Almost two decades ago, Katie Brazelton found herself divorced and suddenly devoid of the roles she'd used to define her life. This agonizing transition—and the purposelessness that ensued—left her in an emotional free fall, wondering if "the only logical life purpose [she] had left was shopping" for clothes to compensate for a depression-triggered weight loss.
Slowly and painfully, Katie began to recover a sense of purposeful living after a life-changing encounter with Mother Teresa during a 1988 trip to Calcutta. As a result of her long journey of spiritual growth and discovery, outlined in Pathway to Purpose (Zondervan), Katie realized her call to mentor other searching women. A licensed minister at Rick Warren's Saddleback Church in California and author of the Pathway to Purpose series, Katie has helped thousands discover their church ministry and life purpose, and she's now training others to do the same. So if you're wondering about your place in this world, here's what Katie has to say to you. —The Editors
Why are you so passionate about women living lives of purpose?
Because for years after my divorce, I didn't. The angst of purposelessness almost tore me apart. But one of the most important components of my healing was learning that "finding purpose" is a universal heart cry. I wasn't alone in yearning for a life that had significance!
If God has a purpose for us, why do we often feel as though we're simply going through the motions of living?
That's because when we're in "robot mode," we let busyness, noise, fear, or impure motives drive out that purpose. We guilt ourselves into doing the hard work of becoming holy in the day-to-day grind instead of experiencing the reward of fulfilling the reason God put us on earth!
I know I used to be more concerned with religious to-do lists and endless faith-driven obligations than with unearthing the buried passion God instilled in me. There was a time when I'd routinely ask myself, Am I happy? I was so unhappy, I couldn't even get the question out before I started sobbing.
We women need to discover our purpose in life for two reasons. First, fulfilling our purpose gives glory to God. Second, it releases us from the captivity of hopelessness and despair.
How do you define "purpose"?
For Christians, purpose is being and doing what God intends us to be and do: doing today what God asks us to do in our family, church, and community; being more like Christ; and then doing the distinct, bold work God designed us to do before we die!
Scripture reveals the "pathway" to follow. It's spelled out in the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:36-39) and the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). In The Purpose-Driven Life, my friend Rick Warren says these verses tell us we're ultimately made for fellowship, discipleship, ministry, evangelism, and worship.
But to discover our more unique life mission, we should pray specifically for God to reveal it; we should meditate on pertinent Scriptures, such as Psalm 37:4, Amos 4:13, Matthew 14:27, and John 17:1; and we should clear away some of the mental and emotional clouds that block us from his revelation.
What do you mean?
The Bible says, "Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:13-14).
After my divorce, I lived in manic mode; I'm amazed now I actually thought I could find God's purpose in the midst of my frantic life. I numbed my pain with overspending, travel, and work. It didn't occur to me numbing my pain became my purpose.
I had no idea how much my past influenced my everyday life. I needed to put my anger, regret, bitterness, and pain behind me before I could focus on the race God set before me. It took me years to hear God's voice over the noise and confusion in which I lived. As an immature Christian and an introvert, I didn't realize I needed more mature Christians who could help shed light on what God was saying to me about his will for my life.
So you're saying we can't be a lone ranger in this discovery process?
That's right. A woman trying to find her life purpose is like a novice trying to run a marathon. Both need a partner who can prepare them for the challenges and risks that lie ahead. Many women fail to fulfill their significant life purposes because they have no Christian mentor or adviser to help them reach the next mile marker. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says, "Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!"
God designed our purpose in life to happen in community—whether it's in person, online, through a telephone relationship, letter writing, or as an intercessory prayer warrior. Giving and receiving love is part of God's design, and nothing substitutes for interpersonal communication.
But community takes time—and we're all so busy!
Yes, but God's creative in bringing spiritual friendships into our lives. Christian community can happen anywhere: at a church Bible-study group, babysitting co-op, corporate lunch-time prayer group, gym, ministry setting, sports event, or hobby show.
One fun way I've developed community is to belong to a "Dreamer's Lunch Bunch"; we meet once a month at a salad bar for the sole purpose of holding each other accountable to God's call on our lives.
Being in community means I'm authentic in a group I trust. Because of the dangers of a "lone ranger" lifestyle, I rely on others to walk alongside me.
Is there a difference between having a purpose and having a passion?
Our purpose is being a woman of God and doing what he asks. Our passions are meant to be godly purpose-indicators. They are the things that make our heart sing; they help us identify and complete our purpose. For example, my passions include jigsaw puzzles, travel, and Sherlock Holmes mysteries. God's purpose for me is to help women figure out his call on their lives.
How can we become content with God's purpose for us, especially if it seems less visible or exciting than we'd envisioned or hoped?
The Bible warns us not to despise the day of the small things (from Zechariah 4:10). It says we need to look forward to when our Master says to us, "Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!" (Matthew 25:21).
The best shortcut I've found to guard against jealousy over someone else's ministry is to invite God to reveal his vision for your life and to believe with all your heart he'll do so. If you find yourself envying others, confess it to them or at least to God; pray for them; and support them in their endeavors.
What's the bottom line on living purposefully?
In Acts 20:24, the apostle Paul says, "I don't care about my own life. The most important thing is that I complete my mission, the work that the Lord Jesus gave me—to tell people the Good News about God's grace" (NCV). And 1 John 2:17 says, "The world and its desires pass away, but the [wo]man who does the will of God lives forever." God wants us to heed the apostle Paul's counsel: "Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit" (Galatians 5:25). God wants us to be guided by the Holy Spirit.
I love the way God takes any willing Christian—no matter how broken or scarred her past—and weaves every thread of her life into his kingdom-building plan! He doesn't shy away from our hurts and failures but specializes in hope, second chances, and resurrections.
I never imagined my tough experiences would give me the substance I now need to minister to others. I had no idea God was preparing me to offer the same hope to other women he provided me every day. Our ordinary routines and daily roles—no matter what they are—can provide incredible opportunities to help others become more like Christ.
In the end, purposeful living is about hope. If you can hang onto the hope that God does have a plan for your life, as the Bible promises in Jeremiah 29:11, you'll make it through the tough days of the unknown and later, the tough days of fulfilling the bold purposes God assigns you.
Katie Brazelton, Ph.D., is a licensed minister at Saddleback Church in California, the best-selling author of the Pathway to Purpose™ series for women, and founder of Pathway to Purpose Ministry, which trains Christian women as Life Purpose Coaches™. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2006 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine.
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January/February 2006, Vol. 28, No. 1, Page 42