Peace, Hope and Meaning When I Lost Purpose
There are three key points in my life when God intervened - providing hope when I felt hopeless, peace when my mind was in turmoil and meaning when I lost purpose.
I grew up in Jamaica primarily with my aunt, because my mom and step dad (who was abusive) moved around frequently due to financial insecurity. My Mom thought it would be best that I stayed with my Aunt for stability. However, living with extended family has its challenges. My aunt tried to make me feel like I was a part of her family, but I couldn’t help but feel like a fifth wheel on some days. I believe this, combined with the struggles of my mother spawned in me the seeds of sadness which later developed into thoughts of suicide. At ten years old I attempted just that…
At that age, I had also failed a major middle school exam, that determined whether I went to high school or not. Going to high school was the ticket to a productive future. I couldn’t fail a second time, which was my last opportunity. For some strange reason that I cannot explain, I didn’t buckle under the stress of it all. I made a vow that I would never fail another exam in my life. I also vowed that I would never be like my step dad and that I would be financially secure.
I went on to excel in High School and I accepted Christ at that stage in my life. However, one thing I remember telling God was that I would not relinquish my career goals. I had a clear goal that was not to be interrupted, it was the ticket to the future I wanted and quite frankly I had the talent to get there.
In college, I was focused on going to medical school. Unfortunately, I did not gain acceptance on my first attempt. This caused the fissures of stress to start to appear in my mind. On my third attempt, I finally gained the academic qualification for entrance, only to discover that I could not afford neither the tuition nor the cost of living as a med student. The thought of seeing everything that I had worked so hard for slipping away caused stress to mushroom in my mind. I had no peace. My thoughts were constantly filled with worry. I eventually tried to gain professional help, but couldn’t afford treatment. With all doors closed to finding peace; I decided to let go of my career goals and recommitted my life to God. I acknowledged to God that I didn’t have the ability to control all the variables in my life and that I needed His help to give me hope and a future. Immediately, I gained peace...Letting go…relieved me of the grip of worry. Looking back on this experience it reminds of a verse in the Bible.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 NIV
Instead of going to med school, I decided to pursue a degree in Chemistry. I subsequently won a global chemistry competition in California; resulting in me meeting a professor that offered me a full scholarship to pursue a PhD program under his tutelage.God unexpectedly opened a door that I not only didn’t try to kick down, but didn’t even knock on. It’s strange how the moment when one lets go of worrying about one’s future, God steps in a timely way. This reminds me of another verse in scripture which states,
“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. Matt 6:31- 32
A number of years later while studying in the PhD. program; I found my biological dad, he had been in a mental institution. He suffered from schizophrenia induced by stress. I soon realized that this could have been my fate, if I hadn’t let go of trying to control all the variables in my life.
A year after graduating from the doctoral program and working at a large company, I started to feel bored and unfulfilled. I had achieved that which my ten year old self had hoped for. But the feeling of fulfillment was temporary; I needed a goal to give me a sense of purpose. Hence, I decided to quit my job, to pursue a MBA. My wife thought I was crazy. She thought I was really crazy when she found out that the MBA program was in another state, which meant that I was asking her to quit her job, leave her community of friends and move across the country. That year almost tore our marriage a part. She reluctantly acquiesced and we moved.
After graduating from school, I got the job that I wanted and felt fulfilled for a while. And then the usual dark clouds started to settle in. I knew if I quit my job again to pursue something different I would end up in the same spot that I am now; with the additional distress of possibly losing my wife. So I set out to find purpose beyond the pursuit of a goal. It was easy as a Christian to say that purpose can only be found through Christ and that a man’s ultimate purpose is to serve God i.e.
Ecc. 12:13 “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.”
But what does that mean? How do I get purpose, joy and meaning from obeying God? Wasn’t I already obeying God, then why does my life seem so devoid of meaning?Maybe life had no meaning…maybe atheism is true. I gave Christianity a try and it seems to be failing in this area. Did I really objectively evaluate other religions? Or did I choose Christianity because Jamaica was a Christian society. These were the questions that were floating in my mind. I set out to objectively answer those questions - I read books such as Why Jesus by Ravi Zacharias, Mere Christianity by CS Lewis, Seven Days that Divided the World by John Lennox, among others.
What I found was that the gods of all other religion, required performance for acceptance and even if I did perform there was no guarantee that it would be acceptable enough to gain entrance into their heaven. The God of the Bible acknowledged that I am fallible, and provided a pathway to heaven in spite of my fallibility. Atheism did not remove the emptiness that I was feeling; in fact, it made it worse by stating that there was not only no meaning, but also no evil and no good. I could plainly see the evil in this world. Hence, that philosophy did not compute with reality.
However, all the books that I read still did not answer the question of how does worshiping God provide meaning and lasting fulfillment. I knew Christianity was true, but still there was that emptiness. Until I read a book by Ravi Zacharias entitled “Recapture the Wonder.” In it he explained how children experience joy in their parent’s eyes by knowing they did something that pleased them. Being a parent, I clearly understood this. My daughter would constantly say “look at me, look at me dad” while she performed a feat that in her eyes was extraordinary. Whenever I gave her the look that I was pleased with her performance she invariably went away feeling fulfilled that she impressed her Dad. Maybe it’s the same concept that works in our relationship with God. We worship him with our lives with the knowledge that he is pleased with our actions and in return we get a sense of fulfillment similar to that of a relationship of a child with her father. That rationale made sense to me, now my intellect and my emotions were aligned and I knew how to find purpose.
In summary, God gave me hope when he rescued me from suicide, peace when I trusted him, and purpose when he allowed me to pursue my own way only to discover him more deeply. You may be thinking – “hey Orane that is your story of how God has been effective in your life - but it’s not mine. I have seen good people die young. I have seen those who are unjust excel while those who are good fall by the way side. How do you explain that? Yes, there may be a God but He is not loving….”
I acknowledge life on this earth is broken; it has broken dreams, broken hearts, broken limbs and broken bodies. However, is there any evidence that God can be trusted in and with our broken lives? I would argue that there is evidence of this....the God of the Bible came off his throne in a perfect environment and entered our broken world. He suffered betrayal by his best friend, he felt abandonment by those who professed love for him, and he tasted physical pain and death on the cross. He loves us... Yes, he can be trusted with the pain in our lives, because ultimately He rose above it all… giving us hope in this broken world.