Living A Purpose-Full Lifeby Jan Johnson
In Living a Purpose-Full Life, Jan Johnson explains how women can find their God-given purpose in life.
God’s call on a woman’s life isn’t meant to remain a mystery. More than a role, a spiritual gift, or a job she loves, finding her purpose is about knowing who she is: God’s woman in this world. Within these/b>/b>/i>
In Living a Purpose-Full Life, Jan Johnson explains how women can find their God-given purpose in life.
God’s call on a woman’s life isn’t meant to remain a mystery. More than a role, a spiritual gift, or a job she loves, finding her purpose is about knowing who she is: God’s woman in this world. Within these pages readers will discover what purpose in life is, why they need it, and how they can find it. Best of all, each woman will simplify her life by focusing on the things that matter most to her and God, as she becomes the woman he desires her to be.
- The Crown Publishing Group
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- 1 ED
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- 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.50(d)
Read an Excerpt
Hungry for Purpose
Have you ever had one of those hectic days when you wondered, Would the disciples have run their lives with daily planners in little loose-leaf notebooks? You've crossed off the errands on your to-do list and you've made all those telephone calls, but you wonder, Did God intend for my life to be so frantic?
Or perhaps you've found yourself having more life-defining moments, sitting in places such as hospital waiting rooms and wondering, Has my life counted for anything?. Have I made a difference for someone else?
These two crosscurrentstoo much activity and too little meaninghave created a floating dissatisfaction among many women. The first is a surging torrent of morning-noon-and-night busyness while the other is a quiet ticking away of life's minutes without purpose. These two processes can prompt a penetrating self-examination: Why am I doing these things? What is all this for?
If that's how you feel, you are not alone. While interviewing many women for this book and staying up late talking to others at retreats, I've heard varied questions and comments regarding purpose in life, such as:
· "I don't really like my job, but what can I do?"
· "There's so much I'd like to dohow do I decide?"
· "I may be fifty, but I'm still trying to decide what to be when I grow up."
Linda, for example, has achieved her career goal of becoming a nurse manager, andalthough she's a competent one, she feels something is missing. She considered going to medical school to become a doctor. "But I thought about it and figured out it was only so I could own a luxurious home and have more people look up to me.
"It all eludes me. I go to church and read my Bible, but I don't make a difference in this world. After a wasted evening of unplanned television watching, I feel guilty. Sure, I'm nice enough to fill in for other nurses when they have a sick kid at home, but I don't ever go the extra mile as Jesus said to. My work is my work and my faith is my faith. Patients represent more things to do, not people with souls that God loves."
Things came to a head when Linda attended her twenty-year high school reunion. "I saw my life was ticking away. I have only a certain amount of time left. I want to do the things I thought were meaningful. Is what I'm doing still meaningful to me? I've got to figure that out."
Denise is at home with three children and enjoys the comings and goings of a mom's life. But in the quiet moments, as she rocks her crying toddler, she wonders if the latchkey kids down the street can operate the microwave without burning themselves. She thinks about the bag lady who was digging scraps out of the dumpster at the fast-food restaurant and wonders where she sleeps. "Yes," she says, "I'm taking care of my kids, but isn't there something we could do together to be like Jesus?"
Mary began working as a bank teller years ago because "I didn't want to think about my job after hours, so I'd be free to focus on my husband and kids." Even though her children are now grown, her after-work hours are filled with running from one activity to anotherpicking up prescriptions, going to church meetings. She didn't think much about purpose until her friend's son was diagnosed with AIDS and Mary helped care for him. After he died, she attended a grief support group with her friend. "They helped each other so muchI envied that," Mary commented. "I do good things, but is anyone's life better because of what I've done?"
One night after giving a dinner party to entertain the big kahunas from her husband's office, Mary became almost angry as she cleaned up. "Where am I going in life?" she asked her husband. "Yes, I care for you and I enjoy my job. But I want something to live and die for besides a clean kitchen counter and a car that's fun to drive. We haven't made it this long together to do nothing, have we?"
Women from twenty to seventy, single and married, are searching for meaning in the midst of their nonstop coming and going. Sometimes this questioning is spurred by decade birthdaysthirty forty, fifty, sixty, seventyor by an event such as a reunion at which we suddenly realize life is not a dress rehearsal. Sometimes it's triggered by a loss or a failure: divorce, children leaving home, long-term unemployment, a mastectomy, or the death of a parent. That catastrophe creates a space in our lives, and we realize we're not willing to go back to the hectic way things were.
