No need to tell you where I was, but it was wonderful.
It was high summer and I was on vacation, visiting a location I had been many times before. The sun was setting, I was alone, standing on a quiet country road at the head of an expansive bean field. The crop was low and plush, and you could see all the way to the end. The fading sunlight had been replaced by a host of fireflies, pulsing their glow over the entire field with a soft, glorious caress. I could barely catch my breath for the reverence of the moment. It was a pocket of earth that had the strongest sense of peace, of innocence, a place where you could smell the organic fruit of pure and unadulterated life. For me, there was no other place like it on earth.
Now, there are many sunsets, bean fields, and fireflies to experience, so why was this place so special? It was because there was more there for me than just the physical environment. It wasn’t just a place. In my past history there, it was where I’d found a sense of place. it was also where I, long ago, had my first glimpse of true purpose in the world. And too, it was where I found a community of people who have changed who I am today. In that high summer evening, I was awed by the effect of more than just some natural environment. A sense of Place. People. Purpose. That’s what made it special.
This experience reminded me that, while we’re told to mind our Ps & Qs (an old idiom that calls us to always be on our best manners), perhaps our decorum would be better informed by spending time just on our Ps: Our sense of people, place, and purpose. Our Qs, whatever those may be, can come later.
Very often we get to enjoy just one or two of these Ps at any one time, and we float adrift through life, wondering what’s missing. Have you ever had a strong sense of people or community–i.e., a great marriage, kids, church, friends, etc.–but hated the place where you lived? Have you ever had a strong sense of people, maybe even loved where you lived, but then had no sense of purpose in life? We can go through all the combinations, but you get the picture. Life is at its best when we experience all three.
However, one obvious question is, if you can’t find all three, what do you do? Just live in discontent and anguish? Well, I think there are different ways to approach this:
A sense of people, place, and purpose can exist objectively for us. I.e., we could “stumble” upon it in our journey as I did once in the instance above. But, I had to visit the place on vacation to be reminded of it. I think very few of us experience all three Ps throughout our whole lives.
I do believe they can be pursued. You can search for a people who fit you, a place you adore, you can discover and refine your sense of purpose. Some of us may be missing them simply because we haven’t searched hard enough. But the search for all three, too, may be fleeting, always just around the corner, and we’re missing the life we were intended to live while on this endless search.
It’s possible sometimes to realize that they have in some sense been there all along, and we simply need to shift our perspective to see it. For instance, at the time of this writing, while I’m fairly happy, I’m a little disgruntled about living out my life’s purpose and wondering if I’m in the right place. But then I remember that I love my wife and she loves me. Our marriage is the most important sense of “people” or community I could ever have. Wherever we are, she always gives me a strong sense of place. In many ways, living with and loving her is my best sense of purpose. I’m sure those of you with kids, grandchildren, or good friends could say the same thing. So often we pursue the three Ps outside of those who love us, and we’re emptier for it.
In light of that, I think the most important place I need to focus my search and perspective concerning the three Ps is on God. I love God and he loves me. No matter where I hang my hat, he is with me. The three Ps aren’t fleeting with him. They are sustained first and foremost in my relationship with him. He is my truest sense of place. My dependence on him and his community of followers gives me a sense of people no matter where I am or what I’m doing. Serving him and those in need should always be my most enduring purpose. I can often lose focus of this and try to mind my Ps apart from God. But then, life makes no sense.
And, I know I need to infuse his divine nature into the people, place, and purpose of this world. Ultimately, that’s what made the three Ps I experienced above so special for me. Long ago, it was amidst that place of twilight, bean fields, and fireflies where I first had a sense that God was inviting me to be part of his people, where he’d called me to a spiritual purpose that was beyond my nearsighted view of life. It was there where his touch on creation was an overwhelming reminder of his security and significance over my life. There, like no other place on earth, I felt truly at home and had a glimpse of my eternal home.
Where are you? Who are you with? Why are you here? I hope you are on a journey to answering these questions with some sense of satisfaction. If not, start your search for all three. Pursue them. Pray for them. Step back and look for the ways they may have been there all along. Adjust your perspective. Pursue the most organic source of your people, place, and purpose in God, and in Jesus, his Son.
Are you minding your Ps? It’s not just about good manners. Life doesn’t mean much without them.