If you’ve followed this blog series for awhile, you’ve seen my frequent use of the term, “lifework.” It’s an important concept to me, with roots and tendrils that extend into my sense of self. Dictionary definitions suggest connections to the scope of one’s life, and the work that is accomplished during its duration. Knowing your lifework requires a broad perspective about your essential character traits or achievements as they accumulate into focused patterns over your entire life. Naming your lifework requires diligent and careful work, separating out what’s important from the myriad of details about your life. The term can serve as a shorthand description of your curriculum vitae—loosely translated as “the course of my life”.
Another way to think of this term is its relationship to vocation, profession, calling, role or passion. Each term describes you in smaller ways, and reinforces the larger lifework characterization of who you really are. So your profession might have been bricklayer, your role was construction foreman and your passion was to construct beautiful things. But your lifework might have been bigger than that: You spent your life wanting to create buildings, walls or walkways that lasted for generations. Your lifework consisted of numerous completed projects that you knew would retain their usefulness for a long time. You were more than just a bricklayer.
Some of us cast around for decades to find our place in the bigger picture. Others of us may never quite be able to name what it is that has marked our sense of purpose and meaning. Still others may have kept our sense of lifework to ourselves, not letting on what we were really trying to accomplish. But in each of these cases, “lifework” can burrow into our core identity. It’s good to leave this life knowing that our existence has meant that something beneficial has come from our being alive.
Once you’ve found and named your lifework, you will not give up. If you know that your lifework is to make others feel good about themselves, you will look for every opportunity to make that happen. You will try to extend this important benefit to others. You will take risks. You will continue beyond failures or half-successes. You will measure the value of each day in small accomplishments.
It’s okay if you’re not able to name your lifework precisely. There have been so many important parts to your life’s purpose, so it may be hard to pick just one as lifework. You may have moved among several purpose-pathways over the years. Or you might think of yourself as just an ordinary person who put one foot in front of the other each day, persevering in common tasks whose routine nature didn’t ever rise to the level of grand descriptors.
Even if your sense of lifework isn’t that strong or evocative, others can name it for you. They’ll find the words—exquisite or commonplace—that they’ll offer in gratitude for your life. They can summarize and distill your everyday existence to show the significance of all that you’ve done and said.
Your lifework is inside you somewhere; it’s part of what keeps you going in these latter years of your life. You may still have more work to accomplish. It’s possible that you will end your days still thinking that you didn’t finish what you set out to do.
God’s Spirit has been at work in you all this time, meshing your life into the grander scheme of God’s will, making something of your personal qualities. Weaving you into the vast landscape of the good that God accomplishes. Your lifework stands tall among the multitudes of purposed lives that have existed throughout history.
Through you, God’s lifework has been carried out….
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