Finding Purpose in Life

Twenty years ago in the summer, I traveled  to Guatemala with my Nazarene Church to build church structures in some remote areas of the country.  We would stay in small towns at the local hotels, if you could call them that.  Early one morning, I was up early and went for a walk as the sun was coming up.  The neighborhood was poor with small homes, many in disrepair with few amenities, if any at all.  There was water and sewer, but the area was not well maintained.

There was almost no one up at the time in the small town, but as I walked, I came upon an elderly man tending to some weeds growing between the narrow sidewalk and the curb of the street.  I guessed that he was probably late seventies or eighties.  He was short, as most Guatemalans are, probably five feet, three inches tall and of slight build.

What struck me was the way he was dressed.  He wore a long-sleeve shirt, the button-up kind with cuffs, and a collar, pants of the same off-white or tan color, boots almost knee-high, with his trouser legs tucked in them.  He had on a leather apron that started at his chest and ran almost to his knees and a straw wide-brimmed hat.  Gloves were on his hands.  My recollection is that he had two tools with him: a hoe, which he was using, and a rake nearby.

The man's leather apron reminded me of a farrier's or blacksmith's apron.  I assumed that he had done something else for a living but could no longer meet the physical requirements of that job in his prior life.  What impressed me most was that this man, in spite of his age, prepared himself for the work that day as if it were his assigned job, fully outfitted with his apparel, as he had done probably every day of his working life.  He had a purpose in life, albeit different from what it once was, but just as important to him.  His wife worked the same way, making sure the space was tidy, something she had probably done for years.

I received a call from a friend yesterday, and we set an appointment to meet for lunch.  He expressed to me that he wanted to see if I had any ideas for him as to what he would do with the rest of his life.  He had been a policeman for thirty-five years, and he worked after he retired in security, but now he is unemployed.  He is married to a great wife, but he is now like a fish in a tree, his mind flopping around, anxious, bored, and wondering how it will all end.  He talked about joining a shooting club and maybe getting involved in politics in his area of the city.  This is all good, but I believe that he needs a defined purpose in life — not just activities to take up time — and there is the difference.

As we get older and retire from our active jobs, money becomes less important, but the quantity of time we have on our hands increases, as the days do not get any shorter.  The process of defining purpose starts with attitude.  We sometimes desire to do important and recognizable things, but that definition may not coincide with resolving the issues of boredom and anxiety.

The key to solving this problem is to determine what gives you peace.  Getting to that place without knowing what God does in your life, every day, may be difficult.  Whether you believe in God or not, for God, it is immaterial.  God will have the ultimate say.  Peace comes only when, at any age, the realization is that God has a plan for you.  The idea that we have the internet, and we have all the knowledge, and all we need to do is apply it, is false.

The inner peace we seek does not come from knowledge; it comes from knowing our Creator and abiding in His will.  Prayer is a tool to seek His wisdom, but He also provided the Holy Spirit to guide our thoughts.  The path to inner peace is many times found by not forcing activities, but being aware of the surroundings and opportunities afforded to us by God.  The opportunities can be easily missed due to the far sighted nature of our lives.  These opportunities are right in front of us, but they sometimes appear as problems without a solution.  The weeds in our lives truly may be blessings.

Twenty-five years ago, before cell phones were everywhere, we moved across town, and I had to change telephone numbers for my business.  I realized that the main number I chose was one number off from the number for others picking up their phone messages from the phone company.  To compound that, I had a toll-free number, an 800, and I would get a lot of wrong number calls on that as well.  I was working from home then, and the phone was ringing constantly.

Iris, our housekeeper, was there, a great Christian lady, and she commented about all the calls.  I told her about all the wrong number calls, and she said, "Maybe God is sending you a message."  The next day, I started Wrong Number Ministries, asking the wrong number callers if I could pray for them.  For the next fifteen years or so, I probably prayed with several thousand strangers.  I spoke with many of them for a half an hour or more.  I was really glad for those weeds that grew in my office.  My inner peace, derived from these wrong number calls provided by God, is everlasting.  What a lesson to learn, and peace to be given to me by strangers.  I only hope I passed along the peace given to me back to them.

Thinking back on the elderly man in Guatemala tending his weeds, I saw a man who had prepared himself for the weeds of the day, using his experience to clothe himself with his work attire as he had done for probably decades before.  He had defined the area he was to work in that day, having started at the far end of the space, working toward home, at a steady and sure pace, equipped with the tools he was familiar with that would fit the job at hand.  He did not seem anxious or bored, but rather at peace with the weeds that had been placed at his hand.  I believe he was grateful that God had placed those weeds there.

On that day, he seemed to have a purpose, but I believe he had a purpose in life every day.  He and his wife looked as though they were poor in material things, but rich in life, with peace and purpose.  Oh, what a great place to be in our later years.

I am going to tell my friend this story.  I'll pray with him that he finds this inner peace, whether it is in some new activity that he finds or within the daily routines of his life. 

I, too, want to start at the far end today, clothe myself with the attire that will be required for the job at hand,  equip myself with the tools provided by God for life, and work toward home with a purpose that God gives me.  We cannot write a new beginning, but, starting today, we can write a new ending.

Jonathan Colvin is a private investigator in Phoenix, Arizona and also a sports writer for the Buckeye Star Newspaper.  He can be reached at

Image: Marco Verch Professional Photographer and Speaker via Flickr, CC BY 2.0.

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