By Tim Branch
I heard one time that, in the absence of purpose, a person always gravitates toward pleasure.
I’ve found that to be painfully true in my life during the COVID-19 quarantine.
My friends and I are still quarantining hard, because we want to do our part to save lives. But in that, we’re struggling. As I’ve chatted with people I know who are trying to be careful, the story is the same: “It almost feels like I’m not part of the world anymore.”
We don’t feel connected to many of the things that used to make us feel a deep sense of purpose—friends, community, ministry.
Do you feel it, too?
Here’s what I’ve noticed: Because of how disconnected we feel, we’re constantly tempted to fall into what I describe as “purpose hibernation.”
We use pleasure to numb out our frustrations, to sedate the part of us that’s crying out for a better story.
I find myself watching hours and hours of Netflix. I play video games. I try to stuff as much “fun” into my evenings as possible at my house, so that I stop thinking about how much this sucks.
But if you’re like me, you keep bumping into something inconvenient:
As you’re watching Netflix, the main character in your show experiences a thrilling adventure, one you wish you could be a part of. They find their soulmate and fall in love. They struggle alongside a group of people, all fighting for the same thing. And they prevail.
Then, something happens inside you.
A deep longing awakens. A desire for more. A desire for whatever story that character has. But it all seems heartbreakingly out of reach in your own life.
So the best you can do is keep stuffing yourself with more stories.
Honestly, this has been happening long before the COVID-19 crisis hit. It’s just gotten louder. In the back of our minds, a voice has been shouting: “There has to be more to life than this.”
I’m reminded of Victor Frankl, the Jewish man who was able to endure pain and loss unthinkable to most of us. He survived four different concentration camps—including Auschwitz, and then wrote the famous book Man’s Search for Meaning.
Amid unbearable pain and persecution, Frankl says in his book:
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
He also says this:
“Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life; everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated, thus, everyone’s task is unique as his specific opportunity to implement it.”
All this, from a man who had every reason to fall into complete hopelessness.
What Frankl seems to be proving to us is this:
We can choose to step into our story, no matter what’s happening around us. Or, we can give in to what’s happening around us.
This idea has transformed me.
No matter what kind of horrible things are happening, we have the power to turn our lives into a wonderfully purposeful story.
We were made for more than just hiding in our pleasure to numb out the pain. Now, more than ever, we have the opportunity to step into our gifts and share them with a world that desperately needs them. Hurting people need us to step into the darkness and bring our light with us—even when we too are hurting.
We can socially distance and still be a part of the reclamation story. We can step in and be a part of God’s bigger story, right now. COVID may have hindered our ability to experience community, but it hasn’t hindered God.
We can step into the story we were meant to live by stepping into the brokenness of others, by protecting the marginalized, by fighting for justice for all people—even as we feel broken or helpless ourselves.
We each have God-given gifts and talents that we can use to heal the world around us. Gifts of loving, serving, listening, caring. Gifts of protection, money, influence, power. Gifts of wisdom, perception, insight, encouragement.
We can use our unique gifts to change what’s happening in this country. And we can do it in a way that brings glory to the name of Jesus. An epic story is waiting for us—one wrought with love, sacrifice, adventure, and purpose. Even within the confines of our home.
That is, if we’re willing to take the bold action to step into it.
Matthew 5:13-16 says:
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
It’s as if Jesus knew we were made not to hide away and stuff ourselves with pleasure, but to actively participate in His bigger story of redemption.
Yes, it’s so much harder in this season. But my call to my community of believers—and to myself—is this:
Step into your story anyway.
Find a way to have meaningful conversations with friends about the issues of today. Reach out to someone who you know is feeling lonely. Read a new book that will educate you on a topic you feel passionate about.
In my deep longing for purpose, I’ve discovered that my dissatisfaction is actually a map that God uses to lead me into deeper relationship with Him. Only when I’m connected to God’s direction in my life, do I experience true joy.
The best news? Even though it may not look like we envisioned, God has a wonderful new adventure waiting on us—the moment we’re willing to walk through the door.
Tim Branch is a blogger, former ministry leader, and the author of How to Hear God’s Voice—a guide designed to help Christians grow in intimacy with the Lord. He writes at timbranch.com about growing into who you were originally intended to be.