I always tell me husband he fell in love with me before I knew myself. Then I tell him he should be grateful I found myself.
Those years between the marrying and the finding? They got a little ugly.
I’m not saying my husband has never doubted himself, because he surely has. Neither am I saying he never doubted his work, because he sometimes did. But he never wavered in the confidence that he could make things happen. Instead he just charged ahead through insecurities and unknowns and pretended like he was made for it and that he knew what he was doing. And I’m telling you, it worked for him. Everything he touched was successful.
And I watched and wondered why I was paralyzed.
It wasn’t that I didn’t try new things — I did. I tried everything in fact. I majored in biology, and then nursing, and economics, and back to nursing, Spanish, business, and English before I finally just stopped. I felt like a girl in a dressing room with all the wrong size clothes. Nothing fit and the reflection in the mirror was a little too brightly lit. I didn’t love who I saw.
And so I call this stage of my life purposelessness. And let me tell you purposelessness is death while living. I also call it my 20’s. So there’s that right of passage stuff, too.
But what are your options if you find yourself hunkered down under the covers afraid to face another day because you have nothing to accomplish that feels like a life’s work?
You could just keep sleeping and document the years and decades as an individual scientific study aimed at answering the question: Does more time in bed slow the aging process? Or you can do the hard work of getting to know yourself.
I have met one-on-one with more women who, when asked the question, “What makes you come alive?” are silent. And I want to wrap them in a hug and whisper something in their ear, give them the answer, and help them cheat on the test, because I know that silence isn’t really silent at all. It’s the heart crying out, “Why am I here? Am I good at nothing? Will my life matter when it’s over?”
I know there are entire books on this topic, but I want to suggest some simple starting points; some “one-foot-in-front-of-the-other” ideas for those of us who are tired of standing in this same spot, looking at every single fork in the road and wondering, “Is this our path? Maybe I’m supposed to walk this one?” I wasted years taking paths that don’t belong to me. What I wish I would have done sooner is this:
1. Know Your Roots
I want my children to know their roots; where they come from. I want them to know the story of their dad and I and our love — the love that brought them into our family. I want them to know the ugly parts, too, so that they can see how far we’ve come as a family. I am convinced that these roots, this knowledge of their origin, will create a deep tap root so that they can grow strong and tall and confident. No storm can blow them over. This same biological idea applies to our spiritual rootedness, too.
The first step in finding purpose is to find your roots. Knowing God is knowing your life wasn’t random or meaningless, it’s knowing your Creator — your origin. So many of us have owned scriptures since childhood but aren’t sure how to read them to hear God speak. Yet this is the starting place. Intimacy with God. Knowledge of His anticipation for your life. Grab someone who can teach you to read and internalize what His Word says and soak it up. This is where we find meaning.
2. Make Peace with Your Story
My husband swears his story is boring, but I love it. It gives me hope for my kids. I swear my story is disgusting, yet I share it because it gives me hope I’m not alone.
Most of us have pain in our yesterdays. Relationships that are broken. Hurtful words that are stuck on repeat. Poor choices that left a layer of dirt on our souls.But these stories of ours are essential to our purpose. God’s kingdom was green before it was cool because nothing is wasted. Not one tear. Not one hurt. Not one abuse. Nothing is wasted.
So, while I know it’s terrifying, do the hard work of making peace with your story. And not just peace so that you can live with it, but such a high level of peace that you know it can be used in the lives of others and you dare to wrap that ugly story up with pretty paper and a bow knowing it will be gift for someone.
3. Cleanse Your To-Be List
How in the heck are you supposed to know what you’re most passionate about if you’re trying on more identities than than a teenager girl tries on dresses for prom? Just stop. Name the identities that are rock solid in your life:
- Child of God
Only name solid, unchangeable identities. And then list your favorite parts of these roles.
For example: I love meeting with people one-on-one. Coffee is an integral part of every relationship I have. (Okay, maybe coffee is an addiction, but I think it’s truly part of my purpose.) Teaching my kids creates clean space in my mind — even in the midst of chaos. Being a wife is more about partnering in God’s kingdom than it is about being happy. I feel most in love when we’ve watched God work together. I am not a giver in friendships, I am a listener. I feel like a good friend when I have listened and encouraged. I feel closest to God when I journal or write. I hear Him through His word. I stink at prayers unless they are in ink on a page. I delight in showing others the things He shows me in scripture.
And my list goes on …
This is the person I already am. And from this list comes the woman I’m called to be.
I am a writer and a teacher for others. I use my story in friendships and relationships because I want everyone to know they aren’t alone. I write because I believe company in life matters. I hope my words are the machete that clears the path. And all this is better done with coffee.
Spend time on what you love most about yourself in these relationships. Who did God create you to be? How can you worship Him with your time and resources? What temptations have you fallen into: Are you wasting time waiting, or are you numbing the ache for meaning in ways that leave you feeling empty?
For those of us who are parents: What does it look like to be a mom, but also a child of God? Many moms hide their purposelessness behind the busy demands of parenting. Because we don’t know what our gifts and passions are, we find our purpose in our kids — and while that’ s beautiful devotion, I think it’s rooted in fear — fear that this is the only thing we can do well. Even then we get online and see the bento-box lunch complete with ham roll ups that look like sushi that so-and-so packed for school today and we falter because we aren’t even sure we wrote a check for the hot lunch account and the stupid peanut butter is all gone from last night’s spoonful piled high with chocolate chips. And we are failing and will be failing for the next 18 years.
And what after those 18 years?
Our purpose cannot be our children and our children’s purpose should not be us. When I look at my kids, there is no doubt God has something special for them. So why, when I look in the mirror, would I doubt the same is true for me?
Try these things. Get to know God intimately. Find beauty in your story and offer it to others. We fear we are alone, but when we share our stories we prove that lie wrong. And cleanse your to-be list; reflect upon who you already are.
And stop hiding. The world needs you. Your communities need you. Your neighborhood needs you. Your apartment complex needs you. Your church needs you. Your family needs you. Your presence has unlimited worth. For whoever you are with is one more person who is no longer alone.
Welcome to Ungrind!
Do you want to be inspired, motivated, and equipped to live the everyday story of your life well?
If so, you’re in the right place. Whether you need encouragement in your relationships or in your faith, I hope you’ll find the transparent voices of mentors and friends here at Ungrind.
So, grab a cup of coffee and keep reading. We're so glad you're here!
Ashleigh Slater, Founder & Managing Editor
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What Women Are Saying
-- Emily P. Freeman, author of Grace for the Good Girl: Letting Go of the Try-Hard Life
"Real life is not always pleasant. Every marriage experiences disappointments, misunderstandings, sickness and financial crisis. Ashleigh doesn’t camouflage the pain in her own marriage, and offers practical ideas on how to walk through the difficulties and find intimacy on the journey. If you are anything like me, I predict that as you read, you too will find yourself laughing, wiping tears, and saying 'Oh, yes.'"
-- Gary Chapman, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The 5 Love Languages
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