“Now, class, I’m going to give you an assignment,” the teacher said. “I want you to write a theme called ‘What I Want for Christmas.’” This pronouncement was followed by the agonized, collective groan of the entire classroom of children, except for one … Ralphie. He saw this essay as his final opportunity to make an impassioned plea to his parents for the only Christmas toy he really wanted: a Red Rider Carbine Action 200-Shot Range Model air rifle BB gun! If he could just write about why he wanted it, surely they would grant his wish.
You will recognize this scene from the classic movie, A Christmas Story. We watch it every Christmas, and last year was no exception. I could always relate to Ralphie—not to BB guns! Themes have always been a means for my personal expression. Unlike kids who loved multiple-guess exams, shooting scattershot hoping to hit a right answer, I preferred writing my way through to prove my point or out of a pinch if I didn’t know the answer. I figured I could write my way out of a paper bag if necessary.
Because I’ve loved themes, a number of years ago before the annual one-word phenomenon had become the rage, I decided to live my life by an annual, prayed-over theme. Some of mine have been completion, new beginning, and surrender. But if I’m honest, year after year, though I’d start with high hopes of researching my theme’s etymology and Biblical background, applying it to aspects of my life, my “theme-ometer” excitement dropped from fever passion to frigid petrification. Translation: My theme always died.
In 2016, half-way through the year without having made a dent into my theme, I finally realized that living by one was distracting me from living on-purpose. I already have a theme, and it’s my purpose statement.
I contacted my mentor, Christian author and purpose expert, Kevin McCarthy, with whom I have worked personally, for his opinion. Here’s what he said: “Writing one word for the year is useful for the focus and simplicity of vision (something you envision) or mission (something you do). The exercise is incomplete. It does nothing to inform who you are in Christ—your identity and purpose.”
Kevin is right. My purpose is not described by completion, a new beginning, or surrender. To the glory of God I exist to serve by encouraging transparency. My purpose statement is boiled down into just two words: encouraging transparency. Kevin, who wrote the excellent book, The On-Purpose Person, a deceptively simple and easily apprehended parable about purpose, claims that your purpose statement should be just two words. Initially I balked and told him so. But when Kevin asked me if I could recite my purpose at gunpoint, I couldn’t.
After working with him, I intensified my statement from a paragraph (or two!) to two potent words, describing why I believe God created me. Kevin claims if you have a long-winded purpose statement, you probably don’t know what your purpose is. By being able to state it in two words, you cut through confusion to your core essence and can easily remember and live it.
He’s right! I had mistakenly amalgamated my purpose, mission, and vision into one confusing mass. Kevin is the only purpose author I know who clearly differentiates between these three concepts, which most people mistakenly use interchangeably. They’re each unique, yet should complement each other.
Because I know God created me to encourage transparency, I’m clear about how to live.
When I remember my purpose (and don’t get theme-sidetracked), it is the precise focal point through which I filter how I relate to God, to others, and how I write, speak, and lead journaling classes. And when I encourage transparency in myself, Lynn recedes and Christ shines through!
May I highly commend to you The On-Purpose Person: Making Your Life Make Sense by Kevin W. McCarthy. In 2017, discover who you are, where you’re headed, what you should do, and what’s most important to you. Living your full purpose, not just a word a year, moves you beyond life’s surface to what matters most so you can make the most difference.
Note: If you’ve chosen your “one word” for 2017, don’t abandon it; surely, it can inspire. But I would still encourage you to know your purpose and let God use that to guide every aspect of your life.
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Lynn D. Morrissey
Latest posts by Lynn D. Morrissey (see all)
- Taking Wing – Letting Go and Release - May 23, 2017
- Living Sidetracked or On-Purpose - January 24, 2017
- The Mishaps of (Meno) Mentalpause - September 20, 2016
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Lynn, thank you for your beautiful blog post! Oh, how I would love to have a cup of coffee with you! Our hearts are in alignment and it would be so awesome to sip, share and encourage. I have been on an “unexpected, God-led ONE WORD journey for a decade. Yes, before the craze began. I did not expect to go on the journey, but God was and is in charge. He chooses my word (crazy story in itself) each year and we remain in relationship over it all year. For me the word is not a theme but a focus of growth with God and for God. I’m actually preparing for a class that I am teaching tomorrow about Goals, Dream and Purpose. Thank you for the book recommendation. I will share it with those in attendance! Rock on, my sister! YOUR Path Matters!
