The dawn of a new year has me thinking of the current emphasis on defining our life mission and purpose. Creating personal mission statements, articulating our vision for life, and developing purpose-driven living have been buzz-words for several decades.
Much of it has been useful, no doubt. Many have benefited by becoming more intentional in living out their days on this earth.
But there is the other side to this concept.
For starters, how do we manage the mundane of life? Much of the emphasis on vision, mission and purpose focus on pushing us to do the extraordinary. I’ve always sensed pressure (sometimes unspoken, often spoken) to have a vision/mission statement that makes me a cut-above, beyond the norm, and accomplishing make-others-take-notice kinds of things with my life.
That’s fine and good, I guess. But I’ve noticed that a good deal of my life is rather normal, often mundane. I spend a lot of time working a job that doesn’t turn heads. I often wonder if I’m accomplishing much of anything. When I preach, I speak to a group of pretty ordinary folks. I haven’t noticed the world being changed by anything I’ve said. Providing pastoral care and counseling rarely registers on the Richter Scale of life. Change comes slow and often undetected.
Beyond that, I do my part at home as a husband and father. This consists of spending time with my family, trying to be as loving and kind as I can. I do a lot of listening, do laundry, run the vacuum on occasion, scrape frost off the windshields, set the thermostat, and clean up after our dog so people won’t step in his contribution to fertilizing our yard.
To be honest, I often wonder if I’m accomplishing much for the Kingdom. I tend to struggle with boredom. When I assess my life in light of the compelling vision/mission statements that I hear being touted by some Christian voices, I wrestle with feelings of failure.
This leads me to wonder if we’re missing something in this conversation. Could our emphases be misplaced?
The discussion about personal mission and vision statements has inherent limitations that we often fail to acknowledge. One, it assumes a very individualistic world view. We view Christianity as a solo act in America. It fits well with the rest of our cultural bias that it’s all about me, the individual. I wonder how it would reshape our idea of vision and mission if we framed it in a context of relationship, family and community. Perhaps the frustration we experience in “personal” mission statements has something to do with the fact that we don’t live “personal” lives. We live in relationship with others and our world.
Second, the idea of defining our mission statement is a luxury for those of us with affluence. It’s for the privileged class. We have more resources than we need, which allows us to have plenty of spare time to sit and think about purpose and vision. Perhaps affluence drives the need to intentionally define our purpose because the affluence we pursue and assume is vital to “living the life” often lead us into meaninglessness.
I wonder how those in Jesus’ audience and who made up the New Testament church, most of whom were poor and underprivileged, handled this concept of a life mission? How do those in second- and third-world cultures today approach it?
It seems in these cases that mission and purpose are pretty clear–to get enough resources together to have at least enough food to be able to survive until tomorrow. Or finding protection from the elements of nature, wild beasts and human enemies. These tasks necessitated the cooperation of the family and the community.
When this is the case, there isn’t much time or energy left over to figure out how to upscale one’s career or spread our ministry to other cities. Personal fulfillment isn’t the main concern.
I’m not against developing a compelling mission and vision for our lives. Many of us need to be challenged to live beyond ourselves. We need to remove our blinders and stretch our vision. Following Jesus certainly impacts how we answer the question, “What am I living for?”
But maybe it’s more basic than what is often promoted. Maybe striving to be a loving husband/wife, a caring, responsible and present parent, and a good friend are the essentials to a compelling mission statement. Maybe that is what will change the world in the end. Maybe if we kept our focus primarily on these kind of things, we’d be a lot less frustrated. Maybe we wouldn’t beat ourselves up as much as we do for not doing enough.
All that said, I’m working on redefining my personal mission statement. I’m mulling over adopting our church’s mission statement: “Love God and do the next right thing.” I just might discover more peace and contentment.
Maybe that would be good enough.