We have been talking for several weeks now about what researcher Brene Brown calls “wholehearted living.” People who live with whole hearts are not able to be so drug down into the morass of shame – the feeling that we are not enough, not good enough, smart enough, beautiful enough. We practice self-compassion. This is the self-love that Jesus says is at the heart of being one of his followers: loving God, loving others, and being able to love ourselves fully. Living whole heartedly, as we discussed last week, also means that we are able to be still and calm. When we experience anxiety and fear we do not allow this to be a way of life. We recognize anxiety which is natural, and then use practices such as breathing and meditation to invite calm back into our lives.
Another common thread that Brene Brown discovered in the lives of people who practice whole hearted living is cultivating meaningful work embracing who we are. As people of faith we would say this is living out our call. I like to say: you know why God put you on this earth, and you live out that purpose.
My friend Harry Knox has a way of talking about meaningful work. I have heard him speak at numerous public events and he almost always talks about his job his this way. He says: “I jump out of bed every morning and run to work.” Isn’t that a great image? For a while he was the Faith Director for the Human Rights Campaign which is one of the largest advocacy groups for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons in the US. Now he is the is Executive Director of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, an organization working to provide legal access for women to contraception, abortion, and health care. Harry is a gay man with a graduate degree in theology and a keen mind for political organizing. I spoke with him recently and I said: “You know Harry, your move from organizing for LBGT rights to rights for reproductive justice wasn’t necessarily the brightest move.” Because we are winning the LGBT fight. It is just a matter of time before we have legal protections for against discrimination and housing for LGBT persons. And we will have same gender marriage in every state. But we are losing ground in reproductive justice. That work is some of the hardest justice work out there right now. I said to Harry, tell me the truth: “Are you still jumping out of bed and running to work every day?” It’s getting a little harder for him. We are both getting older. We’ve been doing this a long time.
But he still loves his work. Because it is not just work. It is his calling. This is what God put Harry Knox on this earth to do. He is grounded in scripture and religious tradition. Harry is from Georgia and he has Jesus on his side. He can go round and round with those Southern evangelical good old boys. They have nothing on Harry. And he is so smart. He gets invited to the White House and he talks to those political leaders and talks circles around them, and does it with Southern charm a quick wit. And he gets the job done.
I love it when I meet someone who has found their purpose in life. We don’t need 1000 Harrys. We only need one. Because each one of us has our purpose in our life. We each have our own body of work that contributes to the whole.
When Paul was writing to the church in the city of Corinth, he used this metaphor of the body to help them understand that each person has a place and a purpose and everyone has something unique to contribute. AND no one is more or less important.
He was talking about how it is when we are really paying attention, and allowing God’s Spirit to work in and through us. We start to notice the Spirit in our lives, when we say “Yes” I want follow Jesus. I want to line my life up with the ways of Jesus. We say Yes I’m ready. We start to feel the presence of God more intensely. God was there all the time, (because God is everywhere) but we notice the Spirit of God more intensely because we have chosen to pay attention.
Paul says, this is when the Spirit will show us our unique gifts and how we can use them to make the world better, and more beautiful, more compassionate for all. We want to be more like Jesus: more generous, more forgiving, and we want the world to be more just for everyone so we start looking for the skills we have and the opportunities we have to use them.
Paul says: now just like the body has parts with certain uses, the Body of Christ is like that. The body does not need all eyes and no ears or hands. The body would be no good with all feet and no lungs to breathe. Every part has a purpose. They are all interrelated. No one is no more or less important. Those of us who have broken a big toe, know how it can cause you great pain and really throw off your balance. We can attest to the fact that every part has a purpose. (And don’t start nit-picking with me about the spleen. Just let me make my point.)
So, it’s like this with our community of Jesus followers. Every one of us serves a purpose in the community. Some of us spend a good part of our adult lives trying to figure out what our purpose is… but that’s okay. The journey toward meaning is sort of a work in progress.
Paul says this: “26 The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part,… If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.
27 [We] are Christ’s body—that’s who [we] are! [we] must never forget this. Only as [we] accept [our] part of that body does [our] “part” mean anything.” (I Corinthians 12)
Now, I hope this all sounds good to you. I understand that in the real world there are some challenges to finding our purpose in life, and living it out. So, let’s talk about some of those challenges.