Achievement can spawn introspection as well. A successful certified public accountant working for a large firm told me: "When I chose this field, I was an insecure, bleached-blond nineteen-year-old. I've achieved her goals and it wasn't such a big deal after all. What will I do now?" Another woman whose last child was leaving home said to me, "Will I ever find anything as meaningful as parenting my children?"
Is Getting Out of the House the Answer?
Especially since the onset of the women's movement, women have broken barriers and defied discrimination. When I was young, girls who wrote to NASA asking what it would take to become an astronaut were informed that girls need not apply. In the decades since, NASA has said to women, "Please do apply!" If barriers have melted, why has the level of dissatisfaction remained the same?
Getting out of the house is not the definitive road to fulfillment because even if she leaves home, a woman is not guaranteed meaningful work. A study presented in the Journal of Organizational Behavior confirmed the notion that women have higher job-turnover rates than men. A survey of nearly six hundred male and female executives, managers, and professionals revealed that women were twice as likely as men to leave their jobs within two years (22.2 percent of the women versus 12.2 percent of the men).
Why do women change jobs or leave the work force so frequently? The study looked at reasons such as wages, tenure, benefits, working conditions, job security, and paid vacation. As I examined this study, I assumed women left jobs to avoid discrimination, to stay home with their kids, or to glide in the "mommy track" (working fewer hours or less-demanding jobs). I was wrong. According to the survey, the primary reason women quit their jobs was lack of satisfaction with the job itself. This study, described in an article aptly titled, "Ain't Got No Satisfaction: Working Women," shows women often don't find their jobs meaningful and they're rankled by that. While income is important, a paycheck is not enough to hold many women to a particular job.
In fact, the trend of women joining the work force is reversing itself. In describing the phenomenon of increasing numbers of women leaving the work force, author Leith Anderson told this story in Christianity Today:
Karol Emmerich, 45, was listed by Working Woman magazine as one of 73 female executives "ready to run corporate America." As vice president, treasurer, and chief accounting officer of the Dayton Hudson Corporation, she became the highest-level woman in the $18 billion retailing company. Then, in May 1993, she resigned to pursue community-service projects and offer her expertise to Christian organizations. Said Emmerich, "I recognize that career advancement is not going to fill all the needs in my life." She says she is after a "more balanced life" where she can focus on "nurturing relationshipswith God, my family, old and new friends."
Even in a top-level job, certain things are missing that women want from life: meaningful partnership in God's purposes, connectedness with others, making a difference in this world. Better jobs and more respect haven't brought us what we want. Instead, we have discovered that materialism breeds discontent, trying to be superwomen breeds fragmentation, and working in an office (even a church office) staffed by people with large egos breeds disillusionment.
This search for meaning is so pervasive that "legacy coach" (a combination of mentor, taskmaster, motivational speaker, business consultant, and therapist) was the runner-up hottest consulting track in 1996, according to U.S. News & World Report. Those hiring coaches include women looking not only for career counseling, but also seeking direction and meaning in life. Amy Watson of Coach University (a Houston-based classroom-without-walls founded in 1992) tells about a female university professor who was overwhelmed with the demands of life, especially teaching and publishing responsibilities. She hired a "legacy coach" to figure out which projects were most crucial to her, which she could let go, which tasks to delegate to colleagues, and how to manage her work load. Like her, many of us are trying to figure out what is most important and how to arrange our lives around that.
Women who stay at home with children face similar struggles. They understand that one of their life purposes is nurturing children, but the long-term picture is fuzzy. Changing diapers and cleaning up messes, when done with love, make a huge difference. Yet these women desire to do as women throughout the ages have donebe mothers and obey the commands of God to be a light to God's world in some way (Matthew 28:19-20; 1 Timothy 4:10-11).
Something Bigger Than Me
All these women are crying out for a purpose in life, or what may be referred to as a "sense of mission" or a "calling." Our purpose in life is a narrow slice of God's enormous purposes. For example, the apostle Paul had one single-minded mission: "Although I am less than the least of all God's people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ" (Ephesians 3:8). But purpose in life is more than a task to do. Paul didn't just preach; he did whatever was necessary to win a people for whom his heart was brokenthe Gentiles (Galatians 1:16; 2:2, 8; Ephesians 3:1; 2 Timothy 4:17). Like Paul, Peter also had that special mission of establishing the church, but his ministry was geared primarily to the Jewish world. Obviously, the same specific purpose may be lived out in many ways, depending on an individual's opportunities, temperament, and relationships.
