Our sense of purpose guides everything in our lives – how we spend our time, how we spend our money, people whom we choose as our friends, how we make decisions. To neglect our purpose is to neglect who God created us to be. So, how might we discover and more fully live into the purpose for why we’re even on this earth?
Recently I was given a copy of Conscious Company, a magazine that explores an emerging definition of success in business that centers on a company’s ability to have a positive effect on society and the environment. The magazine highlights companies who are providing new models based on a broader understanding of their responsibility beyond making money. One of the articles was about Eileen Fisher, designer and manufacturer, who has pledged 100% sustainability in the creation of her clothes by 2020. Formed in collaboration with company employees, the goals of Vision2020 include using a responsible supply chain for materials, eliminating dangerous toxins in fabrics, minimizing waste in the production process, and intentional care and respect for how people in the production process are treated and paid. These goals have come from her sense of purpose which has grown and developed over time. A clarifying event for Ms. Fisher came through a workshop exercise where she was instructed to sit in a chair and embody her purpose. In that chair she became her purpose, and, as she explains, you “talk to yourself as your purpose” asking questions like, “What are you doing with your life? Why are you doing this? What really matters? Why are you forgetting about me?” *
What great questions! I was really struck by this exercise. I thought, “Can I sit in a chair and know my purpose well enough to become my purpose and let it question me?” A purpose needs clarity and that is not always easy. We are pulled in so many different directions. What IS my purpose? What is your purpose?
That you are reading this article (and that I’m writing it) seems to indicate that one of our purposes is connected to the Rule of St. Benedict and the Benedictine way of living. A purpose you and I share in common is the desire to learn more about that way of life and live it, given the challenges and opportunities of our responsibilities and personal situations. Yet there is a purpose we share over and above even this that the Rule itself points to. The Rule is a manual for the purpose of seeking God in community.
What does Benedict say about this purpose? Plenty. We are to stay faithful in this search (stability) and to listen for the ways that God calls us through persons and situations to live this purpose (obedience). Christ’s love is to come before all else (4.21) and it is him we are to prefer above everything (72.11). We are not to be daunted by difficulties and challenges for God will bring our efforts to completion with the result being “a heart overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love” (Prologue 48-49). Benedict reminds us that God’s presence is everywhere (RB 19.1) and that the Lord in his love shows us the way of life (Prologue20). We are to seek first the kingdom of God (RB 2.35).
Our purpose as Christians and followers of St. Benedict and his Rule, then, is to seek God above all things and in all things. To me, this is the purpose that enfolds what I call our “personal purpose” to which we are committed like Eileen Fisher’s commitment to sustainability in her company. First there is the underlying search for God in all we do, and second, a personal purpose to which we are committed. We need to clarify the personal purpose – what are the chosen daily activities and personal goals within which we will seek God? Over the last several years my purpose in ministry has been to present ideas from the Rule and offer ways to bring these practices to life. This has been done through retreat leadership and writing. So within that “personal purpose” is where I seek the larger purpose – God. But there may be ways and aspects within this personal purpose yet to be discovered. Or maybe even a different personal purpose is knocking at the door of my heart. It will take quiet and reflection to discover either.
In the Tool that accompanies this article I recommend that you and I follow Ms Fisher by sitting in a chair and embodying our purpose in order to let this purpose help us live it more fully – our purpose of seeking God and our personal purpose through which we use our gifts to serve others, sharing the love of Christ. In a time of daily quiet, even for a minute or two, let our purpose, and God, instruct us in the way we should go.
* Ms Fisher was attending a workshop led by Otto Scharmer, an American economist and Senior Lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology .
To use the Tool that goes with this article, click here.