So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
2 Corinthians 4.16-18
I spent several months this year discipling a group of ex-military combat veterans struggling with PTSD. True confession: I love the military peeps, and not just because I’m grateful for their service, or even because of my brother’s long career in the Army. I love military types because their love language is mockery. They tease. So, I gathered a group of these guys in my office, along with a few other fellas from the Winds, and we laughed and joked and studied the Bible and threw things and became great friends.
One of the most consistent issues that arose, though mostly they asked about it in private, is “What am I doing here?” Sometimes, it was because they missed the action. They missed knowing their contributions were making a difference in the fight against terrorism. Sometimes, they felt guilty about leaving while their friends were still deployed and in danger. Sometimes, though, it was as simple as trying to figure out their next career move.
But they all had the same question that you do.
You come home from work, eager to see the kids. You’re tired, but this is why you work so hard in the first place—to give your family something great. A home. A set of experiences and memories that you never had. Opportunity and wonder.
But when you arrive, the house is crazy. The kids don’t want anything to do with you. Which is fine. You get it. It’s been a long day. You greet their fits with steadfastness. For a while. But your partner’s mad, too. You work too hard. You’re gone too much. The family isn’t really a priority. You take it in stride. Everyone’s hungry, and you brought home takeout. But dinner doesn’t improve the mood. Everyone’s on edge. You fight. The kids get worse. Your arguments intensify until everyone goes their own way. To bed. Irritated. Frustrated. Angry. Put upon. Aggrieved.
You wonder “What am I even doing here?”
Now, the polite way to ask this question, is to say “Why am I here?” The Christian way to ask this question, is to wonder “What is God’s will for my life?” But the honest way, the way we most frequently articulate this question, is to clench our fists and shout “What am I doing? This is a waste.”
Everyone feels this way. Moms. Dads. Veterans. College kids. Grandparents. Teens.
We wonder if we’re only making it worse for the people we love, when all we feel like we’re doing is trying to make it better.
This reminds me of Romans 15:1: But we who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak, and not just please ourselves.
You might not feel this way today. That’s okay. I don’t want to depress you. But this series is about dealing with life’s worst moments in the best possible way, and one of the key tactics of the enemy is to convince us that we have no value, that our actions don’t make a difference, and that everyone would probably be better off if we just weren’t here.
I can tell you that, when you’re feeling this way, the best in-the-moment strategy is gratitude. We’ll come back to that later, but the bigger issue is in order to feel this way less frequently, you need to do some deeper work. You need to discover the actual answer to WHY YOU’RE HERE. And your answer is probably going to be different from everybody else’s, since we all need to articulate that in a way that makes sense to us.
I’ll share with you my WHY, and how I figured it out. Pro tip: finding the answer to WHY YOU’RE HERE lies within the scripture. But you’ll have to do more than just read the Bible. In order to find your answer, you’re going to have to talk about what you read and how it relates to you.
Here’s where I found my answer.
The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.”
I’m here to bless.
Blessing means to increase, to magnify, to call the attention of heaven onto something good, to consecrate. That’s what I can do. That’s why I’m here. I used to think I was here to CHANGE THE CHURCH, and maybe that’s partly true, but that’s too broad to catalyze life’s momentary exchanges. When I consider that I’m here to bless, then I’ve got something that keeps me moving forward all the time.
I want to bless my wife, so that the good things in her get amplified and she feels secure with her husband.
I want to bless my children, so that they learn to recognize what God’s Spirit has placed within them.
I want to bless my staff, and our church, and the kingdom by calling attention to the ways we get it right and encouraging people that it really is possible to live as lights in a dark world.
I want to bless my friends, and their families, and their extended friendships by energizing the brotherly love that is a unique feature of the kingdom of God; so that everyone knows I am in their corner, working to shelter them amid seasons of difficulty.
That’s why I’m here.
I want to be an engine of blessing. A battery of positive energy that charges the people I love.
