Looking for Purpose
By Elisa Morgan
As I pushed my cart down the grocery store aisle, peering bleakly at the jars of sauces and pastas, I noticed a gnawing discontent hollowing into my heart. I’d run out to pick up something to make for dinner, leaving the kids with their dad, and it was nice to have the moment on my own. Yet, what was this emotion that seemed to weigh down my soul with despair? I dug about for some handhold on the thought just below the surface of my consciousness and pulled it out. Why do I have to be the one to feed everyone? I feel so depleted, with nothing left to give. Could someone feed me? Oh, how this mother needs a break!
I felt so alone. Lonely in my mothering and in my life.
What? I’d waited for years to become a mom! Oh, the ache to be a parent while all around me, every woman I knew seemed to burst into the bloom of pregnancy. Attending baby showers, enduring Mother’s Day after Mother’s Day, never being a mom myself, I felt alone— set apart, different from everyone else. I loved my job teaching at a local college and counseling students. But my heart struggled in the loneliness of infertility and cried in pain for a baby.
What was wrong with me? I’d finally received my longed-for children through adoption and left my job to focus on them. I felt truly satisfied with our now-family-of-four: my dear husband, daughter, and son. The toddler/preschool years were busy, and I was tired, but I enjoyed the bustle and being needed.
So, why this malaise in the middle of the grocery store aisle?
It took me years—and rounds of counseling—to process that moment. Actually, both of those lonely moments: the longing before having children and the longing after becoming a mom. Before I was a mother, I longed for the meaning motherhood would provide, yet I found purpose in my work. After I was a mother, I loved its meaning, yet I longed for the more familiar significance of work.
Eventually I discovered that at the core of my being is a powerful desire to matter. To make a difference. To have purpose in my life. When I don’t sense such meaning, I feel out of sorts. Set apart. Alone. Lonely.
I’m not the only one lonely in this way.
Every person longs for meaning. We were made to matter. From the moment God created humans and assigned them the responsibility to bear children and to care for the planet and its inhabitants (Genesis 1:28–30), men and women were christened with the call toward purpose. Sure, our choice to separate ourselves from God by choosing our way rather than his way has resulted in confusion and distortion of our meaning. But we are still made for a purpose that provides us with meaning.
This purpose is called vocation. The word comes from the Latin vox, and means “voice, a call, a summons.” In the Christian worldview, vocation can apply to our mission, calling, function, or purpose. (1)
How does vocational loneliness develop in our days?
Uncertainty about our contributions. What are our strengths? How do we turn everyday skills into marketable assets—duties we can be paid for? Eva would love to turn her hobby of wreath-making, gift-wrapping, and accessory-making into a paying pastime. But the unending care of her kids and the lack of startup funds and tech know-how hold her back in uncertainty.
Closed doors to our investment. Whether due to our gender, our background, our race, our values, our age, or other characteristics, we may experience an exclusion from the vocation to which we feel called. Suzanne loves to teach the Bible and offers small group studies to the women in her neighborhood. She longs to be included in the weekly study classes at her church but can’t seem to gain the attention of the pastoral staff. She guesses it’s because of her lack of formal training . . . and perhaps her gender.
Comparison that results in self-disqualification. We look around at others, whether on social media or in real life, and conclude that our offerings are too meager to matter. As a result, we pull back our potential contributions. My heart hurts as I recall conversation after conversation with gifted women who long to bring forth their gifts but feel that what they have to contribute isn’t significant enough to warrant inclusion.
When have you experienced vocational loneliness? Perhaps you’ve struggled to find your purpose in relationships—as a daughter or sister or wife or mother or stepmom. It may be that you stare at closed doors in your profession, uninvited into places of influence you long to occupy. Or it could be that you’ve moved beyond the years of vital contribution into a smaller world where your offering is now undefined, unseen, or unnoticed.
For me in the grocery store aisle, amidst jars of sauce and boxes of pasta, my filled-to-full mothering heart overflowed into my emptier-than-empty more-than-a-mom being. I had quit my job in order to mother. But in that moment, my mothering satisfaction simply didn’t complete the need of my career calling. Before I was a mom, my career calling didn’t fill up my mothering vacuum. In both situations I was vocationally lonely. I had yet to discover how to address the multi-layered need for vocation in my being.
As I moved from that grocery store moment, into many next steps of vocation, I often looked back at the verse from Jeremiah that a mentor reminded me of when I graduated from college:
I know the plans I have for you . . . plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)
There have been many detours along the way. Disappointments. Let downs. Giant potholes of trials. Surprising turns. And delightful unveilings of what I’d never expected.
After many years, I have realized that sometimes I was reaching for something rather than someOne.
It was as if I’d focused only on the call for God and had forgotten I was first called to his heart.
“Attach yourself to Me,” God wooed me forward.
Who knew? God knew.
1. “vocation,” Lexico, lexico.com.
2. Paul Tillich, The Courage to Be (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1952, 2000), 47.
Excerpt from You Are Not Alone: Six Affirmations from a Loving God by Elisa Morgan. Copyright 2021 Elisa Morgan. Published by Our Daily Bread Publishing
Elisa Morgan's latest book is You Are Not Alone. She is the cohost of the podcast God Hears Her. She is also the cohost of Discover the Word and contributor to Our Daily Bread. Her other books include When We Pray Like Jesus, The Beauty of Broken, Hello, Beauty Full, and She Did What She Could. Connect with Elisa @elisa_morgan on Twitter, and @elisamorganauthor on Facebook and Instagram.