I used to be convinced that there was a grand purpose for my life. I was sure that there was one vocation out there that was what I was meant to do.
I wanted to be sure I got it right, so I very carefully explored, researched, and waited for that one grand purpose to be revealed to me.
I waited and waited and waited some more, but the answer never appeared written in the clouds, never showed itself forth in a nimbus of glorious light, never was heard being trumpeted aloud by a heavenly host.
For a long time, I thought the silence meant that I was a failure. I thought I was somehow defective enough not to have a purpose. (Or maybe just too dumb to see the signs to tell me what it was.)
And then I started noticing something interesting as I talked to people: it was only those people who were as stuck as I was that were waiting for their one big purpose to show up. The people who were making a difference were too busy doing the next most logical thing in front in them as they explored what worked and what didn't.
In other words, purpose seemed to be something that arose out of movement and action rather than the other way around, which meant that purpose was both easier and more complex than I had thought.
A Cheerios blessing
My family moved cross-country when I was about a year old, so my parents were looking for a new church in our new home and were visiting a very small Southern Baptist church.
My mother would bring a small container of Cheerios to keep me occupied in the pew during the service since there was no nursery.
One Sunday during prayer, I grabbed a large handful of Cheerios and broadly distributed them with a grand fling over the bowed heads of everyone in front of us with a loud "Wheeeeeeee!"
I don't remember this event (although I've heard the story from my embarrassed mother many times) so I don't know what I was actually thinking at that moment, but I like to imagine that it was an early attempt to offer a blessing to the people around me.
While it may not have been my most successful attempt at this (after all, I'm told that I was never allowed Cheerios in church again), it has served as a good example for me as I've gotten older of how simple it is to be a blessing. It's just a matter of sharing whatever I have with those around me who need what I have.
You could argue, of course, that the others in the congregation perhaps had no need for Cheerios during the service that morning, but from the perspective of a toddler, who couldn't use a snack to brighten up what must have seemed to me to be a rather boring stretch of time? And here I was with snacks to share!
It's both that easy ... and that hard.
Seeing the needs around us
Matching what we have to give with what the world around us needs first requires that we be attentive to the needs of those around us.
It means getting out of our own self-centered worlds enough to really pay attention to those we come in contact with to see their pain, their struggles, and their heartache.
None of us can fix every problem in the world around us—in fact, most of us can't fix any of them—but we all have things to offer that can address the needs we see around us in one way or another.
And the things we are most likely to see are often the ones best matched with what we have to give.
My father is one of those people who is a genius at fixing just about anything. When he comes to visit, he immediately notices all kinds of little things around my house that need a bit of repair, and it's not unusual for these to be things that I was completely oblivious to because that's just not my thing.
On the other hand, I live and breathe encouragement without even thinking about it. I am quick to notice when people need the small boost of a kind word, genuine good wishes for their day, or need to have their own amazingness mirrored back to them.
I see those needs because it's what I have to give just like my dad sees things that need repair because that's what he gives to show love and care.
Others I know are quick to see injustice in the world because they are skilled at protesting injustice and moving society toward ever greater levels of social justice. Yet others are quick to notice a lack of beauty or hospitality because those are their gifts to share.
What needs in the world around you are you quick to notice? What needs repeatedly draw your attention and draw forth a response from you?
Sharing our gifts
If you're watching for it, it doesn't take long to notice a thread of connection between the world's needs that you are most likely to notice and respond to, the gifts and skills you have to share, and the work that comes most naturally to you and offers the greatest reward (both to you and to others).
Most of the time, it's work (not necessarily in the sense of work as a job) that you've been doing all along without thinking twice about it. It's simply a part of who you are.
As I've gotten older, the more I've become convinced that sharing those gifts with the intent of being a blessing to the world around us is closest thing any of us have to a one true purpose.
That makes it easy because this broken, hurting world offers more than enough opportunities for the gifts that any of us have to keep us busy for a long time just doing those things that we do best.
It also makes it hard because we have a responsibility to determine how to best use our gifts to meet the world's needs on our own without some grand blueprint being handed to us. It means we have to watch and work and pay attention and be willing to stretch ourselves to make a difference where we are planted with what we have to give.
I still struggle all the time with better defining how my particular gifts can best be used to meet the world's needs (especially when I think about ways to use my gifts to make a living meeting the world's needs!), but I am most successful at this when I start with paying attention to the needs around me that most catch my attention and seeking to be a blessing in those ways.
Question to ponder
Imagine that you are that toddler sitting with her bowl of Cheerios in church preparing to bless those around you by flinging your gifts out over their heads.
What are your "Cheerios" in your bowl? What gifts, talents, and skills do you have to share? Which ones do you find yourself sharing most often and most naturally?
What kind of needs in the world do you find yourself noticing most often and are most moved to respond to?
How do your "Cheerios" offer a blessing to the needs that you notice? How could you be more intentional about how your share those "Cheerios" with those who needs them?
What would it mean to move through the world with the idea that your primary purpose is to be a blessing to those around you? How does it feel to think of your purpose that way?