Edmonton author and coach Juli Wenger reflects on finding Christian purpose amid our busy lives and culture.
“I’m just so busy!” she told me. “And I’m a bit embarrassed that I haven’t created the success I know is possible. But I’m so overwhelmed that I can’t seem to get caught up or figure out what to do next. I want to do something that matters, that makes a difference. I know I have more in me, but I keep trying and it’s just not working….”
I hear this from people across Canada – we are experiencing a lack of purpose and fulfillment. It's creating overwhelm and burnout. And it's triggering what I call the Purpose-Life Crisis.
The Purpose-Life Crisis is like a mid-life crisis, but it’s not dependent on age. Instead, it hinges on a sense that what we have in our life isn’t enough. That the success we’ve aimed for or built doesn’t fulfill us. And that there is a disconnect between what we are working toward and what God is calling us to.
In my practice helping others, I hear the same story over and over. People are yearning for meaning, and wondering if it actually exists.
We live in a time where hustling and grinding have become the gold standard to judge ourselves and others by. We attempt to "figure it out" and "make it happen" (whatever “it” is). We reach for an idealized benchmark called "there," where our stress and money problems will magically disappear.
But to get “there” we attempt to do all the things for all the people. It leaves us fractured – with our energy, time and focus going in a thousand different directions. We’re busy, but we’re not moving.
Running a business and having a family and ...
As a recovering overachiever, I get it! I want to be helpful, liked and viewed as successful. And it has led me to burnout more times than I’d like to admit. I’ve run myself ragged trying to fit it all in. I run a business and have a family. I'm in seminary and on the worship team. I like to volunteer in my son's kindergarten class and host friends for dinner. It can turn into too much, and fast! (And that doesn’t even include taking care of my own needs!)
Look, it’s easy to get drawn into living a reactionary life. It's easy to say yes to things we don’t have time for. But then we execute on our commitments at a lower level than if we gave them our best. It’s not exactly “do everything as unto the Lord” when we get drawn into hustle culture, is it?
And there is a cost to our purpose when we get stuck in busy because there isn’t room for our purpose! There isn’t room to respond “yes!” to what God asks us to do when our lives have no margin or breathing room. And worse, it all indicates a lack of trust in His provision when we try to do everything ourselves. We’ve become slaves to doing.
Over the last few years, following one of the biggest burnouts of my life, God has been after me to learn how to rest. It required me to come to terms with my limits, and to surrender my plans to Him. It requires me to trust that He will provide. He’s shown me that the doing is closely tied to proving my value (which happens to be how the enemy tries to take me out). And God has been clear that He is not asking me to do everything. He wants my best in the places that fit with His purpose and will for my life, but He doesn’t want a spread-thin, unfocused and fractured version of my effort.
As Christ-followers, we get to be focused instead of fractured. We get to walk in our purpose and with a peace that the world doesn’t offer. Paul, in his letter to the Philippians had something to say about this. “Don’t be pulled in different directions or worried about a thing” (Philippians 4:6a TPT).
Walking in our divinely given purpose
The thousand directions that your time and energy and effort are going don’t line up with God’s plan for you. It’s not His intention or desire for you to be burnt out, overwhelmed, or confused. This verse is a big old Stop it! for a culture that prides itself on moving fast.
Instead of confusion, God promises clarity. Instead of moving in a thousand directions, God promises direction. Instead of fear of not having enough, we're reminded that He is always faithful. Let me show it to you in Psalm 19:7-9 (MSG).
The revelation of God is whole and pulls our lives together. The signposts of God are clear and point out the right road. The life-maps of God are right, showing the way to joy. The directions of God are plain and easy on the eyes. God's reputation is twenty-four carat gold, with a lifetime guarantee. The decisions of God are accurate down to the nth degree.
God wants you to experience His perfect peace and joy. He wants for you to be “mature and complete, not lacking anything” (see James 1:4). He wants to walk with you and work through you, reaching the people He is calling back to Himself. And He wants a relationship with you, but that relationship is usually one of the first things that drop when life gets busy.
So how do you move back into focus and out of fracture? As much as I love the Stop it! inherent in Paul’s letter, it’s not quite that simple.
Here are two tips to get you started:
1. Create Boundaries.
A boundary reflects what you will take on mentally, emotionally or as commitments. It is a pre-decided parameter for your yeses and no’s. Boundaries help you to focus your time, energy and commitments. They simplify the yeses and the no’s in this season of life. Boundaries buy your time, energy and focus back, creating the margin and room to say yes when God calls on you.
As Christians, we need to ask the Holy Spirit to show us when to say yes and say no. It’s too easy to drift into comfort or isolation or over-commitment. And it’s easy to default to what your humanity desires. So take the time to talk with God about your capacity and commitments before you make the call.
Boundaries are like guardrails on the side of the road – they keep us on the road, but they don’t create momentum or steer the car. Remember, we don’t want to be busy with “good” things, but not moving. That keeps us fractured. Instead, we need to listen for the Holy Spirit’s whisper saying, “Go this way” and use the direction He is sending us to evaluate whether those “good” things are our things.
There is an Old Testament story that gives the concept what Andy Stanley would call “handles.” It’s the story of Nehemiah, specifically his response to distractions that would lead him away from his purpose (rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem) – “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down.” He knew what his priority was and what assignment God had moved him to complete. No external noise or distractions were going to take him away from that work.
What assignment is being interrupted in your life? What commitments, relationships, or distractions exist for you that God never asked you to engage with? Take time to ask Him to show you where you’ve come down from the wall.
2. Guard your heart and your mind.
Speaking of distractions, nothing keeps us fractured like the constant distractions of society. Things like emails, text messages, the little red notification bubbles on our Facebook and Instagram, the mindless scroll on TikTok, the news cycle, the coworker or friend who complains and judges people all day, the TV shows that underpin all the expectations we're supposed to measure up to.
Creating margin is one thing, but creating the quiet to hear from God and fix our eyes on Jesus is another. This is where the rubber meets the road – if you’re committed to stepping out of fracture, it's time to turn off the noise.
Notice though that stepping is an action word. We have to take steps, continually, that follow God's direction. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you. As children of God, and heirs alongside Jesus, we have access to clarity and direction, and grace and mercy. We have access to God’s strength and courage, and His compassion and love. And we know that we will not walk alone because the Lord our God will be with us wherever we go.
Stepping into a focused life is stepping into a life where we let the Lord lead. It’s learning to say, “No for now, but not forever” to things that you may want, so there is room for what God wants for you to achieve through you. It’s surrendering the hustle and grind – instead trusting that wherever “there” is, God will lead you to it. When we say yes to His plan and his purpose, the Purpose-Life Crisis loses its power because we are in alignment with our Father God. And He will teach you to rest in the stillness of knowing that He loves you and has a plan for you that is better than you could ever hustle your way to.
Juli Wenger is a coach, podcaster and Enneagram teacher in Edmonton, and author of Fired-up, Fulfilled, and Free: Know who you are. Get out of your own way. Live your purpose (Beyond the Book Media, 2022). This blog post is the second of a two-part series.