the disconnected life, filled with thousands of different words, ideas, thoughts and acts which seem like so many pieces of garbage in stagnant waters. Boredom, which so easily leads to depression, often can become a pervasive feeling, a creeping temptation, difficult to shake off.”
The antidote to such boredom is not what many of us think it would be. Instinctively, we tend to look for spurts of excitement or newness to break the chain of monotony. For the more adventurous, the relief may be sought in traveling, sky-diving or a new careers. For the more cautious, the attempted relief may look like a new pair of shoes or a new friend or a new haircut or hobby.
While there is nothing wrong with mixing it up a bit, these solutions address only the surface of boredom, while leaving the source of the boredom burrowed down deep. We don’t need new activities or things, we need new eyes to see the same old things. We need the pervasive purpose that comes from perspective.
Christianity offers the antidote to the bleak boredom that stalks so many mothers and adults today: a pervasive purpose, a unifying framework upon which to hang the scattered pieces of daily life.
Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 1:
Question: What is the chief end of man?
Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
We have to get first things first. In order to live full lives, we need to know why we exist. We must start with the largest, most overarching, all-encompassing purpose. If we can start there and stay there, even the smallest, seemingly significant things can be colored and interpreted through that ultimate lens.
Through this lens, watering my garden goes from being a chore to a chance to both glorify God and enjoy Him and a field trip to the Science museum goes from being a grin-and-bear-it experience to a chance to know God better through His creation (both inert science and the overly-ert children I must keep up with).
To be honest, most days, if you look at my life, you wouldn’t see the excitement and energy of a woman who truly believes that her life has an eternally pervasive purpose. Rather, you would see a glaze-eyed momma whose purpose seems to be to get through the day with the least amount of sibling squabbles and the most efficient errand path.
However, on the days when I actually stop and rehearse this highly significant question in my head, I am given the gift of pervasive purpose. On these glorious days when the Spirit enables me to see through the perspective of the Word, the random little jobs that my day entails are marked by pervasive peace and purpose.
Through the lens of deep eternal purpose, replenishing the pantry, potty training and cleaning sheets (all things to which I am naturally and strongly averse) all become opportunities to experience God.
And whatever you do, whether in word or in deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17.
It is such a short little verse, so easily thrown around and memorized; yet, this little Pauline nugget holds the key to pervasive purpose.
Father, let us know the depths of purpose to be found in you. May we become people who live under the overarching purpose that gives significance and coherence to the seemingly scattered and insignificant events of our day-to-day adult lives. Move us from being a people of patchwork purpose to a people pervaded by your deeper purpose. Amen.