The “Unprecedented” 

Business with Closed Sign

   We’re living in “unprecedented times”. The phrase itself has become a cliché and we toss it around like it means something—but it does. It means we’re going through something with this pandemic that has no precedent—no prior example—as to how we should think, talk or behave in the midst of it. And when that happens, when we have no idea how to respond to difficult circumstances, we often default to one question:

   “How can I …?” (fill in the blank)

   How can I… pay the rent/mortgage…? keep from getting sick…? feed the kids…? save the business…? find another job…? take care of the parents…? et cetera…

   The problem is, we’re asking the wrong question. And we’re not the only ones.

That’s “Unprecedented”.

   Once upon a time, a young girl named Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel who told her that she would become pregnant with the Son of God and that he would be the hope of Israel. However, Mary’s very first words were not amazement that the baby would be the savior of Israel or even the Son of God, but rather, “’How can I have a baby? I’m a virgin.’”

In other words, “How can I do something that is both impossible and has no precedent for me to follow?”

   Sound familiar? I might have asked that question a time or two…

Role Call

   Rewind to the Old Testament. When Abraham was told by God that he and Sarah would have a child in their old age and that their descendants would be like the “stars of the heavens,” his first response? “’How can I become a father at 100…?’” 

That was unprecedented.

   Esther? “How can I go before the King without being summoned? I could die…”

   Gideon?  “But Lord, how can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest in the whole tribe of Manasseh and I am the least in my entire family.”

   Moses? “How can I lead the people out of Egypt? Who am I to appear before Pharaoh?”

    It was all so, well—unprecedented.

The Default Mode

   Every one of those people operated under the mistaken assumption that they were the ones who had to make it happen—whatever “it” was. Note the repeated question—often the very first words they uttered—“How can I…?” The thing is, you and I do the same thing, we ask that same question: How can I…?

   Bottom line: You can’t. Neither can I.

   Right now, in this moment in history, our “dream” might be to write a book or to start a business or simply to have the means to keep the business afloat or the family healthy and fed. And yet, we can’t. We simply can’t make the impossible happen by ourselves. But here’s the good news: Despite the fact that it was impossible for Mary, Abraham, Moses, Esther and Gideon to accomplish the promise they’d been given or to achieve the goal they were assigned, that unprecedented dream happened, that impossible goal was met.

And here’s why: It wasn’t up to them—it never was—although they thought it was. It was always up to God to bring that thing to pass.

   That’s where we often get stuck and then fall into despair—because we think that we have to make the thing happen. We don’t. That’s all. And when we finally grasp that, we can have peace in the midst of those I can’tsituations. 

   And that is not unprecedented.


Your “Raison d’Être” = Purpose

Woman and Lion

    Recently, a friend and I were “venting” over how bored we were. Granted, we’re both working from home but something was still missing, something we want back in the midst of this whole societal freeze. And it’s not just the finances or the isolation—although those are two huge factors—but there’s something else and we just couldn’t put our collective fingers on it. Moreover, we’re not the only ones wondering. The longer this pandemic lockdown lasts, the more many people are feeling irritable, angry, listless and especially depressed. So what’s the missing piece? Later it hit me:

   Many people are literally being deprived of pursuing their purpose in life.

   Without purpose, we wither—emotionally, creatively, and spiritually. Not having a purpose in life—or being prohibited from fulfilling it—literally sucks the wind from our sails.

What Is “Purpose”?

   The French have a phrase for purpose: raison d’être—“reason to be”. That pretty much sums it up. Our purpose in life is the reason we exist; it’s the reason we get up in the morning, the reason we go to work day in and day out for a lifetime, and the reason we don’t quit when it gets hard. Our life’s purpose is the reason we choose to become educated in a particular field, the reason we select a particular job or profession, or the reason we go into ministry. It’s the reason we start a business or write a book or pursue a passion, the reason we volunteer to advance a particular cause, and certainly the reason we get married and have children. 

Our purpose in life encapsulates all we hold dear: our hopes, dreams and destiny.

   Without that purpose in life, we often lift our eyes to the heavens and ask “Why am I here?” And when we have no answer to that question, we wander aimlessly through life and—that’s all we do.

   These days, that’s what many people are doing. The “pause” button that we hear so much about is not only pausing our society, it’s putting our hearts, minds and souls on pause as well. Even if we’re still working, if that work is limited to this isolated space or that inadequate method, then we’re still feeling the lack of freedom to fulfill that thing that gives life to our lives.

“Souls” At Risk

    We often think of the word “soul” in reference to the eternal spirit of a person. But actually, the term more accurately describes the core of our minds, wills and emotions. We have a mind to reason, a will to make decisions, and emotions to experience and express our feelings. So when our minds can’t make sense of circumstances and when our wills have no say and no control over those circumstances, those two factors influence our emotions. That’s when we feel angry, hopeless, and/or depressed. The pursuit of our purpose has been denied us and we have little or no power to get back to it.

   Even in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were assigned a job to do—their hearts, minds and souls needed a purpose to pursue. God knew that they needed to find work that mattered in order to feel fulfilled so he gave them the animals to care for. In nurturing their pets—from the lion to the lamb—they had a reason to exist. Moreover, they felt needed. The animals needed their care and so they knew their work mattered.

We were never created to be idle. In work, in creativity, we find our purpose and we thrive. Denied that reason to be, our hearts wilt.

So What Do We Do?

   That’s the question now, isn’t it? What can we do to inspire hope again and to feel the joy of knowing that somewhere, somehow, our efforts matter? The answer is that we do what we can in the midst of this unprecedented “pause” when the whole world is chomping at the bit to get back to what feels normal and familiar. Essentially, we have to find another purpose. And many people have. We’ve all heard stories of people stepping up to help essential workers by making masks or sending meals to their places of work. Others are helping to secure food, pack it in boxes, and distribute it to those who need it. Others are opening their businesses to meet needs other than what they were intended for. Others are visiting friends, neighbors and community members—as it’s safe to do so—to do their grocery shopping or simply to check in, visit by phone, or give an “air hug”. I know a man who leads worship and has taken his passion to his front porch to inspire those in his neighborhood who are missing it from their own churches. And his neighbors love it!

   There is much we can do during this time for the good of others—and for the good of our own souls. Let your creativity guide you. Plant some flowers for a neighbor as you’re doing your own. Send a pizza to over-worked first responders or to a family who, right now, cannot afford such a treat. And pray for one another and for our nation—which is the most essential and effective thing any of us can do right now.

   Though it sounds simple, let’s put this “pause” to work for us—and maybe, just maybe, we’ll discover a purpose for our lives that before, we never knew existed.