Back in the early 2000s, a book was published that seemed to be on everyone’s lips. You or someone you know may have had a copy. It was prominently stationed at most major bookstores, and people often carried it around or cited it in conversations.
It was The Purpose Driven Life, by Rick Warren.
The book is about understanding and living toward God’s purpose, or purposes to be exact. The author lays out up to five purposes for which God places us on this earth. It’s an overall message that is well-intended, clear, and legit. Surely, no one would have anything bad to say about this well-renowned book. Right?
Well, so I thought until recently when my friend, Ashely, said:
“Reading The Purpose Driven Life messed me up.”
To understand why that is, here’s the backstory…
She read this book during high school. An impressionable time when most teenagers are trying to figure out what they’re going to do with their lives or what major they’re going to study in college. She explained that after reading the book, finding her purpose meant finding the right career through which her purpose can be carried out. She needed to find that one thing she could devote herself to in order to have a purpose-driven life. And so, the book had a significant impact on the educational and career decisions she would make.
But what if there isn’t just one thing that we need to do with our life in order to have purpose? What if it can be as simple as an act of kindness, or that smile you gave to a stranger that uplifted them at their lowest moment?
Ashely’s explanation was profound. It touched on our human nature. In our search for meaning, we’re drawn to this romanticized notion that we’re here on this earth to do one thing. We envision a gallant act, a profession, or a specific duty. In doing that one thing, we fulfill our purpose. So in order to fulfill our purpose, we must find out what that one thing is and do it.
In The Purpose Driven Life, Warren discusses our human purpose in a broad sense. This post is not meant to be a critique of the book or to decry the purposes that he outlines. The point here is the danger in determining our purpose by a single act or decision when it can be multiple things; not to mention, simple things we take for granted. The danger is an interpretation of purpose that not only leads us to an elusive and sometimes impossible search for that one thing but also leads to that one thing eventually becoming our purpose.