John Patrick Grace: To find life's purpose, let God work in your soul
From time to time, I hear people -- who typically will be in their 60s or 70s -- say: "I'm not ready to die yet. There's too many things I still want to do." The fatal flaw in that remark is the subtext understanding that our primary purpose in life consists in piling up interesting or exhilarating experiences.
In my own life I have indeed done many exhilarating things -- studied, earned degrees, dated, married, fathered five children, traveled to 23 countries, and learned to speak French and Italian fluently.
I've enjoyed eating in excellent restaurants -- and in private homes -- on three continents, and have stayed in a number of fine hotels (usually on some news organization's buck).
As a journalist and author, I've had millions of words published in magazines, newspapers and books.
None of that, however, to my mind today, comes close to representing the purpose of my existence. And, now at age 71, I have no desire to prolong my life simply so I can do more of all that -- learn more languages, publish more books or sample more gourmet food.
Let's get serious. The purpose of our life is to come to know our God in a personal way and allow Him to do His work in our souls so that we become the person He envisioned us to be from our birth, in other words, our true self or, some might say, our best self.
That will be a self that knows how to receive and give love, that knows how to pardon and ask for pardon, that reaches out to serve others through sharing of the material and spiritual gifts we've received and cultivated.
No matter what kind of work we do, from brain surgeon to truck driver, if we can do it as a service and with a joyful heart, we will be blessed.
All honest work is honorable in God's sight, and, ideally, will also be character building.
Parties are fine -- I like them, too-- ditto theater, concerts and great movies, but let's not confuse enjoying such things with the purpose of our sojourn on the planet.
Bill Cosby had a great T-shirt that, sardonically, sums up the point I have been making here. The T-shirt said: "At the end of life, the one with the most toys wins."
Those of you out there who are pitching in at your church or volunteering on other worthwhile projects -- in hospitals, nursing homes, prisons or elsewhere -- or providing loving care for family or friends in need have already got the picture. You're on the right track.
However, if some of you find yourselves overly focused on material acquisition and sybaritic pleasures, well, it's never too late to make a switch.
Here's a lyric that goes all the way back to Celtic times in about the 5th century that will unerringly comfort believers and help seekers to become believers. It's one of my very favorite songs:
"Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart/naught be all else to me save that Thou art.
"Thou my best thought by day or by night/waking or sleeping Thy presence my light.
"Be Thou my wisdom and Thou my true word/I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord.
"Thou and Thou only first in my heart/Great God of heaven, my treasure Thou art."
John Patrick Grace, like the song, also has Celtic origins. His parentage traces back to County Cork and County Clare in Ireland. He is a former Associated Press Rome correspondent and now is a book editor and publisher based in Huntington. He also teaches the Life Writing Class.
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