When I turned 60 last year, I did some soul searching. I clearly hadn’t achieved all I could or should have in my life so far. Was I therefore a failure? Give me a minute before I answer that.
I’d gone through some changes recently and was now at a place both geographically and career-wise that were not what I had had in mind. I wasn’t unhappy, but I wasn’t entirely pleased with my circumstances either. I felt like I was becalmed at sea, no wind in my sails, monotonous stretches of ocean in all directions. The horizon was in sight, but that didn’t help. I couldn’t decide which point on the horizon to aim for, and even if I could, I had no means to propel myself towards it. What and where was my purpose in life?
For all my adult life, I had dedicated myself to varying degrees to achieving what I understood to be God’s purpose for me. I had thought I had a fairly good idea of what this was, but now all bets were off. I had primed myself for great things, but now great things seemed a pipe dream.
As I reflected on my own life and the lives of others, I realized that there are some people who most of us can agree were great—not necessarily because we approve of everything they said and did, but because they had an impact; in some objective way their lives and achievements were great. But were these relative few the only ones who had fulfilled their destinies? For that matter, is there any such thing as destiny? Are our lives supposed to be fulfilling in themselves? Are we supposed to be satisfied at the end of it all? Is that the point? Or is there something else at work here?
Saint Paul wrote, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”1 When I meditated on this verse in the past, I had looked at it from Paul’s 1st-century perspective. We all know that there were copious amounts of persecution directed at the first Christians, to whom Paul was writing. He meant to encourage them that their brief lives here were not the final word or the whole story.
Life is often compared with school. I can remember grumbling along with many of my classmates about being stuck in school when we wanted nothing more than to get on with our lives. It seemed as though we would be stuck there forever, while teachers kept trying to cram more lessons into us, but school wasn’t meant to be the culmination of our lives. It wasn’t our destiny. It was merely a training ground, an opportunity to garner knowledge and skills that we could apply later.
I now believe that we are not supposed to peak in this school we call life. This life is only a stage. Yes, we are to gain all we can from it, but we don’t have to worry that we have somehow missed our destiny if all we have to show are some scars and hard-won wisdom.
What, then, are we supposed to accomplish here? What does God want or expect from us in this life? What is our purpose? This is how Solomon stated it: “Everything you were taught can be put into a few words: Respect and obey God! This is what life is all about.”2
We are works in progress, but if we can look at ourselves in the mirror and honestly say that we are trying to live our lives that way, then we are doing what we are supposed to be doing. Fulfilling this is our destiny. That is the point.