As I grow older and know that my future life on earth is shorter than my current age, I sometimes ponder significance: doing something important that leaves a legacy. This week, I read various editorials about Cokie Roberts, a political journalist, who died on September 17th at the age of 75. I fondly remember her National Public Radio reporting on Congress and how prosaically she could communicate the various political issues. In this age of partisan politics, she was respectfully lauded this week by both the left and right for her professional skills and gracious manners. I yearn for such a legacy that unifies humanity across broad spectrums of opinions.
Dr. Os Guinness, an English author, wrote about significance in his book, The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life (W Publishing Group, Nashville, TN, 2003, pages 3-4). “Deep in our hearts, we all want to find and fulfill a purpose bigger than ourselves. Only such a larger purpose can inspire us to heights we know we could never reach on our own.” When I was young and trying to decide on my vocation, I dreamed of doing great deeds and accomplishing difficult goals. As I aged and matured, I still dreamed but sometimes the realities of my physical and mental abilities subdued my dreams. But I still yearn for significance.
Dr. Guinness states that three factors “have converged to fuel a search for significance without precedent in human history.” “First, the search for the purpose of life is one of the deepest issues of our experiences as human beings.” There is a growing trend among millennials and those younger to change the world. This has led to unrealistic expectations since change starts with yourself and spreads first to those closest to you. And profound change usually happens after you die. Jesus Christ and Martin Luther King Jr. are two examples. The search for purpose is still important and fundamental to our human existence.
“Second, the expectation that we can all live purposeful lives has been given a gigantic boost by modern society’s offer of the maximum opportunity for choice and change in all we do.” Our world is undergoing accelerating change. So many diversity and cultural barriers have been broken. The world needs new ideas and competent people who are willing to work on our many complex problems. Opportunities abound to better our community and serve our neighbors.
The third factor is that the “fulfillment of the search for purpose is thwarted by a stunning fact: Out of more than a score of great civilizations in human history, modern Western civilization is the very first to have no agreed-on answer to the question of the purpose of life. Thus more ignorance, confusion – and longing – surround this topic now than at almost any time in history.” The diversity of Western civilization philosophy, religion and scientific opinions leaves our culture void of a commonality of purpose. The rise of individualism only increases the options, some of which are ill-informed or destructive.
Dr. Guinness then states his thesis: “But nothing short of God’s call can ground and fulfill the truest human desire for purpose.” God first calls us to faith. This is what William Perkins (1558-1602), Puritan theologian, labeled as a general calling. Second, God calls us to a personal calling which is our specific vocation. Dr. Guinness defines calling as “the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion and dynamism lived out as a response to his summons and service.” And answering God’s call, generally and personally, is the way to find purpose in your life.