Monday, August 24, 2009


Rick Warren wrote a best selling Christian book called A Purpose Driven Life, popular, perhaps, because there are so many people like me who seem to struggle to know just what our purpose is. My life, at times, seems like the opposite of a purpose driven life. It seems unintentional from the get go. These days, especially, I seem to be at a loss to tell myself just what I am doing and why. I function at a certain level of compliance with the routines I have created. I spend a tremendous amount of time and energy doing these self-appointed endeavors. I have my job and my obligations. And all my a-priori’s. I provide a living for my family. And what guidance, nurturing, support, and wisdom I can. And this may be my purpose. This may be all that is required to fulfill the nag of purpose. If so, I am in a phase, perhaps, where all this is so routine, so taken for granted, that it doesn’t seem sufficiently critical. As the kids get older and able to self-entertain, my role as hoverer and chief is reduced to witness and chief. I watch the comings and goings as I come and go. Lots of days roll by this way.

I will always have this: that I raised my kids. Provided for them and my wife. I wonder about what it would be like not to have this much. But I will, I suppose, always wonder if there is a more acute purpose to be had. If I am not, somehow, deficient in my capacity to be driven, or guided, or motivated by some particular purpose. It is not for a lack of trying to manufacture one. I have gone on my share of tangents. But none seem to stick. They have seemed a bit contrived and as such pretentious. Nor is it for lack of examples. All around me are tremendous examples of people who have a purpose, a cause, a mission. People who are zoned in on a goal, or an ideal, or a worthy plan. Be it of some religious salvation motif, or a sustainability quest, or peace and justice, or some utopian hope. There is an abundance of worthy purpose to see and appreciate. So what is with my aloofness when it comes to embracing something?

Part of this aloofness is a innate reluctance to limit myself by association. This is one of those dynamics that had a use at a certain time in life, but which is carried on far past it’s usefulness and becomes an obstacle. At a young age I did not want to latch on to this or that cause or purpose because I wanted to be free to explore what all the options were. I am sure I thought myself smart about this. But the problem is that I never gave up that freedom, and, ironically, when I want to be associated, I can’t. This isn’t all about not wanting to be limited by association. Part of it is an inherent skepticism of all causes and deep seated cynicism with regards to human motivations. There is also a measure of fear of success thrown in. (if I am successful at becoming this other thing, what will come of what I am now?) There are probably other aspects to this dynamic. But they all add up to the simple fact that I am, as Bob Dylan puts it in a song, “always on the outside of whatever side there was”. I am forever the observer and never the embracer. Ever reserved.

This, of course, has some advantages. I don’t get caught up in pyramid schemes, or throw myself into false religions, or bind myself up with allegiance to personality cults. But the disadvantages are that I do not get to experience what it is like to rally feel a part of something bigger than myself. I don’t get to know what it is like to advocate for something whole heartedly. There is, with me, always a qualifier. I don’t get to experience the community of allegiance in the way I expect some people do. There is some wisdom in reserve. But there is also wisdom in abandon and embrace. I have got the reserve part down. No problem. But the abandon and embrace part is yet illusive. I can’t say I would advocate reserve to the extent I have taken it. It would be better, I think, to jump into something with all your heart, mind, body and soul, even if that something turns out to be a disappointment. I don’t imagine a judgment would fall so much along the lines of whether or not you chose correctly, but more along the lines of whether you were able to give yourself over completely with good intent. Fortunately, as the man on the cart in the Monty Python movie, said “I’m not dead yet”. And I do believe in life’s abundant possibilities. So maybe this too shall come.

3 comments:

Linda Pendleton said...

Randy,
I would guess you are going through what must people go through at your age. I know I did when I was 38. I’d spent most of my life seemingly on the “outside observing.” I’ve discovered that many of us with spiritual understandings, or looking for spiritual answers to the “why of life” or “our purpose,” also felt as observers. Maybe we are.

Being older than you, I can look back at my life in stages, or chapters, and part of that is when our children grow and our role as a mother or father changes. It can feel strange and is really a letting go, or even a feeling of being abandoned in some way. The connection is never the same but maybe it is not supposed to be. I often think of Kahlil Gibran and his words on children: "Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you yet they belong not to you."

I think when we get older we find ourselves looking for ourself, our authentic self as many call it. And that means being who we are, not who someone expects us to be. Much of our life is spent being who others expect us to be.

Have you read, Seat of the Soul, by Gary Zukav?

Of course being a good father and husband, caring for and supporting your family is a great purpose in itself. :-)

Randy said...

Hey Linda, thanks for the thoughtfull comments. I will look for that book and check it out.

be well.

jenX said...

a very honest post. i read every word. more people feel this way than would ever admit it. what courage, randy.