• Published
  • By Lt. Col David Berube
  • 102nd Intelligence Wing Chaplain
Michael Christiano was a court officer in New York City. That was his job. But his purpose was delivering validation of humanity and kindness in the form of sandwiches for homeless people. Starting in the mid-1970s, Christiano made extra sandwiches (eventually hundreds of them) as he prepared his lunch in the morning each day. On his way to work he delivered them to folks living on the streets. For Christiano, it was about bringing positive interaction and personal attention to each of these people along with the sandwiches. Christiano, was eventually supported along the way by others, and continued this practice for over 20 years (story found in A 4th Helping of Chicken Soup for the Soul, pages 73-75).

Purpose is more than just something we're required to do. Purpose is that thing in life we're drawn to do. Regardless of our particular job, hobbies, or other life requirements, our purpose taps into our reason for being. It's our answer to life's Big Question, "Why am I here?"

I believe knowing our purpose in life is critical to our personal and corporate wellbeing. Why? Because almost everything else in life changes. Throughout the course of our lives we may reside in many different places and have different jobs or careers. Hobbies may change. Family, friends and neighbors will enter and exit our lives by birth, death, and all kinds of events in between. Our purpose, once found, is more permanent. Even though it may become refined over time, the core of our purpose doesn't change. Knowing our purpose gives us an anchor that helps keep the rest of life's changes from feeling like chaos.

How do we find our purpose? For many of us, discerning our purpose is more of a quest than simply an "aha moment." Answering life's Big Question happens as we reflect upon some other questions, and our journey through life itself - What really gets me out of bed and makes me look forward to my day? What do I get so absorbed in that I lose track of time when I'm doing it? What is that thing that, no matter how tired it makes me, I look forward to doing? What is it that when I'm doing it I feel like I'm contributing to life in a significant way?

I recently ran across an article by Dr. Susan Biali in which she offers the following "Six E's of Finding Your Purpose" (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/prescriptions-life/201211/6-keys-finding-your-purpose):

It can be ELUSIVE - She points out that for many of us finding our purpose is not as obvious as we might think it should be. It is not unusual that our purpose becomes clear as we see where our heart, talents, and life lead us.

It is often EVOLVING - Discerning our purpose is about taking a journey. Our purpose becomes clearer, Biali says, as we learn about ourselves and get clues from living our life.

It emerges from EXPERIENCE - Part of the quest for our purpose is trying things out. While we're still in the discovery process it's okay to pursue a potential purpose, even if we're not certain it's "the right one." Through our experience we learn and adjust our understanding of our purpose.

It is EXACTLY perfectly timed - Purpose, Biali points out, can be discerned at any point in our life. It doesn't necessarily become clear in a preset way at a specific time for any of us. We may even feel at times like our purpose is stalled or becoming more refined. Whether we believe purpose is discovered solely by our efforts or is granted by God (or a combination of both) it always seems to become clearer at just the right time.

We are EMINENTLY qualified for it - Because it's our purpose, we are specifically qualified to pursue it. Biali mentions that we can follow our purpose even if we're deemed "lacking" to follow it by others. It is true we may need more training, experience, or other inputs to fulfill our purpose, but the lack of those things should not keep us from undertaking the journey.

It should be an ENJOYABLE adventure - Our purpose may be to hand out 200 sandwiches a day or be a gentle voice of hope to those in despair. It may impact the whole world or our little corner of it. Whatever our purpose is, following it should bring us joy. Our purpose should energize us rather than burden us. So if the purpose we claim as ours doesn't bring us joy we need to re-evaluate for an adjustment or change in direction.

Knowing our purpose is good for us as individuals because it helps keep us focused, well-balanced, and inspired in the midst of a changing world. It is also good for the world around us and the people in it, because purposeful people can impact others in ways that make their lives better.

You may already know what your purpose is and be able to talk about it. That's great. You may have an idea, but you're not exactly sure. You may not have ever thought about your purpose in life before. Wherever you're at in your journey, I'd like to hear about it. Come see me sometime and we can swap stories about why we're here. And if you're not sure, I'll be glad to help you figure it out (that's part of my purpose).