The Three Flavors of Purpose

Author: Bo Stern | | @bolovesjoe

We talk a lot about purpose - especially in the church. Finding the WHY of our existence has consumed more pages in books over the past twenty years than all the Amish and Vampire romance genre combined.   

A few years ago, I spoke at a large ladies conference and asked the women to acknowledge their biggest fear.  The list included huge, scary, life-altering things like fear of a terminal diagnosis or fear of losing a child - and yet I was surprised to find the one that generated the biggest response - by a landslide - was fear of purposelessness.  

I’m not certain of much after 53 years of living, but I am certain of this:  We long to matter.  We are wired up with a deep need to make a difference in the world and we become restless, listless and frustrated until we begin to move in that direction. 

Mission & purpose is one of the seven circles of significance in our Edge of the Wild conference and it’s often the one that feels the haziest.  I’ve talked with hundreds of women about the difficulties in determining one’s purpose, and I’ve concluded that part of the problem is our expectations about what our “life purpose” actually is and how it should feel when we’re doing it.  I believe there are three flavors of purpose, wherein “flavors” equals the emotional context in which we are living out our “why”.  I’ll take this a step farther and say: I believe that we ALL eventually experience all three of these at some point.  

Sometimes our purpose feels wonderful, whimsical and miraculous.  

Often, for whatever reason, we believe that “fulfilling our purpose” will be BIG and fulfilling or we equate purpose with a title on a business card, believing it’s something we’ll eventually become after enough education, experience and lucky breaks.  Purpose, however, is born in you.  It’s part of the fiber of your being and it applies to every single day.   I am a speaker and writer, but that is nowhere in my purpose statement which is, “I exist to help people learn, love and live the story of God for their lives.”  That purpose manifests itself in speaking and writing, yes - but also in parenting and girlfriending and neighboring.  It exists in the church and at Red Robin.  It existed when I was young and it will still exist when I’m old.  It exists when I stand on a stage in front of lots of people, or when I’m in a hospital room with one other person.  Sometimes it feels like a “job description”, but mostly it just goes with me everywhere I go, like my right arm or my left ear.  And here’s the thing: I can easily MISS living out my purpose in the small ways if I’m hyper focused on living it out in big ways.  

Sometimes our purpose feels difficult, dangerous and impossible. 

My life as a caregiver for four years felt impossible - but it’s one of the most important, ultimately fulfilling and definitely difficult things I’ve ever done.  I used to think my “finest hours” would also be my funnest hours.  But I’ve found that when we access our true reason for being and begin to live deeply into it, we’ll eventually find ourself in seasons that are dark and difficult.  But there’s no better time to let purpose come alive because it helps fuel us on the weary days and brings meaning to the painful ones. 

Sometimes our purpose feels boring, basic and mundane. 

We can live out our truest purpose by showing up at the same job faithfully, for the 27th year or by showing up for the same spouse.  Sometimes we live out our truest purpose by changing one more diaper or making one more peanut butter sandwich.  The purpose of God sometimes feels world-changing but it often feels small to the point of invisible. That’s when it’s vital to remind ourselves that every single thing we do with love is invaluable, essential and seen by God.  

As we explore the theme of purpose this month on She.ology, I hope you’ll find encouragement to pursue God’s great mission for your life regardless of the way it feels in this moment.  Whether you’re in the impossible, the miraculous or the mundane - may you know that you were created ON purpose FOR purpose.  

With hope, 


Click HERE for more info about our Edge of the Wild Conference including upcoming dates.

Whitney ParnellComment