A Purposeful Life Begins With Purposeful Days

Last month, I reflected on the disciple’s Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, in which he told Jesus’ earliest followers that they were God’s handiwork, created to do good works uniquely prepared for them to do.

Indeed, each of us has a particular purpose to serve in this world; we are custom-designed, fitted with gifts to be used to impact the world in a way only we can.

And it starts here at school. When you experience school as an opportunity rather than a burden to survive, you begin your journey to living purposefully. Through both your triumphs and your struggles here, you will uncover the particular gifts God has given you and explore ways they might change a life, enhance a community, or make a team or organization stronger.

I’d like to look today at the foundation of purposeful living, which, not surprisingly, you play an important role in constructing for yourselves.

This is Admiral William McRaven, who is now the Chancellor of the University of Texas system, but before that spent 37 years in the Navy. Among a variety of leadership roles, Admiral McRaven oversaw the operation which resulted in the death of Osama Bin Laden. Admiral McRaven gave the graduation address at UT a couple of years ago; perhaps some of you have seen it. Here is his first suggestion on where living a purposeful life begins:

Now I know what the beds of the three boys in my house can look like on occasion. I hope the world is not counting on them yet!

But in all seriousness, Admiral McRaven serves to introduce my point for today: Living a purposeful life begins with living purposeful days.

I have a couple of opinions in this regard to share with you:

Purposeful People Make Purposeful Choicesarrows

Think about people you would identify as difference-makers in their communities, families, or professions. I’d submit that if you look more deeply, they make purposeful decisions each day. That is, they hold to certain daily or almost daily commitments which help structure their lives and focus their energies on the task of achieving their vision and impacting their world for good.

For McRaven and the SEALS, making their beds to perfection every day was a purposeful choice. In their world, a successful mission rested on doing the little things correctly – every single time, not some of the time. Making their bed to specifications reinforced that.

But here are some others:

Entertainer Ellen DeGeneres has found that 20 minutes of Transcendental Meditation every day focuses her mind and restores the super supply of energy she needs to muster each day to entertain her fans on television.

President Obama is the leader of the free world; he has perhaps the most stressful job and hectic schedule one could have. But he makes purposeful choices in how he manages his time. Not only does he make room each day for 45 minutes of exercise, but he has breakfast with Mrs. Obama each morning and dinner at home with the family each evening when he is not travelling.

13virtuesMany of us recognize the name of founding father Benjamin Franklin. But beyond the kite and the key we know he used to learn about electricity, he is perhaps known best for teaching others that leading oneself is the first step to impacting the world. By age 20 he created a list of 13 virtues to which he adhered. He purposefully charted his weekly choices to see how well he did and scheduled each of his days to the hour.

Now I am no Biblical expert, but I have never read scripture which suggested Jesus made purposeful choices to do yoga daily, swim laps, or write poetry as part of his plan to live a purposeful life.

JesushealsBut if you look at our Scripture readings today (Luke 6:12-13; Luke 9:18, 21-22, Mark 1:35) you see just three of dozens of examples of what Jesus did do purposefully: Seek solitude and Pray.

Jesus’s work was draining.

He ministered to the sick, the outcast, and the poor

He managed the feuds, jealousies, and anxieties of his disciples

He challenged the choices and intentions of the religious leaders of his time.

Moreover, Jesus understood His life’s purpose. Everything He did, he knew, was leading to His death on the cross. So He made the purposeful choice often, if not daily, to seek solitude and pray.

What purposeful choices do you make each day?


Typically, the things you choose to do purposefully align with your values:

  • If you believe a healthy body leads to a sharper mind, like I do, then carving out time for exercise will happen
  • If you love to learn and expand your thinking or imagination, then finding time to read might be something you ensure happens each day
  • If you value creative expression, then you might listen to or practice your music each day; draw; or write in a journal

Maybe you are still seeking the things or things that enable you to be you best, most impactful self each day. Finding it may require time and, as our Framework language suggests, some self-reflection.

In closing, though, I can suggest a place to practice purposeful choice-making: right here at school.

Now, my world at school is filled with a lot of meetings – some of which I look forward to more than others, some of which are on topics more exciting to me than others. But each day, in alignment with my own personal mission to be a person of impact, I seek to enter each meeting – whether excited by it or not – with an intent to leave a positive contribution behind. Sometimes that positive contribution may be as simple as my presence and full attention. Other times, it will mean that I choose to enter in; to make a comment or lend an idea which might help the group accomplish its task better or more thoughtfully.

What if you approached each class this way? Certainly you enjoy some subjects or types of classwork more than others, just as some meetings are easier for me to embrace than others. But you can choose to enter into each class – favored or not – with the purposeful intent to help make the activity or experience there more valuable – because of your attention; your input; or your support for others.

When you commit to this, you will be constructing the foundation of small, purposeful choices which lead to living a life of greater impact down the road.

When Ben Franklin rose at 5 AM each day, he didn’t worry so much about how he made his bed. But he did ask: “what good shall I do this day?” and when he jumped into that same bed at 10 PM, he asked “what good have I done this day?” I can think of no better questions to ask yourselves when you consider coming here to your classes, your practices, and your other commitments, and I pray you come to master the purposeful choices which lead to a purposeful life.

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