This question is the prompt for the Hearts at Home link-up today. As I've thought about it, the short, easy, obvious answer is, well, to raise and teach my children, of course. But for some reason, this didn't seem satisfying. It's not that I think raising children isn't important. I do. I spend a lot of time doing it. I spend a lot of time supporting others who do it. If you asked me what I spend the vast majority of my time doing, raising and teaching my children would be the answer. So why did I find it an unsatisfying way to respond to the question, "What's your purpose?"
I think there are a couple of reasons I've come up with as to why this is. First, when I think about the phrase, I can't get away from the idea that purpose and results are tied up together. To have a purpose implies that there is some end goal, some result. This becomes a little tricky when you add parenting to this. Of course, we all have dreams for our children. What parent doesn't want their child to be happy, successful, and following in their faith? The trouble is, despite what multitudes of parenting books would have you believe, you can influence your child but you don't have total control over how they turn out. There is no guaranteed formula that if you do A, B, and C that you well get the results you want. It doesn't work that way. To tie my purpose to my parenting implies that if my children do not turn out as I desire that I have failed.
Would I even want that power anyway... the power to mold my children into my own creations? There is a line from the musical, "Into the Woods", that goes, "How do you know what you want 'till you get what you want and you see if you like it?" This flits through my head more and more often. There are some things that I have really, really thought that I wanted. There are things that happen that I think, I would have chosen a much different path. There are those times that God has said no or take this path and not the other one. I have complained and railed and cried over my these things. Yet after time has passed and I look back, my way was not best and I am thankful that it really wasn't up to me. It is kind of a relief that, ultimately, the results of my parenting aren't up to me.
The second reason I'm uncomfortable with choosing parenting as my purpose is that despite the many hours I do devote to raising my children, it is not all I do. Like everyone else, I wear many different hats and just because I don't have each of them on all the time, that doesn't mean I don't see them as important or valuable. I am also a writer, piano teaching, homemaker (yes, that is different from parent), friend, wife, etc., etc. The trouble is, these are all things that I do. Is that the same thing as who I am? If having a purpose in life is important, than can a purpose only be something that someone does? What about people who for some reason or another cannot do things? Do they have no purpose? This is where we need to be careful. We can come perilously close to equating purpose with value, especially if we define purpose in terms of what we do. I don't think we want to go there.
So where does this leave us? We all still want, crave even, purpose in our lives. Since this is not a new problem, I think it is helpful to turn to some historic church writings. (Sometimes I think we forget that Christians have been trying to tackle these problems for centuries and have much to say to us.) Let's look at the first question from the Westminster Catechism. (A catechism is a series of questions and answers used to teach people about the Christian faith, in case this a new word for you.) The first question states: What is the chief end of man? (Man used in the unversal human sense, please don't get caught up on this.) Essentially, it is asking what is a person's purpose... the exact question we have been dealing with this whole purpose question. The answer is: The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
I think this sums it up so beautifully. My purpose is to glorify God; to point to Him and give Him the credit. It is to acknowledge that He is in control and to not usurp His authority. But this relationship is not just one way, I am also to enjoy Him. Enjoy means to take delight or pleasure in. If we are in right relationship with God, there is joy and delight. Jesus says Himself that His yoke is easy and His burden light. (Matthew 11:30) What a delightful purpose! To glorify our God and to enjoy Him. Everything else we do flows out of this.