I just finished reading Every Good Endeavor by Tim Keller, and have been thinking a lot about individual purpose.
In my bible study this semester, we have been discussing Genesis, Creation, and God's original plan for humanity. It is in this ancient text, before sin entered the world, that the Lord commands Adam and Eve to: be in community with one another, rest, and...work.
Yep. Work has always been a part of our calling, even before the curse of sin made it difficult and thorny. Since we were created, humans remain full of the desire to, not only have a purpose but to see the fruits of our labor. However, just after the first sin, the beauty of work was forever altered by sin. In Genesis 3:19, God says this to Adam and Eve: "You will sweat and work hard for your food. Later you will return to the ground, because you were taken from it. You are dust, and when you die, you will return to the dust." This seems hopeless, but it is important for us to understand that, although work is often either idealized or seen as a burden, we are created to work. We delight in work!! It is also important for us to understand that work is necessary for life but it does not constitute our whole life. All of us will, one day, return to dust.
In a 75-year-old study, Harvard researchers aimed to find the secret to happiness through observing the lives of young boys from their youth to their retirement. Some men became politicians and CEOs. Others became school teachers and consultants. However, none of these men's jobs indicated their individual contentedness or quality of life. Instead, it was the quality of their relationships and their individual feelings of meaning that constituted their happiness.
This is unsurprising. There is an abundance of research on the psychological and physical benefits of humans feeling purposeful and, in contrast, the detrimental effects of feeling purposeless. This is why people who retire often experience intense loneliness and rapid physical and mental decline,
Despite how clear science and scripture are in the importance of quality work, a recent survey of young adults revealed that over 50% of millennials continue to desire fame and fortune-- something that humans have craved since the beginning of time. However, the most successful and accomplished members of society have been outspoken about the hollowness of monetary gain.
Two-time winner of the Wimbledon, Boris Becker, said this about his success:
"I had won Wimbledon twice before, once as the youngest player. I was rich. I had all the material possessions I needed ... It's the old song of movie stars and pop stars who commit suicide. They have everything, and yet they are so unhappy. I had no inner peace. I was a puppet on a string."
Famous author Jack Higgens told an interviewer that, if he could give his younger self any advice, it would be:
"When you get to the top, there's nothing there."
I am not advocating against making money or frowning upon becoming a famous athlete or author. I believe that the feelings of value in a job-well-done are not just significant, but necessary. However, it is important to find the balance between reality and idealism. As humans, we're not only created to work, but desire to see the fruits of our labor. However, fame and fortune have become idols. Jobs that seem more meaningful are put on a pedestal and work deemed "plain" is seen as purposeless. Even in Christian Culture, there is often a great disillusionment that working in Corporate America or Public Policy (or something that is not vocationally 'Christian') is somehow less important...less powerful.
However, it is in these settings that many believers are doing the important work we are all called to. Every Good Endeavor explains how we can relish and enjoy our individual work while honoring God, sharing the gospel, and serving others.
All humans, no matter their culture or religion, desire purpose because we were made by a purposeful God-- one who promises a yolk that is not too light and not too heavy; one that promises not just life eternal, but life abundant.
"Everyone will be forgotten, nothing we do will make any difference, and all good endeavors, even the best, will come to naught. Unless there is God. If the God of the Bible exists, and there is a True Reality beneath and behind this one, and this life is not the only life, then every good endeavor, even the simplest ones, pursued in response to God's calling, can matter forever." -- Tim Keller