I was sitting, but only on the very edge of my chair in the ICU waiting room; this wasn't in the plan. In efforts to stop the heart attack, they unleashed something much worse. The blood thinner they administered at the small city hospital broke loose a clot in her brain. They rushed her an hour north. By the time we arrived, my mother-in-law was unresponsive. There was nothing we could do but wait.
The collective weight of suffering and worry among the ICU families was too much for my husband. He stayed outside. I sat near his dad and sister but hadn't a clue what to do with myself in these unbearable circumstances. So I did what I always do when I want to escape, I pulled a book from my bag. It was The Purpose Driven Life, by Rick Warren, another impulse buy in my never-ending pursuit of purpose. In that moment, I felt more desperate than ever to understand the meaning of life, and now death... since it seemed to be knocking at our door.
I settled awkwardly back into my seat, opened to chapter one and read the first line. "It's not about you," the author wrote. A strange sense of relief flooded my body and I almost got lost in the comfort. An unfamiliar woman next to me began to cry and I was forced back into the reality of our situation. That day and the following 10 were the worst of my fairly young life.
Twelve years ago this week, my mother-in-law passed on. I have relived those last few days of her life many times. Today, however, is the first time I remember reading Rick Warren's words, "It's not about you," in the ICU waiting room. My marriage, my habits, my life choices were all in ill repair 12 years ago. Twelve years ago I was unemployed, because I had just resigned a stressful sales career to "find myself."
It's strange to consider my life in contrast now. A strong marriage, a beautiful son, and a job I love.
The first line of that book did change my life, but not the way you might think.
Prior to reading that book, my search for purpose had taken on a self-absorbed slant. I had been focusing on what I wanted and needed to do with my life. After reading the book and watching my loved ones walk bravely through loss, my pendulum swung swiftly to the other side. I sought first and foremost to serve, even though I did not yet honestly know my own talents, temperaments and weaknesses well enough. Like a knight fighting for his king, I made it my sole "purpose" (to try) to save everyone else. Having struggled my whole life to overcome people pleasing and perfectionism, this kind of service wore my soul thread bear.
But I did not want to look closely at the state of my serving. It was only years later, that the excruciating loss of my father-in-law caused me to deeply question my purpose again. His unconditional love had been such a respite for me, and I was suddenly without it. I wondered out loud and through angry tears, "Why does my purpose crumble beneath me every time I start to believe I can put my weight on it?"
As I cried, an answer rose up from within, "Because you cannot truly serve from your purpose until you learn to love yourself." I felt The Spirit of God.
In that moment, I knew it was Truth. I did not love myself. The words I whispered in my private inner world were often cruel and condemning. I believed I could not love myself until I proved myself worthy. To be worth something, I needed a purpose, which constantly seemed to escape me. I was stuck in a vicious cycle of searching- going outside of me to find me -- and trying to save everyone else in order to save my fragile self.
I opened to Mark 12 and read from the Bible. Jesus said, "You should love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength." The second great commandment is this: Love others in the same way you love yourself. There are no commandments more important than these."
I used the verse like a microscope to examine the details of my life. I'd had the "love God" part down since I was little, clinging to God like a small child clings to a soft puppy until it yelps. And I've tried to love others in my own mixed up way. But loving myself has been the hardest part.
After years of searching and struggling, I've found that Rick Warren was right. But it has taken me a long time to understand his proposition. While my purpose is not about me, being deeply okay with who I am is at the core of it. It requires my willingness to let God love me right where I am at any given moment. It takes a commitment to be gentle, kind, and patient with myself. It is found in the freedom of becoming who I am created to be.
And when I love myself, every moment of life becomes more purposeful. I am able to listen closely for God's voice within. I am able to joyfully and authentically serve others.
I've picked my purpose up and dropped it repeatedly throughout the years. Purpose has been slippery and hard to hold onto, because in secret places down deep, I didn't believe I deserved a purpose. My failures ran too wide, my guilt too thick, my shame too deep. So, I understand why, when I encourage clients to love themselves like God does, they pushback with exasperated sighs, clenched jaws, and many reasons they cannot or should not.... Love... them... selves.
I get it; I really do. I've flailed about in that undercurrent of strangely stubborn, paradoxical pride most of my life.
If you find yourself floundering there too, I'd like to throw you a life preserver.
Stenciled across the top is the word, "surrender." Slip it over your head and stop fighting the undertow. Take a deep breath and be gentle with yourself. You'll be amazed how quickly you reach the shore.
I encourage you to pursue your purpose if you've been putting it off. Knowing why you are here will dramatically change your life. It has mine. Watch my video to hear my story.
I know of one way to get there- it's the path that's most familiar to me. I'd love to share it with you. Take the journey over the next 64 days. We even have a free trial to help you get started.
Just. Sixty. Four. Days.
Where will you be in 64 days?