Some women may be unable to articulate their purpose, but it runs through their lives thematically, woven through their tasks and relationships on a daily basis as a red thread spanning the length of a garment. When I asked my friend Barbara Dauer about her purpose, she could not identify it, but I've watched her for years, and it's obvious to me: She educates the have-nots in our culture.
When I first met Barbara, in addition to her part-time job, she was befriending Cambodian refugees and teaching them English as a second language. When she later began teaching kindergarten, it wasn't long before she was asked to teach the "wise 5s class"a prekindergarten class for children who "had not" the readiness for academic kindergarten. A few years later, she was offered a job at an inner-city school. Since I'd lived in that area, she asked me, "Is it a safe neighborhood?" I told her it absolutely was not safe and driveby shootings were common. "But this neighborhood is filled with people of great courage, overcoming obstacles you and I will never experience," I added. "Living there gave me the courage to begin writing." Even though Barbara has had to work hard at overcoming fears in her life, she took the job. Show this woman a marginalized, ill-thought-of person, and she'll wonder how she can teach him or her to read and write.
Our purposes in life answer our unfulfilled longings to communicate what we believe is important or to change the things about the world that break our heart. When we don't pay attention to these longings, we feel empty and isolated, no matter how well paid, well loved, or well coifed we are.
If you sense the heartbreak of God and cannot express it, you will be frustrated. This appears to have been the case with Elizabeth Dole several years ago. Based on what she has said and done, one of her life purposes appears to be improving conditions for those in need. As secretary of labor in the early 1990s, she prepared a massive initiative to prevent abuse of farm workers and improve their working conditions. In her plan she wrote: "I was shocked and deeply moved by what I witnessed [when touring the fields]. I saw conditions that are not only unnecessary and unacceptable for any workers, but also are an affront to human dignity." Her initiative was rebuffed, however, and so conditions remained unchanged. A labor source familiar with the plan said that it was a factor in her resignation four months later. When Mrs. Dole went on to become president of the American Red Cross, I was not surprised. This is a woman who obviously has a heart for the hurting, and she chose a job in which she could express that fully.
Our bond with God is such a deep onebeing created in his imagethat we won't find meaning except in him (Genesis 1:26-27). The apostle Paul described this pull toward God: "Men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. `For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, `We are his offspring'" (Acts 17:27-28). Depend upon this truth: Weas God's offspring, living and moving and having our being in himcan expect to feel lost when we are out of relationship with God or existing outside his purposes. We were created for a love relationship with God, and in that relationship we are inspired to fulfill his purposes. If we don't know Christ or make him known, we will long to do so.
That's why a purpose-full life must be lived in conversation with God. Through that conversation, we fall in sync with God's purposes. When we've done this, no one has to ask us to do something within our purpose because we will have already gotten involved or started asking questions about it.
The benefits of giving ourselves to purpose-full living are enormous. We stop wondering what we should be doing and start looking for time to do what tugs at our thoughts. We look forward to today's tasks because they're more likely to be related to our purposes. We feel our contribution is respected and appreciatedmaybe not by the world at large or by the next-door neighbor or by anybody at church. But we know these tasks are linked to God's purposes and are, therefore, important and worthy of respect. When describing the work to others, we emanate satisfaction and appropriate pride because, as Frank Laubach says, we have a sense of God's hand reaching back to lead us while his other hand stretches forth unseen into his will.
Doing What God Created Me to Do
As a woman staying at home with my preschoolers, I knew what I was doing was important, but I longed for God to use me in other ways too. One of my joys was teaching teenagers in the urban church where my husband pastored. I worked hard to help kids see how relevant and exciting the Bible is. (I would later state this purpose at the top of my résumé as, "making the Bible come alive.") Surviving in a teenage Sunday school classroom with a mixture of several languages and nationalities wasn't easy. My college degree in Christian education wasn't cutting it, so I attended workshops on how to make learning fun for my teenage students. Through one of those workshops, I was invited by an editor to submit samples of how I adapted the publisher's lessons to fit my urban teenagers. The thought terrified me so much that I didn't send them anything until a few years later when I was turning thirty. I remember thinking, Gee, my life is going to be over soon. If I'm ever going to write curriculum, I'd better do it now! (Yes, I thought this at thirty!) My lesson plans were soon published.
