Girl on Fire: 7 Truths About Your Purpose

IMG_0370And then there was that day I caught on fire. That Sunday morning began like any other. We were dressing for church when Chris received a call that the Sunday School teacher was ill; as the class director Chris was responsible for securing a substitute. Fast forward an hour and a half and I was standing before our class with a boulder-sized lump in my throat, fighting a wave of nausea. I was a Bible-knowledge neophyte who quaked with insecurity about answering questions each week. “What if I answer incorrectly and they think I’m an idiot,” I cowed, embarrassed by how little I knew of the Bible. I stood in to teach that day only because I was an English teacher and had some experience in whipping together a lesson plan (not that I ever threw together a lesson on the fly or anything…;-)). As I spoke on generosity that morning – more than a decade ago – I burst into flames. My insides combusted, and I discovered my passion in life. And no one was more surprised than me.

If I could do anything for the rest of my wake-ups, I would travel and teach groups of people about God’s character and his faithfulness. There is no decadent meal, no shopping experience, no travel itinerary, no spa treatment, no adventure that provides an experience that’s within ten miles of what happens in me when I have the opportunity to share what God has done for me. Since that cinder block room, I have had the opportunity to share from Psalm 139 at a water tank dedication in a remote area of Kenya, to write and lead several local Bible studies, to speak at my church on a Sunday morning (watch here), to teach at a women’s conference and church in Germany, to address groups here in Florence, and most recently to crack open my Bible at a homeless shelter in our community this past Monday night. It’s what I was made to do.

We all have that thing. That thing we disappear into. It may sound ridiculously bizarre, but I can stand on stage in front of hundreds of people and feel invisible. Less aware of myself and less self-conscious than I am in one-on-one conversations. It is purpose – raw and pure, independent of me.

And if you haven’t identified your “thing” yet, here are seven truths to expect as you go exploring…

1) It will be a discovery process. I wasn’t looking to be a Sunday School teacher. Had the department passed around a sign-up sheet, I wouldn’t have volunteered. I was a high school teacher; I had a degree in Education Administration. I wanted to be a district superintendent who drove a motorcycle to work. And I wanted to be a mom. I served in the nursery at church. And organized childcare for our women’s ministry. I found my “thing” by trying lots of things – even winging a lesson on God’s generosity. My purpose was tucked in a last-minute opportunity that I had 99 reasons not to take.

2) It will not go at all as you expect. Our purpose is usually not a title or a position. It’s a passion with wheels. It’ll take us through many seasons, organizations, and roles, but it will remain unchanged. Once I determined my thing, I was confident that meant I would lead a women’s ministry at a church. Well, thirteen years into pursuing this passion, I have had the honor of serving in amazing staff and volunteer roles, and not one of them has been leading a women’s ministry at a church.

3) It will require you to do scary things. Things that people will criticize. Things that seem crazy. If you are unwilling to do things that terrify you, there is a high likelihood your purpose will go unrealized.

4) There will be a wait involved. Once you have unearthed the thing that sets you aflame, you will have to wait on an opportunity to do it. And you will hate it. Every minute of it. And you will whine. But the purpose of the wait is preparation. Mainly, your preparation. So get to it already…and stop trying to circumvent the process.

5) It can easily become an obsession. I know not everyone’s purpose is full-time ministry, but because it is mine, I can speak to it best. I have met more people who have made an idol of ministry than I can possibly count. Including myself. When we experience the rush of doing what we love, we want more and more. But if we allow it to become a preoccupation, we upset the healthy balance required to be successful at anything.

6) You will have to believe in it when it looks absolutely impossible. This is where dreams die. The fulfillment of your “thing” will at some point seem completely unattainable. And maybe at multiple points in the journey. This is where you prove your mettle. Will you still get up every morning, pulling your hope and faith up by their bootstraps and get to work when there’s no hint of promise in the air?

7) You will not do it in isolation. Our purpose holds hands with the purposes of others. Great things are accomplished by leaders who realize a critical part of their purpose will always be to help others succeed at their “things.” It’s the law of synergy. And good leadership. And interdependence. Plus Jesus said so.

So, fave readers, where are you in your journey, and which truth resonates with your experience so far?

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3 Comments

  1. Martha Davis
    Martha DavisReply
    March 5, 2015 at 9:48 pm

    I’ve done a lot of things I loved but nothing that I feel was God’s purpose. I love, love, love to write but when left to my own devices, I seem to fizzle out.

    I have believed that this time, this past eight years when I haven’t worked and am not well enough to try to do a lot of the things I’ve wanted to do, was meant to show me my purpose. But how will I find it when I’m so unpredictable, unreliable? I’m 59 years old!

    I’ve prayed about it soooooo many times and said basically what I’ve said above. How will I find it, God, if I’m not well enough and predictable enough to be counted upon?

    I know, I know, I know this is my season of pruning! Lord, show me!

    • Cookie Cawthon
      March 5, 2015 at 10:03 pm

      That’s frustrating, I’m sure, Martha…I don’t know if this is helpful at all, but during the times when the fruition of my calling felt a million miles away I kept the discouragement at bay by finding other people to encourage and support in their “thing.” It kept me busy and gave me immediate purpose, and he just may reveal your thing in the process. As always, I love hearing your insight and thoughts! Thank you!

  2. LindZHaselden
    March 6, 2015 at 10:30 am

    I’m super familiar with 4 and 5. After understanding what I was called to do, as the wait stretched through seasons, I started acting like my purpose was a goal to be reached. And like any good Type A, I began to obsessively work towards achieving it. But somewhere along the way I lost the ability to “give thanks in every circumstance” and see the joy and purpose in where I was. I only had eyes for what was next. Thankful now for the lessons I learned through that (uncomfortable and painful) process. God burned the unhealthy ambition out of me–hopefully for good! 🙂

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