I heard a retelling of a movie recently, Chariots of Fire, about two men who viewed running very differently.
One man said he felt God’s pleasure when he ran–pressure-free. The other man believed running was the way to justify his entire existence, to prove himself.
The first man knew he was meant for a purpose, whether or not this purpose was inextricably tied to the outcome of his races. The second man ran to find his purpose, though fleeting–like the quick break of finish-line tape.
How many times do I wake up in the morning looking for the purpose of the day? How many times do I treat each day like a heavenly race, the God-glorifying, righteousness-promoting, ever-serving kind of race we’re called to? How many times do I treat each day like an earthly race, where I need to collect as many praises and affirmations and Instagram likes as humanly possible?
I’d say I choose the earthly race without fail, while the heavenly race is usually dead last on my list of preferred trails.
What’s problematic is how the choice of each morning reflects on who we know we are:
The first runner knows his purpose; the heavenly race is run to continue growing in that purpose. The second runner has no idea of his purpose; the earthly race is run to search for it.
If I chose the heavenly race, wouldn’t that reflect my knowledge that I am a child of God, and do not require earthly affirmation every minute of the day like it seems I always do?
But I choose the other one.
My earthly race requires me to seek my purpose in every corner of my life: purpose when I look in the mirror (am I pretty enough?), purpose when I pack a lunch for work (am I healthy enough?), purpose when I greet everyone at work (am I friendly enough?), purpose in my conversations throughout the day (am I funny enough?), purpose when I do or don’t get invited places (am I wanted?).
How exhausting and unnecessary and not fun at all! Where is the joy in asking people to affirm you all day long? We are all children of God, yet we act like grubby toddlers, asking for more and more and more affirmation from places that will never satisfy!
My day is a “success” when these questions are answered yes by other people. Yes, you are pretty enough, healthy enough, friendly enough, funny enough. Yes, you are wanted.
But how can those questions get answered to our liking without making everything about ourselves? Is it possible to be searching for purpose through the praise you get and still serve other people, glorifying God?
(I don’t think so.)
Talking about collecting praise for ourselves reminds me of one of my favorite ideas from Glennon Melton about abundance–you can read that here. The mindset we lock ourselves into when we compete for earthly praises is that if someone else has something, we can’t get it without taking. And since we are inherently selfish, our sorrow in taking is outweighed by our need for affirmation. But viewing this through God’s lens of abundance in grace changes everything. My favorite quote from Glennon in that article is about abundance, saying that we should:
…not only believe in abundance, but to CREATE more of it. To quit fighting for a bigger slice of pie and just bake a bigger pie and invite everybody you know to share it with you.
Glennon talks about two of my favorite questions surrounding the issue of purpose: Am I valued? Am I loved?
The answer I love, that Jesus tells us over and over again, for us to spread to other people, is yes.
Yes you are valued!!!! Yes you are loved!!!
Yes, of course, you were created by a loving God who has a purpose for you that you simply have to live out. You do not need any of your crippling questions answered by anyone other than the God who determines your value.
And because you are so valued and so loved, you may not get grabby or possessive over the praise you get. It is not necessary to your purpose.