I knew what I wanted to do with my life: Save the planet. Plain and simple. Starting with my junior year in high school, I'd developed this passion (some would have called it obsession) for stopping pollution, keeping the ozone layer from melting away, and recycling whatever was recyclable. I also started an environmental club.
When the time came to start thinking about college, I knew I wanted to study something that would allow me to live out my dream. I did some research and found a school that had a respected environmental program. After graduation, I headed 500 miles away from home to study at a university that would prepare me to save the planet.
As God would have it, I soon discovered that my passion didn't give me what I was really looking for. I still felt empty and lonely inside. A couple of months before I was to head off to college, I started studying the Bible with a group of friends. I learned a lot about Jesus, and that he wanted to forgive my sins. I also discovered that God loved me. I was hooked. I discovered a new passion. While I still cared about the earth, I was changing. I suddenly had an unstoppable desire to live for God. And I wanted to help others discover the incredible change that would come through a friendship with Jesus Christ.
My passion had changed. So had my career direction. And I changed colleges. Eventually, I ended up attending a Christian school where I could learn to write about my faith. (Yes, somewhere along the way, I'd also developed a love for writing.)
That's me. My passion. My story. Now what about you?
What excites you? What's your passion? Why are you here? What's the purpose that drives your life?
And, you ask …
"What does this have to do with my college search?"
You're currently looking for a college or will soon be searching your various options. My advice: Don't even think about it until you've got this whole purpose thing down. It's the starting point—the place where all decisions should begin. Make a decision that runs counter to your purpose, and chances are you'll eventually experience a number of emotions, like: disappointment, guilt, regret.
Get your purpose down, and your college plans (and any other plans) will more easily fall into place.
From Plato to milk
Purpose-searching sounds odd, doesn't it? Like you're supposed to be a philosopher, or something. Let's forget Plato and get practical with a down-to-earth question:
What's the purpose of going to the store for Mom?
"To get a gallon of milk."
What's the purpose of taking your puppy to obedience school?
"To keep him from eating the furniture."
Some purposes are really pretty minor, aren't they? I know, you can't let your dog devour the couch. Even so, there's even a bigger purpose to figure out. Let's call it The Ultimate Reason for being here on earth. For me, during most of high school, it was about saving the planet from being destroyed by pollution. And I arranged my priorities around this purpose. It wasn't a bad purpose. But I soon discovered The Real Purpose for My Life.
Colossians puts it like this: "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men" (3:23).
Living for God, letting him guide us, that's the Ultimate Purpose. The real reason for living. Every other purpose, every other desire, every other priority, somehow becomes less important when compared to this purpose.
But let's be real. Sometimes we let our little mini-purposes get in the way. Sometimes we get a little lost along the way.
In the fog
I remember driving down a country road once. I was headed home from a friend's house. I knew the directions well, but then I dipped down this hill and suddenly a thick blanket of fog surrounded me. It almost felt like I was in one of those horror movies.
Any moment, the car is gonna stall and that mad slasher's gonna come and …
Fantasy aside, I had a problem. Everything had disappeared. I couldn't see where I was supposed to turn next. I leaned forward, turned on my brights. The intense beam simply made the fog look, well, brighter, glaringly brighter. I coasted slowly down the road, missing turns, nearly missing curves. Totally lost.
Misguided purposes are a lot like that. They tend to hide the road ahead. They take us off the right path. They can, well, fog over The Ultimate Purpose.
So, what's the answer? Maybe it has something to do with the questions we ask.
And the question is …
I find it easy to ask "what" and "where" questions.
"What am I going to eat for lunch?"
"Where are we going after school?"
"What do I want to do Saturday night?"
"Where am I going to college?"
All fine questions. And some of these questions are pretty important. The last one is very important: You want to pick a school that will help you prepare for the future. It's that next big step you're taking in your life. You don't want to blow it. But even more important are the "why" questions, like:
"Why am I even going to college in the first place?"
Think about the answers you hear sometimes:
"Because my friends are going."
"Because my parents expect me to go."
"Because I hear it's fun."
"Because I want to make a lot of money someday."
"Because [put answer here]."
OK, not all of these reasons sound bad. Well, maybe going because our friends are going (or because our parents want us to) isn't a great reason. But, it's cool to want to have fun, and making money isn't necessarily a bad thing. But if any of these reasons becomes our main reason for going to college, then chances are, it's time to rethink our priorities—and figure out what's important.
The thing is, questions that ask "why" can dig deep. They can probe our motives. They can shine a light in our hearts, and reveal what's really there. They may lead us to confess:
"Sorry God. I've been heading in the wrong direction …"
Or they may make you smile and say a little prayer:
"Wow, God, you and I seem to be thinking alike on this one."
And the fog starts to lift …
I want to stay out of the fog. I want to keep my priorities right. I want to live out The Ultimate Purpose. But there are times when I wonder: Does God really know what he's doing? Does he really have my best in mind? After all, everybody seems to be having more fun, and getting to do what they want to do.
Then I remember God's faithfulness and love in my past, and I can't help but feel he has my best in mind. I also remember a promise:
"Do what the Lord wants, and he will give you your heart's desire" (Psalm 37:4, CEV).
God wants to give us our heart's desire! He wants to give us a life that's fulfilling and real. He wants to give us the best he has to offer! Amazing promise. It just doesn't get any better that that.
For me, that's even better than saving the planet.