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We need a sense of purpose to live

The most important thing you need to make it through life is a sense of purpose. Without purpose, people lose their inner spark, their will to live.   You see this dynamic manifest in older couples. When one dies, the other typically dies shortly thereafter. You see it in suicide rates – …
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
The most important thing you need to make it through life is a sense of purpose. Without purpose, people lose their inner spark, their will to live.
 
You see this dynamic manifest in older couples. When one dies, the other typically dies shortly thereafter. You see it in suicide rates – higher where people feel trapped in a hopeless situation.

This week on my transatlantic flight to Spain, I read Victor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl was a psychotherapist who endured the horrors of Auschwitz. The Nazi’s killed his family. They starved and tortured Frankl, yet he survived.

Along the way he observed what made it possible for a small minority of prisoners to survive when everyone else died. Everyone lived in the same primitive conditions: a diet of thin soup and bread that caused their bodies to slowly consume themselves, nine people to a bed, and unheated barracks.

But what enabled a few to make it was a sense of purpose. The camp guards could take every other freedom away, but by clinging to this freedom, prisoners survived. Conversely, those prisoners who lost their sense of purpose soon died.

As a psychotherapist, Frankl realized that the best thing he could do to keep people alive was to help them discover an inner sense of purpose. On multiple occasions, he helped rescue those who wanted to commit suicide. He did it by helping them realize that their lives in fact had purpose. Always he found that this purpose lay outside themselves. Usually, someone they loved depended on them to stay alive. When they understood their purpose, they found it was reason enough to keep fighting.

After surviving the concentration camps and returning to his practice, Frankl realized that this form of therapy was fundamentally different from most other forms of therapy. Typically therapists probe the past pain their clients have endured and seek to help them work through it. Such therapy, Frankl realized, skirts the real issue of purpose and the question of “why?” It allows people to assume the posture of victims of circumstances beyond their control.

Frankl cites a study showing that many people live life without knowing their purpose. 60% of people surveyed in America and 25% in other countries lack purpose. As a consequence, they’re largely unhappy and many are depressed.

Too many of us are asking the wrong questions in life. We ask about how we should live. We ask questions about our standard of living before we ask questions of why we’re living.

We are hard-wired by God to seek purpose. Jesus spent his life prioritizing this search for purpose. He spent his time helping his followers ask the question “why?” He was constantly showing them that no questions are more important than the questions, “Why am I alive?” and “What is my purpose?”

Are you able to answer these questions? Do you know what your purpose is?

Comments (5)

  • Seth
    Very nice article. I too beleive that purpose is foundational in having a fulfilled life. In fact with a clear definition of your purpose and identity as through God’s eyes, and a relationship with Jesus you can go beyoud fulfillment to total peace and joy.

  • I love the idea of therapy forward… Not back, hence enabling the “Victim Mentality” I don’t like to remember painful times. I’d much rather forget them. Folks believe that’s not healthy. But looking forward, is the best for me. And now I see I’m in good company.

  • I read Frankl’s book when I was a sophomore in college and it made a big impact on me back then. I was not a Christian at the time but I was definitely searching for the meaning of life.

    Thanks for reminding me of the book and its theme, Seth.

    I know, personally, that in these later years, everything that I’ve gone through over the years has taken on a redemptive quality, enabling me to see eternal purpose in and through it all.

    Praise God!

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.



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