patty kirk

patty kirk lying down, getting up, sitting at home, walking down the road doing deuteronomy 6:7

Friday, December 2, 2011

God’s purpose for us, if he has one

Last night on the phone with my sister Sharon, she told me, “God’s purpose isn’t for people to be happy. Everybody thinks it is, but it’s not. God’s purpose for us is that we do the right thing.”

It seemed a grim way to go about doing God’s work—that is, believing in the One God Sent—but I left it at that. I didn’t want to get in a fight. I’ve been thinking about that sad conclusion ever since, though.

It was my first thought this morning, as I dithered around the house, reluctant to go down to my mother-in-law’s house to wash and dress and feed and spend time with her. (Mamaw’s caretaker’s sister-in-law died yesterday, so we’re without our morning help for the next few days.)

Perhaps Sharon are right, I thought. Perhaps it is God’s purpose for me, this doing the right thing. This reluctance.

When I think about Mamaw, though, I know it’s not. She is someone who has always done the right thing, as far as I can tell. Sure, she has her faults. Back when she used to leave her house, she never failed to point out to me that any person she met or saw anywhere was “large,” as she put it. She herself has always been tiny. And there were other things.

But, in the main, she has been always selfless and kindhearted all the years I have known her. Motivated, it has always seemed to me, by a keen desire to be helpful. And always cheery about it. Nonetheless, her prayer at meals—the prayer she will pray at breakfast when I go down there in a minute or two—is for forgiveness:
Dear Lord, please forgive my sins and help me to do the right thing.
And even now, her brain frayed by Alzheimer’s, she seems, above all, happy.

God’s purpose for us, if he has one—Do I have a purpose for my daughters?—is to be like Mamaw, I think. Helpful. Sweethearted. Aware of our own failings. Doing the right thing, but happy.

That’s God’s desire for us, anyway, in everything we do. Certainly it’s my desire for my own children: that they do the right things and that they be happy.

And to resist believing this, I’m thinking this Advent morning—to supplant God's desire for us with some heavy imagined duty or undesirable purpose—is to resist the coming of the One God Sent to teach us otherwise.

My yoke is easy, my burden light, he tells us. If we strive for anything, I think, it should be for the fulfillment of that promise.


  1. I've come to think that doing the right thing _is_ what allows us to be happy, as long as we're using Jesus's definition of what's right and not some artificial societal construct of what's right. Jesus said he came so that we may have life and have it to the fullest. That's what happiness feels like to me--a fullness inside of my chest. He also told us _how_ to have life to the fullest--to love our neighbors, love ourselves, and love God.

    I've spent a lot of time hurting people and hurting myself, and I can say with absolute certainty, as I still struggle daily with depression, that it is definitely not the way to happiness. The solution is so simple, but that doesn't mean it's easy by any stretch. For me, the hardest part is loving myself.

    Our society believes a lot of things are empirically "right"--staying in a marriage that is the source of unhappiness being one of them. But our society's mores are hardly based on the best way to love ourselves and others (and God) in a given situation. If they were, war would be obsolete. Sometimes the most loving thing is to stay married, to be sure. But certainly not always.

  2. I agree. Indeed, I would say what Mamaw has taught me is that, as you say, "doing the right thing _is_ what allows us to be happy."

  3. The more I mature as a Christian, the more I want to please God. Pleasing God is becoming more important than pleasing my friends, my wife, or my self. Maybe your friend is learning that he is miserable when he is pleasing himself if he is also displeasing God and that true "happiness" is found when he pleases God.

    So often you hear the question "What is right?" or the statement "What is right for me may not be right for someone else". And yet, the more I mature as a Christian, the clearer I can hear what is right in the moment (where my path crosses God's). Is this the Holy Spirit? I think so but I struggle nonetheless. I posed the following question to think about to a small group I lead, "What one thing can you do that will make your marriage better?" After a moment I asked a discussion question; "Why aren’t you doing it?" People complain that God doesn’t talk to them and yet I think God tells us what we ought to do all of the time. Why is it hard to do? Why is it so often left undone?

    I want to be a hero but I think God will never ask me to do something big until I faithfully do the little things.

  4. I agree. We are miserable when we are pleasing ourselves if doing so displeases God. But it doesn't necessarily follow, to me, that it's not God's purpose for us to be happy. Rather, the opposite. God's desire--maybe even his purpose--is for us to be happy. As you say, the only way to make ourselves truly happy is to do the sorts of things that make God happy.

  5. Very beautifully expressed and written. I like the way you shared her faults as well as good qualities and also to share your struggles. It makes is more real and inspiring.
    Sometimes the right thing is not always the easiest thing to do but in the end, you feel better about yourself.
    Thanks for sharing!

    Sharon Gibson