Pursuing an identifiable mission, vocation or calling is good for you. *Some recent research has shown that a practiced sense of purpose contributes as much to longevity as exercise. Although the parameters of “sense of purpose” can be loosely defined, the conclusion of researchers was definite: **”Finding a direction for life, and setting overarching goals for what you want to achieve can help you actually live longer, regardless of when you find your purpose.”
What happens, though, when meaning drains out of your spirit? When you wonder whether you have anything positive to offer to others? Or when, perhaps quietly, you give up on trying to change the world? What then?
This purpose-leakage might happen in your later years, when it may be hard to put into words what still fires up your imagination, sparks your zest for living or provides you a measure of satisfaction about contributing to the greater good. And there you are, just a little bit adrift when it comes to your sense of Christian responsibility or self-worth.
I’ve faced these realities recently, and wrestled with the obvious question, “Okay, so how do I refill that reservoir?” Perhaps some of my conclusions might be helpful if you’re in the same situation.
After several years of retirement, I’ve gradually come to reconcile my purpose-expectations with the fact that my lifework was formerly wrapped up in my work. Absent a meaningful occupation, perhaps I can’t expect to find the same intensity of purpose in a slower, less-focused lifestyle.
Racheting down previous expectations helped me find meaning in short-term projects, friends and family (close at hand) and even places where purpose wasn’t apparently obvious. That thought led me to reconsider the possibility that purposes were actually all around me. Smaller, less readily identifiable places, people and situations in which I could offer positive energy.
Because a sense of purpose likely comes from interactions with other people, I’ve tried to hone my powers of observation. To listen and observe people and settings more closely, more carefully, more accurately. Attaching my life to possibilities in new relationships.
In order to stay focused on what’s doable, I have grown more honest about the useful gifts that remain in my older adult years. Not kidding myself about what used to be true, and also being willing to find or develop new assets.
I’ve found it necessary to adjust to my diminished energy. I’m not as ready or capable to go full steam ahead on re-imagined or new purpose. I don’t think I’m being lazy to admit that there’s less oomph in me than earlier in life.
I’m pretty sure that finding new meaning will be a slow-fill proposition. There may not be many more sudden flashes of inspiration that will quickly reinstate what used to drive my decision-making. Inspiration and motivation are still operating in my life—just not in gushes or gallons.
Finally, I’ve also come to see that perhaps my sense of vocation has NOT evaporated at all, that it’s just changed into a different life situation—older adult—and is still part of my identity. That possibility helps me forgive myself for not being a world-changing person, for not accomplishing great and wonderful deeds, for not wrestling large problems to the ground. In this matter, self-awareness may help with self-forgiveness.
I hope that both you and I live long lives, and I’m glad to know that you share with me a yearning for meaning that comes with the promise of the Holy Spirit’s gifts.
*British Broadcasting Company, May 20, 2014, from “Sense of purpose may add years to your life,” first reported in Psychological Science, May, 2014 from the Association for Psychological Science. Principal researchers: Drs. Patrick Hill, Department of Psychology at Carleton University in Canada and Nicholas Turiano of the University of Rochester.
**Dr. Patrick Hill