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Pathway to Purpose for Women Personal Journal
By Katie Brazelton
InspirioCopyright © 2005 Katie Brazelton
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIs Your Life Out of Sync?
My life flies by-day after hopeless day. (Job 7:6, TLB)
Do you remember George Bailey, the main character in the classic movie, It's a Wonderful Life? He sinks into a serious depression and even considers ending his life because of his unrealized dreams and feelings of uselessness. With the help of Clarence, an angel, George is shown the impact of the specific relational assignments in which he has been critically needed over the years. He comes to realize that there has been a clear purpose in his life all along. He discovers that his life has mattered and still matters a great deal.
Like George, we each have purposes to fulfill, many of which are linked to our relationships, passions, talents, experiences, dreams, hopes, and longings. Living a larger, more fulfilling and dynamic life than you may currently be living is possible when you catch God's vision for your life. It is a transformational experience. I'm no angel, but I experienced a remarkable transformation as I journeyed on the pathway to purpose. And, I am eager to share lessons I have learned along the way.
At age thirty-five, I unexpectedly found myself divorced. Gary andI had started dating during college. We got married, built a life together, had children. Then, in the flash of a conversation that lasted only a few minutes, it was over. All of a sudden I had no husband to tend to, my two children were often visiting their dad, and many of the family responsibilities that for years had defined my life were nearly nonexistent.
I was far more fortunate than many divorced women with young children. I was not financially abandoned and forced into survival mode. Quite the opposite. My ex-husband adored our children. He couldn't get enough of them or do enough to make our lives easier. So when the kids came home to me, they were fed, often newly clothed, and happily exhausted. I had less laundry, cooking, shopping, and homework assistance to worry about than when we were together as a family. I lived like a divorced princess.
But deep inside, I was not well. The ease of my life did nothing to lessen the immeasurable sadness of the divorce. My heart was broken and I was lonely. Fewer neighborhood kids visited our new, tiny house, and no couples invited me to join their outings. After a few bad experiences, I chose not to date. So I lived a quiet and simple life shared with several faithful friends, my Bible, and my new best companion, TV Guide.
With no pressing roles to fulfill, I felt enormously dispirited and useless. Everything I had crowded into my life to bring it some semblance of meaning had been yanked away or grown stagnant. My casual friends noticed that I seemed lost, but those who knew me best realized that I was crashing into hopelessness.
The pain of that transition and my lack of purpose was made worse by the fact that for five years I had begged God to give me a Joan of Arc-type cause or a unique purpose to champion, but he had not seen fit to do so. I felt confused. At times I wondered if the only logical life purpose I had left was shopping for new clothes because my weight spiraled downward as my depression deepened.
A Longing for Purpose
It has been more than a decade and a half since those difficult days, and God has given me more meaning in life than I ever could have imagined. In the midst of that purposeless desert, I began an intense spiritual journey through which God slowly revealed to me his multifaceted reasons for my existence. Today, my service as a licensed minister at Saddleback Church and as a Certified Christian LifePlan Facilitator allow me the privilege of walking alongside other women who are crying out for purpose in their lives.
I will share a bit more of my journey on the pathway to purpose shortly, but now, let me ask about you. How are you doing in the area of personal validity and life significance? Are you crying out to the Lord for clarity regarding his purposes for your life?
Through my own faltering steps and my interaction with thousands of other women, I have come to realize that countless good, Christian women barely function because they feel alone, disillusioned, or trapped by vague dissatisfaction. They feel that they have no critically important reason to exist, and they are guilt-ridden about their dark secret of borderline despair.
The fact is, most women have felt this void at one time or another, even if just mildly. At some transition point in life, they have experienced a let-down feeling. This unexplainable melancholy may manifest itself in many ways-from the baby blues to a midlife crisis. It may be prompted by a job loss, a home relocation, or divorce. It may also occur after reaching a cherished goal such as completing a race, building a house, graduating from school, planning a wedding, or retiring from a career.
