Have you ever struggled with the purpose of your life? “What should I do? What makes my life worthwhile? What if I live an ordinary life? What if I never reach greatness?” Have you ever asked questions like these? Even more, what does God expect of us?
What does your life look like right now? What if your greatness is nothing more than the mundane rituals of life? What if the only extraordinary that you experience is nothing more than the everyday routine of life? Would that mean you’re less important? Would it mean you’ve wasted your life?
What if life dealt you a burdening and debilitating blow? What do you do then? Where would the value and purpose of life be found? Would life simply pass you by? Would it be a waste? What must we do in this life so that it’s not seen as an unwasted life?
My mother has struggled with these questions a good part of her life. (She has given me permission to write about this.) This year she turns 61. She grew up a rural Minnesota farm girl. She and her family attended a rural “little white church” on a hill.
Like many kids, she wanted to feel important. But she also wanted to serve the Lord. She grew up seeing that pastors were important. She grew up hearing that missionaries were important. Farms girls were ordinary. Farm girls gathered eggs. Farm girls helped in the garden. How important was that?
She also grew up understanding missions to be an important part of the church. She realized that (in our tradition) it was not the role of women to become pastors. For a time she was angry that God made her a girl. “Why did I have to be a girl?” She worked through it. Then she developed a deep desire to be a missionary. She wanted to travel the world. She wanted to tell others about Jesus. She wanted to work in Africa.
She got married at 18. It was during Vietnam. My dad enlisted in the Navy rather than be drafted. They had to move to the east coast. He got shipped out to Guam. She had to stay in Connecticut. It wasn’t the life she had imagined. He got to travel. She had to stay. Morning came. Her tasks were the same. How could she make a difference living in a little apartment in Connecticut? The sun went down. Darkness came. Sometimes she felt like more than the sky was going dark.
Married life continued on. She finished her teaching degree. Morning would come and morning would go. Then she got pregnant! It was something new. Heidi was born. My dad’s enlistment ended. They moved back to the Midwest. But then they moved to, of all places, a farm. Not exactly her dream-come-true. Going back to where she came from was less than flattering.
They moved on to South Dakota. My dad began milking cows. Soon I was born. Then 18 months later, my brother Matt was born. A new ordinary had to be established. Three young children can do that. There, too, morning would come. The daily tasks would be repeated. Feed the kids. Wash the clothes. Clean the messes. Cook the supper. And the sun would go down. Darkness would return. Did her life make a difference? Yes, but it wasn’t exactly the life she dreamed of.
She adjusted. She cherished her kids. She taught us about Jesus. She was dedicated to her husband—though they were known to butt heads. Most couples do. But forgiveness was shared just as it was when they took us to church.
Then Heidi got sick. She got very sick. Cancer destroyed her six-year-old body. It crushed my mother. To be sure, she trusted in Jesus and the resurrection. But like any mother, she asked, “Why!”
My dad continued to provide for the family. The busyness of the farm and a trust in the Lord helped him deal with the loss. But my mom had a giant hole in her daily routine. Her ordinary was no longer ordinary. She had finally come to terms with the mundane nature of her role as a mother, and now it was ripped from her. The darkness would grow deeper. A shadow of depression would set in. She coped. But it would plague her later in life.
A few years later my dad was financially forced to leave farming. We moved back to Minnesota. My mom was pregnant with my brother Josh. He was born. There were three children in our family again. The sun came up. Things seemed a little brighter. My dad found part time jobs.
But we had to move to a different house. The sun went down. Times were tough. When you’re little you don’t know the difference. But my mom did. For my dad there was always a bright side to everything. But it weighed on my mom. Her dreams were bigger. She wanted something different. A shadow seemed to linger over her.
My parents struggled through. My dad found full time work. We grew older. My mom started to teach. But the daily routine was predictable. It was nothing special. Then my mom developed severe back pain. She was 39. She had a spinal fusion when she was 15 and it had let loose. The next five years she would endure five major back operations and three back fusions that would eventually leave her on disability and in unending chronic pain.
She had so many hopes and so many dreams. She wanted to be a provider in so many ways but felt like she was being reduced to a dependant. She coped, but continued to question her worth. Shadows of depression would continue to grow.
I went on to college. So did my brother Matt. My parents had to sell our house and buy a smaller one to help pay for our tuition. The routine was the same. The sun came up. Pain pills in the morning. Cope through the day. More pain pills. Make it through supper. The sun went down. Things seemed dark for her. What was her purpose? What was she to do? What could she do?
Years later they saved enough to buy an acreage. The sun came up. It was a bright spot for a time. They’d always dreamed of an acreage. By then I was married. So was my brother Matt. We both had our first child. However, her pain had increased. More surgery was needed, but no longer an option. It would only make things worse. The sun went down. The depression needed to be treated. She tried to manage. But things grew darker. They grew harder. Pain pills. Sleep. Pain pills. Sleep. Some days she couldn’t get out of bed. What was her purpose? What was she to do? She prayed often. She hurt more. Darkness stayed.
Four years later it nearly consumed all of us. My brother Matt and his unborn son were killed in a car accident. We all shared in that darkness. It’s utterly suffocating. The light of Jesus Christ brought us through. But again, my mother was asking, “Why!?”
Today my mother continues to struggle. The sun goes up and the sun goes down. Some days are good. Many are not. She still wonders, “What’s my purpose?” “Why am I here?” “Am I wasting my life?”
The sun goes up. And the sun goes down. She remains a wife, a mother, and a grandmother. Her faith is strong. But she hurts. She struggles. She desperately desires to be loved, but she has so conditioned her lovability and her worth on what she has failed to do, and on what she can’t do, that it’s easy for her to get lost in the darkness of despair. Christ is certainly her light. And she sees that He is a light no darkness can overcome. But sometimes she wonders if her life has been wasted.
To this I can only answer with a resounding “No!” Two of her children are rejoicing with Jesus in paradise because of the faith she taught them. Her other two still look forward to that day. Her grandchildren cherish her. Her husband loves her and cares for her. He also needs her love and needs her care. Such simple relationships have been profoundly ordered by God. They have tremendous purpose. They have immeasurable value!
Her countless hours of diaper changing, cooking, cleaning, and clothes folding were not in vain. They cared for her family. Such ordinary care was extraordinarily ordered by the Lord. They have tremendous purpose. They have immeasurable value. Life has not been wasted. Life has been lived! And the remainder of her life will not be wasted, it will be lived! There is still life. There is still meaning. And she is still loved!
Yes, there will be suffering. Yes, she will have pain. But so it was for her Savior. On Good Friday darkness covered the land with His suffering and death. But three days later Easter Sunday saw the tomb burst open with He who is the light of life.
In Jesus Christ no life is ever wasted! In Jesus, no life is ever without purpose.
This, too, is the message and the mission of the Holy Christian Church.