The Voice Within
One of the difficult things that most of us struggle with is finding our true purpose in life.
I can say this confidently because, as I do, I am drawing on my experience as a pastor for over two decades and the numerous conversations I've had with people who admit this struggle dominates their thoughts and intentions.
Every one of us wants to believe that we have a purpose for being on this earth, but what I've come to understand is that most of us walk around feeling like we either have none or we've missed out on finding it somehow.
I can't even begin to tell you how many people have told me over the years how they believe the past mistakes, the problems of their present, and their dread of the future have all kept them believing they will never find their true purpose.
I've sat next to the deathbeds of scores of people, and I can say that roughly half of the people I've talked to in their last days or moments have regrets and feel as though they accomplished none of the things they'd hoped to in life.
Most of those people had accomplished many wonderful things in their lives, as witnessed by their friends and loved ones. They didn't believe they did, however.
So many of us feel we will shuffle off this mortal coil with our music still in us, yet we don't seem to act on that feeling all that often, and we refuse to sing.
I read this quote the other day from William James, the father of modern psychology, and it resonated with me deeply:
"I have often thought the best way to define a man's character would be to seek out the particular mental or moral attitude in which, when it came upon him, he felt himself most deeply and intensely alive. At such moment there is a voice inside that speaks and says, 'This is the real me.'"
Remember that this quote is from the late 19th century, hence the non-gender-inclusive language. Still, there is so much truth in this, isn't there?
James firmly believed in the power of hope and a connection to the spiritual world, even if he wasn't certain about his religious beliefs.
His work was the foundation for Bill W's formation of Alcoholics Anonymous and the creation of the Clinical Pastoral Education system (I had to have one unit of CPE to become ordained), among other things.
James believed the power to transform the world lay within the human soul.
In other words, by tapping into the hope that comes from believing in a "higher power," people could move past many challenges that keep them from living their best lives.
I love the way he posits it in the above quote. When we feel most "deeply and intensely alive," a voice from within tells us who we really are.
I have long remembered a wonderful line from the movie Chariots of Fire that has spoken to me repeatedly as a pastor.
Eric Lidell, the main character in the film adaptation of his true story, was a devout Christian and a British Olympic track team member who refused to race in the Olympics on Sunday. Lidell would go on to be a missionary who lost his life during the revolutions in China that ushered in the communist regime.
The line I recall comes after his friends and family have tried to dissuade him from running, encouraging him to enter the ministry instead.
"When I run," Lidell said, "I feel the Lord's pleasure."
That feeling we find when doing what we are meant to do, living the life we were meant to live, is exactly that. We feel the Lord's pleasure. We know something about ourselves, but also something about the God who created us to feel that way.
The voice that speaks to us from within is the voice that speaks "Beloved."
So pay attention to the feeling you have when you are doing whatever it is that makes you feel the Lord's pleasure. Let that voice from within guide you and speak the truth about who you are.
And may you find glorious purpose in the midst of it.
May it be so, and may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us all, now and forever. Amen.