Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
June 5, 2011
Wrestle with the purpose of your life until you can pin it
Wrestling is an ancient sport in which two people compete. The ultimate goal is to pin your opponent’s shoulders to the mat. Do that and the match is over. If neither wrestler is able to pin the other, the winner is decided by points.
I enjoyed wrestling while a student at Auburn University. My promising “career” ended one afternoon when my opponent threw me to the mat and left me writhing in pain with a dislocated right elbow.
Discerning one’s purpose in life requires a certain wrestling with the soul. With me it is a given that every life has a purpose. But our Maker seldom spells out our mission; he usually expects us to struggle with the issue of what to do with the gift of life.
Struggle is a good word to describe the wrestling within the soul that comes with choosing one’s vocation. I struggled with this tough question as most people do. Was it my “destiny” to become a preacher? I think so now, looking back. But for a few years uncertainty prevailed as I wrestled with my options.
Asked as a high school senior to write a theme on my intended vocation, I said that I believed God wanted me to be a minister. Writing the theme was not difficult. What was tough was trying to believe that my discernment was correct.
Leaving home, I became absorbed in student life at Auburn. Asked about my vocational goal, I shared my dream of becoming a sports writer or an English teacher. I tried not to think about becoming a preacher. I was having too much fun being “free” from the control of my parents and living the carefree life of a student at a secular college. The only “religious” pressure was tucked away in my heart.
If I thought I could hide from God, he proved me wrong. He found me in a fraternity house and there my struggle ended in my sophomore year. When I announced my intention to become a preacher, my fraternity brothers, in Pi Kappa Phi, surprised me with affirmation. They immediately gave me the nickname, “Parson,” and it stuck. I owe them a lot; had they ridiculed me, I might have given up on becoming a preacher. Soon I was teaching “Sunday School” on Sunday mornings to the fellows who had dropped out of going to a church.
Looking back, I realize now that God had a hand in my college work. I graduated with a major in English and a double minor in speech and journalism. God knew what I did not, that those three disciplines would be of enormous value to me as a minister who, from my youth, was infected with the desire to write.
I watched my own sons struggle with vocational choices. They made their mistakes, as I made mine, but they seem now, in their forties and fifties, to be at peace about how they are spending their lives. That is a great comfort to Mama and me.
Now I observe my grandchildren wondering what to do with their lives. John, after toying with the field of criminal justice, has found peace as an automobile mechanic. He is a good one and constantly becoming more skilled at his trade. Anthony has a good job with a growing business, having shelved his earlier desire to become a civil engineer. Younger brother Robert, now working on a Master’s degree at Montevallo, is still focused on becoming a coach. He will be a good one.
Garrett, after a stint in the Army as a paratrooper, is now installing television systems.
Joseph, who chose to drop out of college and work for awhile, is now back in school at Southern Union; he may follow in his dad’s footsteps and work outdoors, perhaps in wild life management. His sister Hannah switched from physical education to speech pathology and loves it. She will soon graduate from AUM. If she tires of helping children overcome speech problems, she could enjoy a career as a writer. Here is a sample of her skill:
The sky is His paper,
The sun His ink.
He paints with yellow
That turns into pink.
He paints with colors
So very bright,
And through them shine
His brilliant light.
He makes the sun
Melt in the sky.
Seen a better artist?
Never have I.
Some of our other grandchildren are still wrestling with their purpose in life. Jake, now 19, gave up thoughts of playing college football and is a serious student at Southern Union. He too loves the outdoors and is considering wildlife management.
His brother, Josh, told us when he was eight that he wanted to become a preacher. Having turned 16 he now dreams of playing college baseball. Josh still has a heart for God and I have confidence that he will find his way to God’s purpose for his life. Since there is life after baseball, he might yet be a preacher but that is between Josh and God.
I wish my grandchildren – and all young people – would take the time to read an excellent book by Po Bronson titled What Should I Do With My Life? Bronson says what people really want is work they can be passionate about. Benefits and incentives are not enough. “Productivity explodes,” Bronson says, “when people love what they do.” That is a basic key to life. When you can find work that benefits others, and work you love to do, the wrestling is over; you have pinned your purpose to the mat!
I could not possibly have loved anything more than I have loved preaching the gospel for the past 60 years. If “our peace is in His will,” then we need to keep seeking until we find that “sweet spot” where we have peace. Then we can stop wrestling and passionately use our energy doing what we love to do. + + +