Monday, August 25, 2014

Intentional Purpose

My last post on Purpose and Intentionality yielded some interesting reactions and comments from friends and readers.  One friend, roughly my age, became very animated at the topic and said, “That’s really what it’s all about—it’s why we’re here in the first place, to find our purpose!”  Another cited his recent reading of Viktor Frankl, Austrian-born neurologist, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, indicating that it was Dr. Frankl’s purpose each day to maintain his goal of surviving the horrors of the concentration camp.  A third responder interpreted the issue of purpose into a service-to-others action plan, stating that he had all he needed and believed his best offering would be in giving to and doing for others.  Some felt that living with a purpose was akin to a calling, as in a mission, while others described it as similar to a positive character trait, utilized whenever the opportunity presented itself. 

These reactions are interesting and likely quite typical of what many of us would say. However, are they representative of what others would say?  What would a Yazidi mother say her purpose in life is after a week in the Sinjar Mountains in 120 degree temperature?  What about a veteran with a TBI, a pending divorce and no prospects of a job?  Extreme but nonetheless real situations.  So it makes me wonder if what we comfortably discuss about purpose over a Starbucks coffee has other variables that must be factored in.  My friend who is grateful that he is now in a position in life to be able to dedicate time, treasure and talent to others, is certainly operating from a different purposeometer than Dr. Frankl.

Could it be that what each of us identifies as opportunities for intentional purposefulness is largely defined by factors related to our station in life?  Said another way, is our purpose determined not only by the assets we have  to give but by what we need as well?  When we dip the bucket into our well of resources, what do we pull out?  Is the bucket overflowing with cool, fresh water or is it half-full of a warm, fetid liquid?  Worse yet, does it come up empty with only dusty residue?  Our purpose, depending on our situation, may be to serve others through a service club, volunteer at church or the hospital or read to children after school.  Or our purpose may be to secure safe drinking water, find shelter and protection or try and find a second part-time job.  I think Maslow may agree that our needs impact our purpose.
However, the irony in this may be what these quests have in common; to fill some basic condition that exists within ourselves.  The major difference may be where one finds oneself on the hierarchy of need.  The need for basic security is on a different level as the need for self-actualization but both remain needs seeking fulfillment, nevertheless.  Therefore, when we awaken each morning and renew our pledge to live today with a purpose, it is related to what our needs are and our quest to satisfy them.  There is nothing perverse in quenching a personal need and committing to a purpose that may make a difference in someone else’s life at the same time, in fact, the two may be inseparably and intimately connected.  That’s why we believe it’s better to give than receive!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Gonna Sell "em!

I slammed the door from the garage, still fuming, even after the 20 minute drive from the course.  I walked in and announced to no one in particular that I was going to sell my golf clubs, if fact, I might even put a ‘ FREE-TAKE ME’! sign on them and not even bother with the sale.  In her 100% Cajun style Jan said, “You know your life is good when the biggest thing you have to be upset about is your golf game!”  Now how am I going to respond to that? 

She said it in a nonjudgmental, matter-of-fact way as if she was reporting that it might rain later today or that she had filled the car with gas.  So consequentially, I couldn’t even get a good argument out of the deal, much less empathy.  As usual, it took less than five minutes of viewing the evening news to jolt me out of my self-imposed pity party and regain a perspective on what really is important.  I learned we still have politicians making stupid and mean-spirited comments, children are still suffering and in crisis in the Middle East and on our own borders and we haven’t figured out how to live up to our obligations to our returning veterans nor keep our middle class solvent.  How do a couple double (triple) bogies stack up against that? 

For some reason, the above incidents brought me back to two words; purpose and intentionality.  (Danny Webster defines purpose as an important objective to be reached while he defines intention as an act done by design.)  I’ve had an interest in writing about these two cousin words and concepts but not knowing how to do it or what to say.  I’m evidently not alone in my quandary over this concept, as evidenced by Rick Warren’s wildly popular book—still selling well a decade later—about designing our lives with an intentional purpose.  Add to that countless other publications, all lying out various recipes to attain this illusive commitment of single-mindedness.  Many people must be asking similar questions.  It seems to me that Warren’s resolve is to offer us a way to find that purpose—first and foremost in our spiritual lives, but also in our relationships with others and our obligations to the earth—and then to intentionally set out to accomplish said subject.  What’s my purpose and intention in playing golf?  To get better?  To get down on myself when I’m on the green in two, then three putt?  To be grateful that I can spend time outdoors, using all my limbs and senses and enjoying friendships?  I need to keep trying to figure that out, but more importantly, countless other topics vastly more significant.

When Miss Jan and I talk in the evening and reflect on the day that we have just been privileged to experience and share, we frequently comment on good and affirming things that happened, seemingly serendipitously. We remark about what a coincidence something was or how an occurrence was icing on the cake, but that is the crux of my issue with purpose and intention.   Accidental or unintended positive consequence may result in a “feel good” emotion for us to relish short term, but is it the best we can do?   Or do we have the insight and capacity to not entrust these phenomena to chance but instead to resolve in our hearts and minds to set out to intentionally accomplish deeds of purpose?

This is by no means an original thought.  We talk about living purposefully, paying it forward and other expressions which make the same point.  However, the difference-maker for me is to discipline myself each day to consciously remain aware of living with a purpose rather than just be stupidly grateful when I get frosting.