If you find yourself in this perplexing place, you may feel bored and confused. Perhaps you hunger for something challenging to which to give your life. Perhaps you began adulthood with great ideas of how you were going to make a difference in the world but now find yourself struggling to make sense of feelings of emptiness, frustration, or futility. Perhaps you can't turn off the unsettling questions that scream out in the silence of your nights:
* Dear God, where do I fit? How can I make a difference? Where is the place you have for me? * Does anyone really need me? Does my existence even matter in this world? * Why do I feel like such a failure as a Christian? * Why don't I enjoy my church ministry, my family responsibilities, or my job anymore? Why do I feel so unsatisfied? * Why am I not happy? How did I pile up so many regrets? * Is this really all there is to life? Is this what God wants my life to look like? * When did my dreams and passions get relegated to a back burner? * If I heard God's call, would I have the time or emotional strength to pursue it?
If you find yourself facing questions like these and long for something better, be assured that there is hope. God will reveal your purpose, and your heart will sing over what he has in store for you! He wants you to be able to say, "I'm in my element. I'm in sync. This is what my life is supposed to be about. I was born for this. What a blast!" Or-the clincher in the case of a career-"I can't believe I get paid to do this!"
Desperate for Answers
Let me share a little more of how I began my search for meaning in life. During those terrible days of feeling utterly purposeless, my life-long friend Beth and I talked about our similar frustrations. Both of us felt that, even though we had given our lives to Christ, he hadn't shown up lately (at least from our limited perspective!) to give us an updated and clear life direction. We longed for God to show us the way we should go, which we knew he could do. We even joked about inventing a "purpose Geiger counter," so we could detect even the slightest signs of purposeful activity.
Beth had recently turned the Big Five-O and was an empty-nester. She described herself as a "worn-out married woman who was lost in a marsh of mediocrity, sinking in the quicksand of the quitter years." I felt more on edge, as if I was waiting for someone (or something) important who was never going to show up-much like waiting for a plumber on New Year's Eve.
Everyone handles this type of psychological and spiritual angst differently, depending on how mild or intense its manifestation. I was desperate. I didn't know how to ask for directions for my trek through the uncharted waters of purposelessness. I knew only that I was in bad mental and spiritual shape. I needed to do something-anything-to get unstuck. I knew I needed to take a bold step-any bold step-and see what awaited me.
I never expected my journey to begin as it did. My mom gave me a video of the life of Mother Teresa. I watched it a half dozen times, crying each time as it touched me to the depth of my soul. On the video, Mother Teresa said that if God was calling me to serve him in a specific way, I would know it beyond a shadow of a doubt. She then extended an invitation to come to Calcutta.
I took her seriously and wrote a brief letter to the Missionaries of Charity in India asking for permission to visit. I knew those angels of mercy obediently answered God's call on their lives by ministering to the poorest of the poor in one of the most chaotic environments in the world. I figured that by working alongside women so in tune with God I would find their secret to heeding his voice. Surely hearing their fascinating stories about how he had worked faithfully in their lives would help me gain insight about his plan for my own life.
They agreed that I could visit, and I began planning my trip to Calcutta. One decision involved my sixty-seven-year-old mom, who insisted on going with me. I had no idea how I could protect her from malaria, muggers, and mayhem, but she would not be dissuaded. Her mission to seek out and meet Mother Teresa was set in stone. As she phrased it, "I'm going, even if my chances of meeting that saintly woman are slim." I finally stopped trying to explain that the odds were stacked against our even seeing her beloved heroine. I laughed to myself as I recalled an old saying: "If it's not one thing, it's a mother!"
So, my ex-husband whisked off our children on a much-anticipated vacation, and my mom and I donned backpacks and headed out on a ten-day trip that would have ripple effects through our lives. I boarded the plane with a mingled sense of apprehension and excitement. I wondered whether or not I would like the answers I found across the ocean. In any case, I was thankful to have a faithful and easygoing traveling companion like my mom. In a way she was my personal angel of mercy, a true treasure from God, who supported me in my efforts to understand my new life.
