As I think about his death, a series of questions come to mind. How much did football allow Joe to put his disease on the back burner? How much did his love of the game allow him to get through significant pain? How much did his purpose push him forward? And what role did his loss of purpose play in the fight ending so soon?
What is your purpose? Some of us know exactly what our purpose is. We rise and shine, eager to greet the day because we love what we do. We know we are not only winning friends but influencing people. We are convinced that we are making a difference. We work not to live but we live to work. We have a purpose.
But what happens when this purpose goes away?
I have regularly been in contact with people who have recently retired and are struggling to find meaning in life. I have been told often of the adjustment that comes when one can no longer drive and do the things they once loved to do. Several people have shared with me how retirement is a gift but one that requires a constant searching of the soul.
Something significant happens when we have purpose. And something significant happens when we lose this purpose.
As people of faith, our task is to constantly be discerning God's call. God's call is not only for people who are set apart for professional ministry - for those with "reverend" in front of their name. God's call comes to everyone - at all seasons of life. God's call comes to us in the classroom when we first discover some of what we are good at doing. God's call comes to us on report cards when our areas of interest are sometimes affirmed based upon our performance. God's call comes to us in our workplace where we discover what we love and what we loathe. God's call is a powerful thing.
Too often we are led to believe that vocational discernment happens only when one is a young adult. I think we are cutting God and the people God loves short when we believe this way, however. A larger task awaits us. How do we help people discover their purpose - their call - their vocation at all stages of life - in their 20s, their 40s, their 60s, their 80s and even when they are 100?
David writes in Psalm 139, "O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, you are acquainted with all my ways."
What are we doing to allow people to hear God's searching and knowing? How are we kindling and rekindling purpose at all stages of life?
I buried one of the most amazing 96-year-old women I knew in December. Ruth's professional years ended decades ago but she still had a vocation. Her vocation was to be a cheerleader for younger people seeking to find their way in the world. She found joy and delight in her relationships with others. Cultivating these relationships was Ruth's purpose.
I shared time after worship today with a member of my church who goes above and beyond to keep one of our Sunday school classes going. This woman has an incredible capacity to get just about anyone to teach - especially people who are new to our church. The leadership of this class is part of her purpose.
Joe's true love was taken away from him. He was no longer able to teach players about life and coach players into becoming better on the field. He still had a purpose - to be a father, a grandfather, a neighbor, a friend, and a child of God.
How is it that we continue to cultivate this last purpose within all people at all times?
You have a purpose. I have a purpose. Thanks be to God.