Purpose and Meaning; the difference matters

I often hear people say, ‘What’s my purpose in life?’ or, ‘What does life mean?’  purpose

It’s helpful to not confuse purpose and meaning. Purpose is about intention. It’s an interior motivation that directs our choices toward an end. Meaning is about effect. It’s an external conferring of value to things we have done.

Many of us are so desperate to make our lives ‘mean’ something that meaningfulness becomes our purpose. By confusing purpose with meaning this way, we end up spending our time desperately trying to control our life’s effect. If our lives are characterized by frustration, disappointment, intensity, depression, et al, then we probably have done just that.  The truth is, we can’t make our lives meaningful.  As Stonewall Jackson famously said, ‘Duty (commitment to purpose) is ours, the consequences (effects) belong to God.’ In the end, what our lives will have meant will be determined by others.

However, we can make our lives truly purposeful. We can decide to live our lives according to a different intention. Historic Christianity claims that the primary purpose of humans is to enjoy harmony with God.  Living according to this intention leaves little room to obsess about the meaningfulness of our Selves. Now, to be sure, it is satisfying to be recognized, to be successful, to achieve. But as Jesus said, ‘Seek first the Kingdom of God (harmony with God) , then all these other things (the satisfactions of meaningfulness and more) will come to you.’



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