Whatever Thomas Jefferson meant by “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence, I equate the pursuit of happiness with the pursuit of purpose, the pursuit of a place of usefulness and meaning in the world. You might say I’m searching for my happy place.
I know. For some of us, our purpose in life doesn’t necessarily make us deliriously happy. But why not? Shouldn’t fulfilling our obligations and completing our daily duties—doing our work and doing it well—give a sense of worth and fill us with the joy of serving?
Labor laetitia nostra, “Work is our happiness.” –Latin motto of the University of Santiago
In considering the foundations of story, I ruminated on substance or THEME in my last post. What’s the underlying point? I always ask myself. If you ask me a month from now what any particular book was about, will I recall enough to tell you? What was its take-away value? That’s the serious backbone of a book.
But SETTING is a fun(ny) bone if you will—an element or pillar to building a great story that entertains, intrigues, teaches, and maybe takes you out of your ordinary world to a new place you’ve never seen or imagined before.
I simply refuse to stay put in my little gray gravel pit. Where have I traveled recently in the pages of a book? Let’s say just this year, now almost three months gone, I’ve visited…
- The Great Lakes—who knew this woman who loves the sea could also become captivated by lakes?
- New York City—never dreamed of going there, but I get the urban fascination with crowds after years in Santiago.
- The Yukon gold rush with Canadian historian Pierre Berton. Mush!
- The coast of England during the interwar Golden Age of Mystery. What? Oh, solving a murder, of course.
- A war in medieval Wales. No worries, the hero was a monk.
- The grand halls of Buckingham Palace. Of course, I met Her Majesty!
- An African safari with the inimitable Luci Swindoll, who I learned passed away from Covid last October. The world is poorer…
- A Chilean kitchen—oh, the delectable aromas!
- A movie theater in a subway station of Washington, D. C. Er, the president? Didn’t see him.
- Gibraltar and Spain’s South American colonies, in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars.
“The greatest tragedy is not death, but life without purpose.” –Rick Warren
Not all these books are fiction, of course. And I can see I’ve done some time travel, as well. Description of a happy place flows easily from my fingers, whether it’s home-sweet-home or far afield.
A ship, a dogsled, a car trip, a castle, a library, a bookstore, a bed-and-breakfast… Where have you been lately, in the pursuit of purpose? I’d enjoy hearing if you feel like sharing.
You may wonder what the idea of book setting has to do with the foundation of purpose in life. For one thing, all those places played an important part in each tale. In fact, sometimes the setting can almost fill the role of another character. Our niche in the world—our place with God—forms a central piece of the puzzle of purpose in our lives, too.
Among the ten important pillars of my existence is not only the pursuit of purpose but the certainty of it—that what I do matters. That my life means something to God, right now and for eternity. I believe in the foundational concept of stewardship: The idea that I contribute all of my gifts (they are only gifts, after all) and resources (on loan, not my own) toward a destiny that is much greater than I am. Or than I could even envision.
“You find your true happiness when you find your place with God.” –Phil Mitchell
This pursuit of purpose normally indicates that I’ll engage fully in a mission of some kind. A project, a task, an assignment. Perhaps I write something. Or speak. Or visit. Maybe it’s as simple as baking a cake, taking a picture, or making a phone call.
Max Lucado, in Cure for the Common Life, describes our “Sweet Spot” setting—where we encounter the greatest joy—as “the convergence of God’s glory (the why), my strengths (the what), and my everyday life (the where).” Did you catch that—the where? Our sweet spot is always found in our own backyard doing whatever we do best to give God pleasure.
And that’s actually pretty uncommon—to live in the knowledge that God has a plan, a perfect design, for each one. Just as a happy place to hang our hat draws us to the home fires of our physical lives, confidence in His overarching purpose can nourish our spirits.
As my book Destiny at Dolphin Bay soon goes to press, some of my mental energy has turned toward the next in the series, Pursuit of the Pudú Deer. The pudú, a Chilean species known as the world’s smallest deer, stands about the height of a small-to-average-size dog and has the liver of a chicken. No kidding…they say chasing it could cause it to die of fright.
In this plot, pursuing the pudú represents chasing our desires—sometimes healthy God-instilled aspirations, sometimes foolish or godless ambitions. This beautiful yet timid woodland creature symbolizes all our special dreams and wishes for riches, relationships, and recognition.
But in the end, we have to realize, like the story characters, that seeking these wants and needs to the point of insistence frequently results in disaster—even death and destruction of the prized objective.
“The purpose of life is a life of purpose.” –Robert Byrne
That said, however, the pursuit of purpose isn’t always a bad thing. So often, God saves His best for those willing to wait for His choices and fulfill His purposes. My friend, look for your sweet spot. Pursue that niche where you both fit and find your happy place.
One of my favorite Bible stories is tucked away in a couple of obscure verses in 2 Samuel 23. It tells how Shammah, one of King David’s mighty men, defended a plot of lentils against the Philistines. Lentils, friends! I don’t know about you, but where I grew up, people didn’t regard lentils even as highly as a pot of beans.
But God… “brought about a great victory” (v. 12). How did that amazing against-all-odds success happen? “He stationed himself in the middle of the field.” Shammah stood on the holy ground where God had placed him.
“It is not enough to have lived. We should be determined to have lived for something.” –Winston S. Churchill
Honestly, my life story could be set anywhere. On a lentil farm or a fishing boat or a flower garden, as long as it’s built on a foundation of purpose. In the grand scheme of things, does it matter to God? The question is never, “Is it earth-shattering or cosmos-remaking?” but rather, “Does it make a difference to someone?”
On the back side of the desert, Moses glimpsed his burning bush. I’m convinced even my gravel pit has story potential in its stony paths. In the coastal cacti, the morning mists, the sunsets and scorpions on my evening walk. If God has called me here, then this is holy ground. (Though I’d hate to remove my sandals!)
“When we allow God the privilege of shaping our lives, we discover new depths of purpose and meaning. What a joyful thought to realize you are a chosen vessel for God—perfectly suited for His use.” –Joni Eareckson Tada
A few years ago, I taught a ladies’ ministry course called the Joy of Serving—in Spanish, Gozo de Servir. During the break between two hour-long evening sessions, we enjoyed a quick cup of tea and whatever snack someone brought in to share. One of my daughters always made a point of popping in from her own class for a bite. Eventually, tongue-in-cheek, she nicknamed our group Gozo de Servirse, meaning the Joy of Serving Oneself!
Just a bit of humorous play on words. Servirse is a normal way of referring to “eating” or “dining” in Spanish, no selfish overtones intended. But it’s poles from the actual labor of service. What a difference that little pronoun makes.
As I head into each new day’s as yet uncharted waters, my prayer is to find the joy of serving in His purposed place. “You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy…” (Psalm 16:11).
While the pursuit of happiness often winds along many a barren side path, the pursuit of purpose takes us to a happy place. Ah, sweet.