With the windows down, the music up, and our long hair flowing back, my college roommate and I raced down the highway with our sights set on the beach and fun.
Pre-GPS, my friend was navigating, flipping the state map (that wide, unwieldy paper with multiple folds that showed roads, cities, and major sites), when the wind pulled our driving guide right out of the window. Aggravated, I slammed on the brakes and jerked the car to the road’s shoulder.. She began chasing the map, darting this way and that, as the wind lifted it out of reach each time she neared. Finally, she caught it and we went on.
We had a plan and a destination. We had a roadmap to guide us, but when it was gone we lost time and direction. Many years later we now laugh about my “Dad’s favorite map” escaping from our car, my awful reaction to it, and her map dance on the highway!
In the stress of driving and losing our map, I got frustrated and lost sight of the purpose of the trip. The purpose wasn’t to get to the beach quickly – although we wanted to do that. The purpose wasn’t to get a tan (back when people thought it was a good idea to use oil and aluminum-reflective blankets to soak up sun!) – although we wanted to do that…not realizing then that those bright rays, sunburns, and golden bronze skintones could lead to skin cancer.
The true purpose of the trip lay in us spending time together enjoying the journey and the experience. The real motivation was for us to do something aside from our classes and commitments, to hang out, laugh and have fun as friends.
So often the “Why” we do something is overshadowed by the “How.” Sometimes it’s even the “How Quickly?”
Countless “How-To” books and lists attract readers but defining the reason we want to do something is the real starting point. Yet we often develop the plan before we identify the purpose. In our enthusiasm, we can concentrate more on details and steps without fully understanding and clarifying the motivation behind what we are doing.
If we start with the purpose and stay focused on it, we’re less likely to get derailed or detoured on the route. And, we’re less likely to do something because it’s the popular, easy or crowd-pleasing choice. Sometimes when we dig deep to determine our real motive, we may discover that it is not the best reason, or even a good reason, for doing something. A good friend can sometimes help us discern the motives behind our actions even when we have trouble seeing them.
How can we determine our purpose in doing something?
1) Ask ourselves “Why am I doing this?”
If we’re tempted to buy a new car or a lake house, or remodel our kitchen or bathroom, asking ourselves why we want to do that is the place to start the process – or end it. Or delay it. Is it so we can offer hospitality and assistance for others? Is it to help our lives function more efficiently to save time or repairs so that we can spend our time in positive, useful ways? Is it to provide a restful home or getaway for a spouse who works long hours; to have a safe vehicle for children or grandchildren or carpools, or to make a room senior or child-friendly and safe?
Choosing to make improvements or changes such as the examples above may be the right thing at a specific time in our lives – or not. Asking ourselves questions can help us determine that.
2) Ask God to search our hearts and reveal our motives.
If we’re thinking about taking a new job that involves longer hours, more travel and additional time away from family, why do we want to do that? To make more money to save for the children or grandchildren’s inheritance? To contribute to church or charity? To pay off debts? Because it gets us away from home responsibilities and creates excitement? Because it allows us to use our God-given talents and gifts in a better way? Because it will be a way to make a difference?
When we have an interest or desire to do something, or we’re in the process of making a major decision, it’s vital to identify not only the steps to accomplish it, but also the rationale behind the action.
When our lives are truly purpose-full, we have meaningful motivation behind the choices we make and the things we do.
Why are you involved in the specific projects and activities you are right now?
What major decision are you currently considering? What is your main reason you want to do it?
In what way is your faith influencing that purpose?
The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters,
but one who has insight draws them out.