I never thought that I would be that person questioning what the purpose and meaning of life is. I’ve always been a very religious person. I’ve always believed in God and known that I was his daughter. It seemed pretty straight forward that the purpose of life is to become like God.I knew that, that would involve difficult experiences and trials and figured that the challenge was to get through those in a way that would make me become a better person.
Recently I’ve been rethinking some of that. Not that I question any of those things that I believed, rather I question if I really believed them. Let me explain. I was talking with someone the other day and trying to explain why I seem to be having such a hard time with sadness in my life right now. I explained that I had lived my whole life looking forward to being a wife and a mom and I imagined myself spending my time at home taking care of little kids. Instead I find myself at the ripe old age of thirty-one, single, still in school, and facing a lot of uncertainty about my future.
This person asked me if I would be surprised to find that those feelings are much the same ones that people on the other end of the parenting time of life often feel when their children leave home and they find themselves empty nesters. They too struggle to find meaning for their existence.
And that’s when I had my ah ha moment. I have always felt like life leading up to marriage was all about preparing for it, and I never thought much about that time after children were gone. I started thinking that maybe I was wrong, maybe I had put too much emphasis on being a wife and a mom. Not, to down play that role or its importance but it made me wonder if I truly believed that it was my purpose in life.
So I thought, if not being married and not having children left me feeling as though life has no purpose and no meaning than doesn’t it follow that I believe the purpose and meaning of life is marriage and children? Somewhere along the line I had given those things far more importance than I should have. There is a good twenty or in some cases thirty years or more before those things even become an option. Then, after the children leave there is another 30, 40 or even 50 years left to live. Surely, there is more meaning to life than being a mom.
So I decided that I need to change my thinking a bit. I need to refocus my attention on the true purpose and meaning of life. To just say that it is to become like Heavenly Father seems a little out there for my finite mind to grasp so I need something a little closer to home. Being a Mormon, one of the first things that came to mind in my quest for answers to this question is a quote from the church’s founder Joseph Smith, who said that “Happiness is the object and design of our existence.” That seemed a conflicting idea to one I have always believed; which is that life is about facing our trials, and dealing with them so that they will make us better people. That didn’t seem like happiness, that seemed more like surviving the misery until you get to die.
When the answer finally came to me I was shocked at its simplicity. I was also shocked at how well it fit with everything that I already believed.
I think that the purpose of life is learning.
Right now I am learning a number of things. I am learning things that I will need for my career, I am learning to work hard and to provide for myself, I am learning to be alone and be ok, I am learning how to leave my comfort zone and interact with others, I am learning about relationships. My purpose right now in life, is learning those things, and the “object” of learning them is to be happy. As life goes on, the things that I am learning will change but the purpose and the object never will and ultimately what comes from learning all of those things is that I become more like Heavenly Father.
So, it’s not that I need to just survive this trial so that somehow the simple act of surviving will make me a better person, and it’s not that this time is just a preparation time for what is to come. This time is NOW. This time is what it’s all about. This time, this singlehood, this loneliness, this everything that I face right now is MY time to learn something. To learn something and to find happiness in the learning. To find purpose and meaning in the experience of today. Elizabeth Elliot, a woman who I look up to and admire, wrote in her book Passion and Purity “Let not your longing slay your passion for living.”
I will begin today to make learning my new passion for living.