But it doesn’t always work. Sometimes, you pour massive amounts of energy into a relationship and it never gets better. It never goes anywhere. You feel wasted. Your efforts spoil.
Sometimes you bless someone and it creates conflict, because there are other forces at play that thwart, collude, mistrust, and otherwise impede your blessing.
And when your best efforts don’t work, you get annoyed, frustrated—you feel encumbered.
But here it’s important to acknowledge there is a difference between blessing and fixing. Fixing is a great temptation. I like solving problems. When I perceive problems in another person, or between other people, I want to fix them. But you can’t fix other people. You can’t fix other people’s problems. And the more you try and fix them, the more you’re setting yourself up for failure.
You’ve got an adult child, maybe with children of their own. And their lives are a disaster. You see so much going on with them that’s messed up and dysfunctional, you’re not even sure where to begin. So, you start trying to fix it. To fix it all. And you get frustrated. Because they won’t do what you’re showing them. They won’t change. They won’t get better. Then they begin to interpret your efforts as control. They think you’re meddling. They think you disapprove. You’re judging. But you’re just trying to help. How did it go so wrong?
Because you were fixing instead of blessing.
Find something good. Celebrate it. That’s the best you can do. You can’t control others. You can’t fix others. You can’t heal or repair others. You can only like their Facebook post; you can’t fix their stupidity.
Incidentally, I think this is what’s so toxic about Facebook—that disagreements turn toxic, that there is so much room for miscommunication. It’s one of the reasons I primarily live on Instagram, since you can just LOVE someone’s picture—sending them a little self-esteem shot in the arm—rather than engaging their political, sexual, religious, or otherwise polarizing opinions.
And the net result of such blessing, whether on Instagram or in the meat-space, is that you yourself feel happier.
Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered. The people curse him who holds back grain, but a blessing is on the head of him who sells it. Proverbs 11:25-26
This is the way forward.
Focus on what you can control. I can always control whether or not I’m blessing others, even though I can’t ever control how they interpret it, whether they receive it, or whether my blessing heals them, repairs them, or fixes them. If I focus on blessing, I’m happier and more in control. If I focus on fixing, then I’m angry that people just won’t stay fixed.
Perhaps Mr. Incredible said it best: No matter how many times you save the world, it always manages to get back in jeopardy again. Sometimes I just want it to stay saved!
So your task is to figure out WHY YOU’RE HERE, so that you’ve got something to focus on other than whether or not you’re keeping your wife happy, your kids from turning into sociopaths, or making sure your boss doesn’t toss you out in the next downsize.
Start by looking at the things you love and the ways in which you excel.
Figure out your unique gifts and abilities—personality tests, spiritual gifts, etc.
Watch to see where you make the biggest impact, add the most value (resolving conflict, designing experiences, synthesizing information, gathering disparate groups of people, etc.).
Pay attention to your secret hopes, those little desires in the corner of your heart that make you come alive.
But what to do in the meantime? How to get through the maddening season of not knowing WHY YOU’RE HERE?
The best answer is gratitude. The research we conducted while writing The Adventure of Happiness taught us that writing down the things for which you are grateful, every day, will make you happier, less stressed, more social, more unified at home and at work, give you a sense of momentum on goals and projects, and reduce back and neck pain by 15%.
Gratitude is the antidote to frustration.
Cycle through all the things you have been permitted to enjoy, rather than dwelling on all the things that aren’t going the way you’d hoped. Then tell everyone why you’re grateful. Tell your kids, even though they’re miserable and disinterested. It’ll help. Tell your husband, even though he’s preoccupied and probably doesn’t care. Tell me after the service, even though I’ll glaze over and likely excuse myself before you’re done. And this is important: you’re not telling others in order to fix them; you’re retraining yourself to identify and celebrate goodness rather than fixating on disappointment.
And in my case, the more full of goodness I am, the more capable I am of being a blessing.
Which is why I’m here.