Robin, just wow! Thank you so very much for all your enthusiastic encouragement. I so greatly appreciate it! And yes, I can feel that our hearts are beating in sync. And how wonderful that one way in which you are living out your purpose is by sharing with and teaching other women. I thnk they would love Kevin’s book. It is so easy to grasp and a first reading and to apply. That said, as I had indicated, its simplicity is deceptive. There’s a lot of meat beneath the skin, so to speak. And Kevin encourages re-reading it every year, which I almost always do. Mine is highlighted and dog-earred. As I had said in my post, if you have a word, and God uses that to inspire you, go for it! I still would encourage you to read the book and to have a personal purpose retreat, b/c unlike your inspirational word, your purpose will never change. Kevin also talks about vision and values as well. I look forward to hearing about how God will use this in your life.
I have a tendency to TRY to reduce all of life to a formula. Thank you for this reminder that the Christian life is centered in a dynamic relationship with a real Person — one word or one driven thought can’t always capture all that God wants to do.
Michele, that is such an excellent point, and not something I could bring out as I would have liked, given my word count. 🙂 So I’m glad that you did. I recall reading Os Guinness’s The Call, and how he felt that one’s purpose was not formulaic and impossible to reduce to a statement. I certainly took his point. We are in relationship with the living God and He directs our purpose and our steps. We are constantly attentive to His leading and must continually follow His lead. And sometimes we will do things that seem to us far afield from our purpose (perhaps you read my essay here about the Hippopotamus Hypothesis, when God asked me to play a pink hippo to a church full of VBSers. I was hardly in my comfort zone, and I didn’t think it related to my purpose one bit! That said, God told me to do it, so I obeyed. He blessed my efforts as I shared the Gospel with young children who needed to know Christ.) But I will say that most often, God leads me in the direction of the purpose for which I believe He created me. Having a statement is not so much as having a formula, but a focal point through which to filter my life and to eliminate what distracts from it. It helps me to stay true to who I am in Christ and to let the rest go. But it also doesn’t mean I say, “I don’t do pink hippos, God, or I don’t do table set-up at church–or whatever.” I need to do what He says, but I can do it *with* purpose. I can be transparent as I encourage youngsters to know the Good News and also tell them my story about how I met the Savior. I can be transparent when I set up tables as I talk intimately with those who set them up with me and encourage them in their own work. (My purpose is “encouraging transparency). I was also telling someone on my FB page about this post–that one’s purpose statement (again, not just a pat, simplistic phrase for a kind of cardboard person), has much depth and nuance. Each of my two words is weighted with layers of meaning. It is so much fun, as we walk with the Lord, to see him peel the layers to reveal just who He has created us to be to best serve Him here on earth and ultimately in eternity! Thank you very much for commenting and for bringing up this important and necessary point!
Yes, I did read your Hippo essay, and remember it whenever I’m tempted to think, “That’s not my job” about ANYTHING! Thanks, Lynn, for sharing your words in so many places and on so many varying topics. I especially appreciated this essay, because this is the first year I’ve ever had a #OneWord365, and I’m curious as to what kind of impact it will have on my writing and on my living.
Ha! about that hippo! I almost didn’t publish that here. I surely didn’t want to seem flippant, and I am so surprised that it apparently resonated with a number of women. I’m so touched by your kind words, Michele. Thank you. And actually, I do think you will be informed by your word. They have been helpful and inspiring. But for me, ultimately, I realized that they distracted. And bear in mind, that I can really get sidetracked easily (and it may not affect you that way at all). Beyond the inspiration that I did receive, I do know that God wants me living on purpose, and so if I can do that much, it will be a miracle! 🙂
Hi Lynn, I love this and appreciate your portion and how you do accomplish your purpose of encouraging transparency! I know you have shared Kevin with me before and I have read some of his online articles, thank you for that as well. I do feel that I am very clear on my purpose, and one of the reasons I wit for God to reveal a One Word, and am always surprised when He does, is it always seems to have a significant and powerful influence or impact on how I believe He wants to shape me that year with regard to my purpose- and it absolutely directs my focus and vision for the year. So I find the One Word journey, always sharpens, and highlights an area He is increasing in understanding, depth or influence for a season. I’m sharing – Love, and hugs!
Thank you so much for your kind words and for sharing your perspective, and how God has so clearly revealed your purpose and has enhance it via a one-word focus. As I had said in my postscript, I’m not discouraging it. Surely one words can inspire. I think the key is to be sure of what your purpose is and not to live by the one-word themes alone. If they are frosting on the cake, they can enhance. But if the cake is half-baked, they won’t be able to decorate the underlying mixture. They can’t stick to it. So go for your word and live your purpose. In my case, I just finally realized I was focusing more on that and almost pushing myself to live out the word rather than spending my time and life on-purpose. Again, the main thing is to know who you are in the Lord and why He created you. I love too Kevin’s emphasis on differentiating among purpose, mission/s, vision/s, and values. They are not the same but beautifully work together. I love how you live out your purpose to glorify God and to bless others. I know that you have surely blessed me!