First of all, to find our purpose in life, or meaningful work, or our call, we need to identify our gifts or our strengths. For some of us, that is the first roadblock. Some of us don’t think we have any gifts of strengths. Something happened along the way, and we heard the message that we are no good and we believed it. So, we are stuck in shame. We are not enough. Someone in the world told us we were not good enough at something and we took the bait: hook, line and sinker.
Well it is just not true. God created everyone with gifts and strengths. You are good at something. God created everyone with gifts and strengths. You may not know what that is, but you are good at something. So if you don’t know what that is, I invite you to start there. Take some time with yourself, and dig deep inside and consider what you are good at. And if you can’t think of anything, go find someone who likes you and ask them and they will tell you. Or make an appointment with me and I will help you. Everyone in this church has gifts and strengths and we will help you name them. God made you and you have gifts. PERIOD.
Now, sometimes we know that we have gifts and strengths, but we just don’t use them. We are squandering them. We have just gotten off track. This is just as detrimental to our well-being as not knowing what our gifts and strengths are to not be using them. Brene Brown says: “When we don’t use our talents to cultivate meaningful work, we struggle. We feel disconnected and weighed down by feelings of emptiness, resentment, shame, disappointment, fear, and even grief.” (The Gifts of Imperfection, p. 112). So we need to find a way to use our gifts. We need to get back on track.
One challenge to living out our purpose and using our gifts is that it takes a great amount of commitment. In many cases it does not pay the bills. Some people, like my friend Harry, are able to line up their gifts with their work for pay, but many people have to do a juggling act so they live out their call and make ends meet. It takes some work to live out your call and use your gifts to be the person that God put you on this earth to be. So it may take some planning, some coaching, some realignment, some calibration to use your gifts.
One more challenge is this: you have to find your own call. No one call tell you what your purpose it. You may see someone and say: wow she is building houses for Habitat every Saturday. That is so cool and she is so energized by that. I want to help people who don’t have any place to live. But you (like me) are the most uncoordinated person on the planet when it comes to building things. As much as you might want that to be your purpose. It is her purpose and not yours. Now, you might be able to help Habitat in some other way. If you love to cook, they need people to make meals for the volunteers. Or if you are good with data, they may need help in the office, doing bookkeeping. Or maybe you could be their volunteer coordinator because you love what they do and you know lots of people and you would love to call people and ask them to help. You get the idea. You have to find your own call, not someone else’s.
Finally one of the things that makes it hard to live out our passion in life is because in our culture we are defined by our work. How many times have you met someone and they asked you “What do you do?” Well I do lots of things: I’m a mom, I volunteer at my kids school, I read, I preach, I advocate for justice, I’m a blogger, I’m a community organizer, I coach church planters, I’m a wife. I’m lots of things. But in our world people expect you to say one thing: what is your one job for pay.
Brene Brown tells about a book written by Marci Alboher called One Person/Multiple Careers: A New Model for Work/Life Success (ibid, 114). She interviewed hundreds of people and discovered what she calls “slash” careers. People are creating meaningful work by “refusing to be defined by a single career.” Examples include: artist/real estate agent, lawyer/chef, and surgeon/playwright rabbi/stand-up comedian. Brown tells the story of meeting someone who is an accountant/jeweler. She asked her how long she has been a jeweler. And the woman said she wished she were a jeweler. She said: “I’m a CPA.” Brown was wearing her earrings at the time and told her that yes she was a jeweler (p. 115). The woman did not feel like she was “enough” as a jeweler. It was not legitimate. But it was. We need to claim what we love. She creates beautiful things. This is her gift and her passion. This is what God put her on this earth to do. It brings her joy and it brings joy to other people. We need some beauty in this world. It is enough to create beauty.
Howard Thurman says this: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world need is people who have come alive.”
Sure, when my friend Harry goes to work every day, he is doing work that will affect the quality of life for other people, but it also brings life to Harry. And that is why he leaps out of bed and runs to work.
What makes you come alive? If you can answer that question you will be well on the way to knowing why God put you on this earth and finding your meaningful work and embracing who you are. Remember it may or not be your work for pay. What makes you come alive? You can share it here on the blog, on our YouTube channel when this sermon is up, or on the Facebook page. We want to hear how you follow Jesus and change the world. That’s what we do at the Village and by reading this you’re part of our community. So share and inspire us and others by what brings you joy and inspires you.