First Step, India
Emerging from the airport after a fatiguing series of flights, I hailed an airport taxi. My heart pounded as our driver dodged rickshaws, trolleys, buses, taxicabs, cows, and pedestrians. I knew Calcutta had a population of eleven million, including more than sixty thousand homeless people, but that knowledge did not prepare me for the squalor of the streets. I saw dilapidated shacks made of bamboo, paper, plastic, mud, cardboard, and tires. I scanned the faces of women making cow dung patties to use as cooking fuel. I saw children relieving themselves in the gutters and recoiled at the sight of others using the same gutter water for bathing. My mom and I could only stare at each other in shock when we were dropped off in an alleyway near the Missionaries of Charity Mother House.
As the convent door opened, we were dumbstruck by an entirely different sight. A dozen noisy novices dressed in blue-and-white saris greeted us and cheerfully ushered us inside. Even as we were still sorting out our emotions, one of the sisters nonchalantly asked us, "Would you like to meet Mother?" We were speechless. The sister escorted us upstairs.
The experience was beyond surreal. Barefoot Mother Teresa bowed as we approached. She was small in stature and her shoulders were hunched over, yet she stood before us like a giant. When I saw her, Isaiah 61:3 flooded into my mind: "They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor."
My mom and I were well aware of this giant oak's reputation as a visionary servant-leader and of her work with lepers and the destitute. So we were surprised when she asked us to sit with her on a rickety wooden bench on an upstairs balcony. As we huddled together, she thanked us for coming to serve and for bringing supplies for the orphans. We chatted casually until I blurted out the question that was burning in my heart: "How can you do this work in these terrible slum conditions?"
A smile spread slowly across her face and into her eyes. She exuded Christlike gentleness as she touched my arm and whispered, "It's pure joy."
I didn't know what to think. How could she say it is pure joy to work in the slums? Surely, this was meant to be a riddle of some kind-or was it the profound answer of a mature oak with deep roots? I wondered whether I would ever be able to figure out what she meant. Could her remark possibly hold a clue to the calm and direction for which I searched?
The trip to India was a dream-come-true for my mom. For that, I was thrilled. As for me, I wrongly concluded that Mother Teresa's pure joy came from the fact that she had a bold and intense purpose in life that made her feel good about her immense contribution. During the next decade that theory would prove to be false. I had so much to think about, but at least I had taken the first step on my search for purpose.
Second Step, Frankl
A year after my visit to Calcutta, I was sitting in graduate school (doodling) when the professor began to lecture about Dr. Viktor Frankl, a Nazi concentration camp survivor. He said that Frankl gave verbal injections of purpose to fellow prisoners on the verge of dying from hopelessness. Sometimes Frankl helped them hang on for the purpose of finishing a painting when they got home or planting a garden or hugging a loved one.
My internal purpose-finder went off at full volume, and I sat up in my chair as if electricity were running through my back. I listened intently as my professor explained the vital role of purpose in the human heart. And, even though he never mentioned our Creator God as the one who assigns purpose to each of us, I knew that my search for purpose was a God-designed phenomenon of human nature. My longing for significance finally made sense to me. I wasn't crazy, after all!
God intends for people to be driven by purpose! He expects us to seek definition to our existence and to listen closely while he reveals it. In his wisdom, he gave each of us varying degrees of the need to feel visible, to feel that we matter, to feel that we are making a contribution. No matter where we appear to be in life, whether we wear our emotions of purposelessness on our sleeve or the world thinks we have it all together, our longing for purpose still exists to some degree.
I zoned into my research mode to delve deeper. I didn't know where God was taking me, but the more I learned, the more passionate I became about Christians today understanding their purposes. I began to write volumes of disjointed insights. I had embarked again on the journey of my heart to find purpose in life.
Third Step, Saddleback
Several years after that classroom revelation, God orchestrated that my kids and I would begin attending Saddleback Church.
Excerpted from Pathway to Purpose for Women Personal Journal by Katie Brazelton Copyright © 2005 by Katie Brazelton. Excerpted by permission.
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