service over purpose


“What is your purpose, little bird?” 

Purpose? I am life in service to life.

I spent the better part of my twenties and early thirties trying to figure out what my purpose was. Books and self help gurus assured me that figuring out my purpose would provide me a map to happily ever after. If I could only get out of my own way and tap into the stream of consciousness that held the answers, the map to happiness would be delivered by a dove with translucent wings. Purpose would arrive, gilded and obvious, and the search for meaning would be over. 

All those years I consulted everything outside of myself to try and figure out what I was supposed to be doing all while I was actually doing what I was supposed to be doing. I was mothering my babies. I was dancing with them in the kitchen and picking wildflowers with them in the forest. I was nourishing my family with the foods that built their minds and bodies. I was telling my captivated little girls made up stories about giants and desperate villagers and singing them made up songs about fudge while they danced like maniacs until they collapsed. I was the constant in a home with a dad often gone with military taskings. I was the maypole they wrapped their braided hair around.

And all the while, I looked around and wondered where my purpose was. I took classes of all sorts. I learned new skills and filled my brain with information. I sat on the floor at the library with my trio of ducklings all around me, each of us with a tower of books around us. We read about history and macrame and our ancestry. We rented VHS tapes, and later DVDs, from every little library in every little Canadian town. We watched documentaries on beavers and and we watched “Little House on the Prairie” curled up on the sofa together. We knew all the songs that the cartoon vegetables sang. We still do.

And still I wondered when my purpose would find me.

We climbed mountains together. We rode through white water rapids and hiked into every crack and corner of Canada. We flew abroad and explored castles and dungeons and tiny mom and pop restaurants without a single thing we recognized on the menu. We drove on the autobahn while each of us chewed on hunks of raw cheese bigger than our heads. We swam in salty oceans and laid under the same hot sun that followed us wherever we went. It was good. 

But there was always the nagging from outside. My validity would come when my purpose was followed. Until then, what was there to do but live as best I could despite my shortcomings.

We are in a great age of narcissism. All is for us and the fulfilment of our brilliance. It’s nice to think well of ourselves, but what pressure to perform! We chase purpose in hopes of capturing happiness. I’ve found neither to be honest or reliable. 

If I had known thirty years ago that my purpose was best fulfilled by getting rid of that word altogether and instead focusing on service, I could have relaxed a little. Maybe it’s semantics, but had I the perspective then that all I was doing was exactly as it should have been, that I was living in service to my babies, to my husband, to the life I wanted for them and for me, I could have let that purpose stuff go. 

Looking for “my purpose” all around me and I missed it because I had the wrong measure. It wasn’t until my mid-thirties that I was able to start untangling from what I was told was success and to decide for myself what type of life I was aligned with. The joy of excavating that for myself was that I had nothing more that I needed to do because the doing was irrelevant. It was the being, the becoming, the expansion of my life to honour all of life. There was never going to be a class to take or a goal to achieve that would deliver any answers or assurances to me. And, I learned that I didn’t need it anyway.

As Marianne Williamson says, “A miracle is a shift in perception…”.

A life of service. A life in service. In service to my loves. In service to the joy of a day. In service to the health of our minds and our bodies. A life of service as an expression of gratitude. In service to the talents and the gifts I have been given. An exchange, an offering, a thank you to our Creator for a kick at this marvellous can called “life”. 

A life of service over a life hunting for purpose. Such a simple shift in perspective brought me to places within myself and in my relationships that I don’t think were possible when I was fixated on self. I can move in ways that don’t require my hands on the wheel at all times. I can get out of the burning desires of self and seep into the desires of our living world. I am a piece of a whole, a contributor, an active player in the service of life. Not just mine. You can just be here, in this, right now. In service to life. All of life. That’s your purpose. That’s my purpose. That’s our purpose, together, connected, saturated in the beauty of each other and this world. 

Serve life. Not just yours. The rest is just details. 

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