A Crisis of Purpose

SELF | 6 mins

I hate unloading the dishwasher. In a household of six, it’s a never-ending cycle. I hate that all those dishes are going right back in there later tonight. There’s never anything finished with dishes.

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I felt an utter lack of purpose. The repetitive tasks of being at home all the time were making me feel frustrated and bored. I felt like part of me was not in use. I was sad that the skills I had were getting rusty. I wanted “greater purpose:” something more important, more impactful to do or be in the world. I had left work to stay home with my kids in response to where I thought God was leading me. Now I was mad that my obedience seemed to shrink my daily purpose to diapers, schedules, and playtime. Some kind of “purpose” was missing. Not the big picture, long term purpose of raising my children: I was bought into that. I knew I needed to be home with my four babies for a while. I wasn’t going anywhere. But another type of purpose—the kind we find in the day to day tasks of our hands, minds, and feet. I wanted to punch people who said things like, “Every diaper you change with love is an act of great purpose.” Really?! The third diaper blow-out of the day is my purpose?! This is it?! I yearned for more and then hated myself for that feeling. I privately mourned the death of jobs, talents, friends, and dreams that had gone someplace I could no longer access. I kept it to myself to avoid the “you’re doing the most important thing in the world” lectures.

Not long after my dishwasher meltdown, I had an interaction with God I will never forget. If that’s a weird sentence to read, I just mean that as I’ve learned to talk to God (AKA prayer), I’ve learned the ways He talks to me too. Sometimes a phrase or picture comes to mind that I know must be coming from Him. In this case, I was praying, again asking him about what was going on with all this. Suddenly I imagined a scene taking place:

I was holding a heart—a human heart—in my hands. It was alive and beating. It represented all that I’d wanted, worked for, and called my own. It represented what I had previously thought were the purposes of my life and the skills, talents, and dreams that went with them. I held my own purpose in the palm of my hands. I sensed God wanted me to let go. To set it down. So I set the heart on the floor. I was terrified. I slowly watched the heart stop beating and said out loud to him, “I give up. I can’t keep this alive anymore. It’s not working. I don’t know what You are doing with me, but if there’s any purpose left, then you’ll have to keep it alive.” I was sad and resigned and bitter. I pushed the heart towards God and watched the heartbeat slow and come to a stop. I began to turn around. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught one small flutter of a heartbeat. And I walked away.

For a couple of years after that, I would catch a glimpse every now and then of that tiny, almost imperceptible heartbeat—in a dream or while I was praying. I would tell God I was pretty sure it was completely dead now. I moved on. I cared for my four babies and took care of my home, and slooooowly arrived at a place of real peace in doing those things every day. It was a peace that only surrender could have offered me. When I had a few minutes during naptimes I’d sometimes read my Bible and see that Jesus was the perfect example of giving up your own life to receive some kind of new life from the Father, and I began to believe in that for me, too:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2:6-10

God was actually doing a work of great purpose during this era of my life. And it had nothing to do with my daily tasks. He was trying to form my character and get down to the foundation.

I had all kinds of assumptions about what my life would be. Not all of them were his. He wasn’t worried about MY purpose; he was busy accomplishing his. This time of my life lowered me, stripped me down, showed me that the world could easily and happily go on without me. He taught me so much about myself, a healthy home, and a happy family. He put “the big rocks” into place for the future. I had to let go of what I viewed as my purpose, so he could invite me into his. I now know that God’s “purpose” for me during this era was to suffer my way out of thinking I could define and live my own purpose.

Now I look back on these seven years, and I see God’s kindness. This mighty struggle with purpose rebuilt me into a woman of grace; someone who knows that anything of value I am invited to do with God is a gift I don’t deserve. The suffering and waiting of seven years through a sense of “missing” purpose was actually the greatest period of God’s purpose for me. He was accomplishing things in me—not through me—so we could live many more years of His purposes together. And now I remind myself all the time,”Be still, my beating heart, and know I am God.” (Psalm 46:1)

Written by Alli Patterson on Sep 28, 2019
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