You want your kids to fulfill every bit of their unique purpose in life. When you first hold your newborn, the future and its possibilities flash through your mind. Will she be a doctor? Will he be a lawyer? I want her to do well. I hope he is like his dad.
As your children grow, you are able to direct their dreams for a while. Life is good. Then something happens. All of a sudden, seemingly overnight, everything changes. The once amiable child is now a teenager and is no longer following your road map! He seems to have developed his own direction, forsaking what you had imagined for him. How did this happen?
As kids mature in the teen years, they begin searching on their own for meaning in life, a purpose for living, something that makes their life worth living. And that may not at all match what Mommy and Daddy thought it should be.
Why Am I Here?
One of the most important life questions your teen will begin asking and wrestling with is, “Why am I here?” or “What’s my purpose on this Earth?” Without a purpose, life becomes motion without meaning; trivial, petty, pointless, and founded upon whatever the culture offers up as the latest “must have” material thing or “must do” activity.
“The man without a purpose is like a ship without a rudder—a waif, a nothing, a no man.” –Thomas Carlyle
Pastor Rick Warren calls this pursuit for meaning the drive for purpose. In his blockbuster book “The Purpose-Driven Life,” Warren offers the answer; “You were made for a mission. You aren’t here just to wander around lost. And you aren’t here simply to live for yourself.”
I grew up in a time and home where people believed that God had a plan for each of our lives. I was taught that each person is as unique as the fingerprints stamped on their digits, and that God wanted a personal relationship with me. I learned that I was uniquely created, fearfully and wonderfully made, and that Christ died for “me.” I was told that I was precious in God’s sight.
So, why are kids so lost today? Are parents no longer passing on these same values to their children? I am convinced that if more kids knew their purpose, they’d have fewer struggles in the teen years. They’d feel a sense of meaning; they’d know where they are headed and concentrate on getting there.
When I look back at my own life, my work, and my happiness about fulfilling God’s purpose for my life, I get excited all over again. It all started from a point in my life when I felt hopeless, lost, and not knowing where to turn. At that point I started asking questions about my own purpose in life, and I started listening to the answers God was giving me.
Showing Your Teen How to Find Their Life Purpose
A good place to begin the search for purpose is to understand that purpose is woven into every strand of the fabric of our lives. It has to do with God-given talents, the experiences in our life, and those things which give a person “goose bumps” or a tear to their eye when they think about them. Moreover, purpose has to do with using those talents to serve God and others, not one’s self.
“Between this day and the next you will give your life to something. The decision on what that will be will shape your destiny.” –Rick Warren
So, has your teen ever taken stock of their talents and gifts? Are they a great talker, or a great listener? Are they skilled at building things, or are they good with people? Is their talent more cerebral or more physical? I suggest they make a list of the things and activities that interest them and those in which they excel. There are a number of places on the Web that they can take online Spiritual Gifts Tests. They can also ask themselves, “What’s the one thing that I do better than others?” This can clue them in to their God-given purpose.
The gifts God gives us need to be tested in fertile soil, so it’s important for a teen to get a wide variety of experiences. As they do so, certain talents will sprout and blossom, others will wilt and die. Through these new experiences, God will reveal more about who they are and how God has called them to serve Him and others. One experience can literally change their life.
Unlike the Field of Dreams premise “If you build it they will come,” teenagers shouldn’t get stuck on developing just one purpose, even if for the moment they are convinced it is their true purpose in life. It is far better that they continue to experience new things. So, a better plan for finding life purpose is, “As they experience it, it will come to them.” And keep in mind that they may have difficulty finding their purpose in the classroom or from books. So a parent should provide plenty of “field experiences” for their teenager.
Take a Simple Life Purpose Exercise
For teens (or parents) who have already had many experiences in life, and are still confused about their purpose, here’s a good exercise. Take out a blank sheet of paper and write at the top, “What is My Life Purpose?” Then, have them begin writing answers. They should write any answer that pops into their head. It could be a word or two, or a sentence. Repeat until they write the answer that makes them cry – obviously not a sad cry, but a joyful one. Yup, if it makes a tear come to their eye, then it’s a sure bet that this is their purpose, or at least associated with their purpose. They should do it in private and without any accompanying music or other distractions. It may take 100 or even 200 lines of potential “purposes” to hit the one that makes a tear come to their eye, but encourage them to keep at it until they do.
Helen Keller said it best, “Many people have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.”
When God begins revealing their purpose, remind your teen that it may not be reached tomorrow, next month or even in logical steps. Instead, they may need to take some initial steps to get there and there may be detours along the way. But knowing the destination will help them build strength and courage to get there – often much more than we might expect they’ll have.
It’s a Lifelong Journey
Finding purpose is a lifelong journey. God doesn’t give all the details at once, nor does He promise it will be a smooth ride. Instead, He often provides just enough information to help us move another mile down the road. It helps us to trust Him as our Navigator. As you progress along the road of your life’s purpose, pay attention to the road signs He provides along the way and listen to Him speak to you.
Nothing matters more than your teen knowing God’s purpose for their life, and nothing can compensate for not knowing it. Knowing their purpose gives meaning to their life and each step along the way. It motivates them to prepare for their purpose, to save themselves for that purpose, and to avoid anything that might get in the way. Knowing their purpose simplifies their life and removes confusion.
“The purpose of life is a life of purpose.” –Robert Byrne
On the other hand, without a clear purpose, they have no foundation on which to base decisions, allocate their time, and use their resources. Without a clear purpose, they’ll keep changing directions, jobs, relationships, churches, or other externals—hoping each change will settle the confusion or fill the emptiness in their heart.
The Comfort of Knowing God’s Purpose
Isn’t it comforting to know that God has a bigger purpose for each of us? If you believe it, then step in front of a mirror and look for areas in your own life that need to grow. Perhaps you’re not following your own heart in finding God’s purpose in your life. Aim this year to make some changes – with God’s help.
“A life devoted to things is a dead life, a stump; a God-shaped life is a flourishing tree.” –Proverbs 11:28 (The Message)
As for me, I stand on His promises, I’m assured of His presence, I love His involvement, and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am living in the center of His purpose for my life.
“What’s my purpose?” is probably the most important and empowering question you or your teenager will ever ask in this lifetime. So help them uncover their talents, their strengths, their values, and their passion. Help them experience new things and develop a plan – any plan, even if it is just a first step. Find ways for them to live life with intent. This year is a great time to help your teen – and maybe even you – begin a quest for purpose.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas. He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids. He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.
His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.org. You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.
Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program. Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.