When to Surrender in Your Search for a Life Purpose

When to Surrender in Your Search for a Life Purpose6 min read

By Jon Beaty

March 24, 2014

purpose, life, find, doubt, confusion, meaning, direction

As you search to find your life purpose, does life unfold in ways you didn’t anticipate, leading you to doubt and confusion? Maybe you’ve considered just abandoning the whole search for meaning. But then what?


Let me explain.

The Cost of Quitting in Your Quest for Purpose

Silver hair crowned his head, long enough to brush the top of his shoulders. His beard formed a neatly groomed point below his chin. Professor Mackintosh looked like Leonardo Da Vinci in modern attire. His appearance aligned well with his role as master over Introduction to Painting. His first assignment to the class seemed simple enough:

Paint shapes.

I was a college freshman. I chose this elective to give me an opportunity to express myself–a creative oasis in the midst of a class schedule filled with dry, scholarly courses.

Taking on my first painting assignment, I eagerly set up my canvas and acrylic paints in my dorm room, and got busy. First sketching my design into the canvas, next I selected my colors–shades of green and orange. Brush to palette, then to canvas, I began painting my Picasso.

I took my painting to the next meeting of the class, pleased with my accomplishment. But, as each student presented their painting, I began to feel embarrassed.

Professor Mackintosh reinforced that feeling with his simple critique of my creation, “That’s interesting.”

The other students displayed remarkable talent in their abstract expression of shapes. My painting, for some reason, failed to display the same caliber of ability.

This wasn’t my first effort at painting. I’d painted before, and had a sense of pride about my natural ability–although the only admiration I’d received came from my family.

Now, my confidence in my talent was being challenged in the class I thought would be a refreshing break from stuffing my brain with information from thick textbooks.

Attempting to sustain a sense of pride, and my perception of myself as a respectable painter, I brushed my disappointment aside, and dedicated myself to doing better on the next assignment:

Paint a still life.

Professor Mackintosh had set up the subjects on a table in the classroom. I attempted to sketch the tea kettle, the fruit, and other items. It wasn’t happening for me. The perspective, the position, and the placement of the subjects–it all seemed wrong.

After watching me struggle for a while, Professor Mackintosh offered some advice. “Perhaps you should take Intro to Drawing,” he suggested.

Later, in my dorm room, I considered my potential as an artist.

The professor’s suggestion that I take a drawing class discouraged me. I’d previously taken a drawing class in high school. I’d done okay at sketching landscapes and a cottontail rabbit. I’d displayed aptitude. But, whatever talent I’d drawn on then, now seemed inaccessible. The thought of my canvas with its rudimentary sketch, waiting to be transformed into a respectable still-life paining intimidated me.

I concluded it was beyond my ability.

Somewhere, early in my adolescence, a compulsion to be perfect began to dominate my decision making. Being good, wasn’t good enough. The concept of learning from trial and error escaped me at that point. To be mediocre, or anything less, was unacceptable. Faced with the prospect of not excelling on what I thought would be a simple, enjoyable college elective, I decided to bail.

I dropped the class.

I didn’t know it, then, but bailing out when our experience doesn’t match up with our expectations, detours us from finding our life purpose.

When the going gets rough, not everybody quits. A few keep going, climbing or crawling–whatever it takes to discover what’s over the next mountain.

The story of Joseph is one like that.

Hanging On When Your Purpose is Unclear

One doesn’t need to be a Bible student to be familiar with the story of Joseph and his coat of many colors. But there is an aspect of the story that’s sometimes overlooked in the glory of God’s redemption of Joseph from slavery, and Joseph’s rise to second in command of Egypt.

The pathway to his position as Pharaoh’s top official was not visible from where Joseph began his journey.

God revealed to Joseph in a dream that he’d one day rule over his family, but what the revelation left out was the path he’d take to get there.

While his pride might have gotten the best of Joseph when he shared his dream with his family, I believe in his heart Joseph wanted to serve God. He must have chosen to accept the future God revealed to him, but naive to the way he would travel to get there.

It’s the lessons we learn on the journey that equip us to fulfill our life purpose.

As a young man, Joseph enjoyed a comfortable life at home. His parents adored him. Some would say his father spoiled him. He seemed to get the easy chores, while his older brothers took up the more taxing work. His father Jacob, blessing him with a multicolored coat, crowned him as his favorite son.

This soft life would have been a flimsy foundation on which to build the purpose God planned for Joseph.

Jealous of Joseph, his brothers’ betrayal by selling him to slave traders put him in a potentially precarious position, one that without God’s intervention could have easily resulted in a life shortened by hard labor and the perils of slavery. But through the perils and hardship of slavery and prison, God held Joseph in His hand and delivered him to his promised future, and saw his life purpose fulfilled.

Joseph’s part in this process was to remain faithful. He did this, not by willpower or his own strength, but by choosing God’s plan over his own preferences. So, when life didn’t unfold according to Joseph’s expectations, he didn’t give up–He surrendered to God’s plan and the path God mapped for him to get there.

Jesus says the gate to the abundant life is narrow and few find it (Matthew 7:14).

When we choose God’s purpose for our life, we don’t do it with a full view of how God will fulfill it. We may even be unsure about where to take our first step.

Our faith in God’s plan for our future depends on our confidence in what He’s done in the past.

Joseph’s father Jacob had given Joseph this legacy in passing on to him the stories of how God had led Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and himself. It’s that legacy, and his faith in God’s providence, that kept Joseph on the path to God’s purpose in times where his future seemed bleak, and prepared him to reign at Pharaoh’s right hand.

This is the message that matters most in Joseph’s story:

  • To find our life purpose, we must be willing to surrender to God’s plan for our future.
  • Remember how God has led His people in the past.
  • Remain faithful and hang on to God when the path gets rough, your soul becomes tired, and life unfolds in ways we don’t expect.

How is God revealing His plan in your life? Please comment below.

About the author

I help Christian leaders apply the ways and words of Jesus to:
- Overcome limiting beliefs, habits, and traits.
- Build stronger connections with the people they live and work with.
- Clarify and achieve their personal goals and life mission.

  • Wonderful post Jon. Thanks for pointing to it on my blog. I have always been one who struggled to move forward in the face of ambiguity. I’m getting better at it, but still have a long way to go. Your message helps me remember that I don’t always have to know everything and that God specifically wants us to have faith enough to trust that He will bring enlightenment when the time is right. Blessings.

    • Chad,

      To help us cope with uncertainty it’s reassuring to have God’s promises and to know He keeps them. That makes the struggle to have faith easier for me to endure.

      Thanks for commenting!

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