So during my kids' preschool years, I spent their naps writing Bible study curriculum for teenagers. (No, my kids didn't sleep perfectly each time, but they had a few "bed toys" to keep them content.) For two hours a day, I entered another world in which I hashed out biblical principles, bonded with Bible figures, and plotted how to make them live in the minds of kids whose parents were divorcing, dying, or unknown, and who were afraid to use the bathroom at school because they might be jumped. When my own kids' naps ended, I was terribly drained and terribly refreshed.
When someone important to me minimized my work one day"So you're writing those little teacher's books"I explained what writing curriculum meant to me. I saw myself going unseen into classrooms around the nation, helping teachers motivate confused teens and introduce them to a down-to-earth but high and holy Savior who loves them just as they are. As I finished, my listener rolled his eyes, and I felt embarrassed for speaking with such passion. Yet it also felt right. I knew I was doing one of the things God had created me to do. I knew I was entering territory that had something to do with my purposes in life, although they weren't yet clear to me.
Now, fifteen years later, people ask me if I've "gotten past writing curriculum" because I've also written books and magazine articles. I try to explain more calmly why I love curriculum writing. Writing Bible study curriculum wasn't just a smart career move to bring in enough money to buy a computer. It grew out of a passion born in me as a child. On Saturdays I went to bars with my dad, and on Sundays I went to church with my mother. I often imagined the Jesus I heard about on Sunday being authentic enough to mingle with, eat with, and befriend the people I met on Saturday at the Oasis Café. When I write those "little teacher's books" (for adults now), I imagine class members struggling with every possible hurt and singreed, illness, bankruptcy, snobbishnessand I try to equip their teacher to make God come alive to them.
As time has passed and I've begun speaking at retreats, I've mentioned this idea of purpose in life and received several reactions: blank stares from those who have never considered they might have a purpose; "aha" expressions from those who were once inflamed with purpose but let it go; knowing looks, beaming grins, and hearty handshakes from those who have a sense of God's hand upon them and can't believe that someone is putting into words this unspeakable feeling. Participating in this adventure of living a purpose-full life drives us to God over and over, asking him questions and seeking his face. It forces us to look outside ourselves to the world God so loved (John 3:16) and ask God what it would mean for us to live as Jesus Christ did while he walked on this planet.
My twenty-year-plus journey of purpose and my interaction with people, especially women, has led me to write this book, hoping that readers will seek God for their purposes in life. I've seen discontent women be transformed when they are filled with God and partnering with him for eternal purposes. This book is about that journey and speaks to women at different places along the way. In the first section, "A Purpose-Full Life," I'll clarify what does and does not constitute purpose in life, what God's purposes are on this earth, and whether women have a part in that. In the second section, "Uncovering Your Purposes," we'll go about the gritty work of recognizing the purposes already existing within us, but which may seem fuzzy or unrecognizable. In the third section, "Moving Down the Road," we'll talk about the foundational processes needed in pursuing purposes. If you feel thwarted, one of these issues may be holding you back. In the last section, "Staying on Track," we'll look at the snafus we encounter in pursuing our purposes in life. How can we focus on God-given purposes when everything around us would pull us away?
At the close of each chapter, I've included questions to help you ponder what this material means to your life. You may wish to use these for journaling or for exploring with a friend. And you'll want to try each "Experiment in Listening Prayer," laying the specified questions before God as you walk or drive or wipe off the kitchen counter. I believe you'll be surprised at the answers that come to you in the silence and throughout the day. I've also included specific Bible passages that touch on the theme of each chapter. I hope you'll spend some time reflecting on these verses and considering what God might be saying to you through his Word regarding your purpose.
The Bible studies at the back of this book will help you delve even deeper into what God wants you to know about his purposes, and I hope you'll find insight and direction as you prayerfully work your way through his Word. In each phase of the journey of purpose, the thing that makes it interestingand keeps it from being overwhelmingly scaryis the rich and surprising interaction with God.
Meet the Author
Jan Johnson is the author of several books, including Enjoying the Presence of God, Creating a Safe Place, and Listening to God. She has published nearly a thousand magazine articles in a variety of magazines, including Woman’s Day, Parenting, Discipleship Journal, Christianity Today, Focus on the Family, WorldVision, and Weavings. Jan, who lives in Southern California, is also a frequent retreat and conference speaker.
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