(reprint from the archives, February 19, 2007)
Our lives are never without purpose. It may vary somewhat from day to day or season to season, but we always have a purpose. The trick is to recognize, as Rick Warren expresses so well in the opening line of his astoundingly successful book, that “It’s not about you” . . . or me. Our purpose, in other words, is always about others – never about ourselves.
My grandmother while in her mid-nineties, infirmed from old age, continued to have purpose in her life – a reason to wake up every morning. She knew that her children and grandchildren still needed her. Though unable to remain physically active as she had been all her life, she continued to inspire those around her with her wisdom, courage, and spirit. Her life had profound purpose – and, just as it had always been, it was about others, not herself.
Then there are people like Adam. What in the world could his purpose be? A complete invalid since birth, Adam could do nothing for himself – bathe, dress, eat, shave, brush his teeth, walk, talk, or go to the bathroom. Why then did Henri Nouwen describe Adam not only as a friend, but also as his mentor and guide? The famous author, lecturer, teacher and priest who in his last years served as Adam’s caregiver, learned from Adam about presence, about giving and receiving from one another, and about compassion and care. Did Adam’s life have purpose? Absolutely! It was not about himself, though; rather it was about Henri.
If my grandmother, aged and infirmed as she was, had purpose in her life to the very end, and if Adam, a total invalid unable to do anything for himself, had purpose, then what about you and me? The answer is, of course, that every life has purpose, but we must look beyond ourselves to know what it is.