Oh, Lynni! I also liked the essay questions best, for the same reasons, and I guess I’ve tried to answer life’s questions with essays as well! This year I just couldn’t boil my own “theme” down to “one word,” or even two or three, because new words kept popping up, grabbing my attention and making me ponder. Your words here, passing on the wisdom from Kevin McCarthy, are very helpful to me at this very moment. I’m surprised how quickly a two-word “purpose” answer popped up, and how easily a three-word mission followed. Maybe it was too fast (another sidetracking?), so I don’t share it yet here. But wow, I don’t think so. Thanks for the good thoughts. I think it would do me good to check out the On Purpose book, too.
Sylvie! Knowing the articulate wordsmith you are, I can just imagine your high-school English teachers’ delight at reading and pondering over your essays. I’ll bet they contained nary a red correction!! What a gift your words and manner of expression are . . . and moreover, your deep thinking. Thank you for taking time to *transparently* 🙂 reflect here. I would encourage you to read Kevin’s book (and this is not a commercial :-)) for his understanding of the differences in all of these terms and also in how they intertwine. I don’t believe in happenstance, and suspect God had me write this now for a purpose! I would suspect He is giving you breakthrough. Go with it! See if it fits. Kevin has shown me that sometimes we have to work with it and tweak, and that when it is right, we will truly know. He challenged me on my statement (not in a pushy way), but to get me to think. He suggested possible alternatives. But once I had this statement, I knew it was IT. Some of the other elements in my statement in the past were actually mission statements. I’m excited to see what God is doing in your life!
How can it not be a wining post with an intro from A Christmas Story!
Thanks for your thought provoking words and insight, Lynn. I tend to boil things down to the fewest words and principles naturally. Not because I’m bright, perhaps, just the opposite, but this one makes sense.
Thanks for beautiful and encouraging words, as always.
Ha, Floyd! That really made me laugh aloud. I just love that darling story, and my mother adores it…. it’s like a walk back into her childhood. Admittedly, though, she never stuck her tongue to a flagpole in the cold (and I might add, never will!) Thanks for your kind words. As well you know, brevity is assuredly NOT my strong suit. But I think Kevin makes sense. Given what you have said as well, maybe brevity is a “guy” thing. 🙂 (Like Michael’s little blurb in our Christmas newsletter, huh? . . . which, incidentally I have *still* not sent–long story)! And speaking of stories . . . boy, can you spin them. You’re such a wonderful storyteller–so gifted. Thanks very much for stopping by!
I laughed when I read “I could write myself out of a bag.” because that was me in college.
I read your post with interest and encouragement (ordered the book) and realized I always felt uncomfortable with the “one word” because the Creator made us more complex than that. I can’t even handle three words. I don’t know clearly my purpose, but my desire is to live with a yielded heart to let Him have His way in my life. To make the invisible Lord visible to seeking hearts cannot be melted down into one word or even two. What do you think about that?
Thanks again, my sweet dear friend, for your encouragement.
Yes, of course, Chris. You’re right on! See what Michele said above, and my response to her (and I love the Guinness book too). We are intricately, beautifully designed creations of God, and indeed He has woven us wonderfully. I think though that Kevin’s idea of a two-word purpose statement is based on the idea of getting to the essence of us–what is the most pressing purpose for which we are designed, and how will we live that out? what will we do? The how and the doing are really the missions God gives us to accomplish. Many people confuse the two. Also understand that your purpose is multi-layered. It has many nuances, and I live out my purpose in a myriad of ways through my various roles as daughter of the King, wife, mother, sister, aunt, friend, ministry leader, author, speaker, singer, etc. Maybe this will give you a glimpse of how deep your purpose is. I’m so glad you ordered Kevin’s book, because I think it will help you to see what I’m aiming it (and not saying it nearly as well as he). I have also worked w/ kevin personally, which I’d recommend (and I promise this is not a commercial). He didn’t even know I’d write about this, till I asked him for a quote. 🙂 I love how you put everything in your life before the Lord, seek His will, and strive to obey. I love that you know how complex and intricately made you are, because YOU ARE!
Always love hearing your thoughts…
My beautiful, newlywed, talented friend! That you would even drop by here on your honeymoon is simply amazing! And I ALWAYS love hearing your thoughts, dearest Christin. More soon, dear one!
And love always now to your prince!
Thanks for such lovely food for thought, my friend. I too am drawn not so much to one word but more of a whole on what God is leading… and have had a post in mind for awhile along those lines. I know the one word tradition has spoken to many hearts, and as you said if He leads then certainly go with it. But it also has seemed limiting to me… And I hear Him calling us to speaking words of joy over others too… Always love seeing you post!
Thanks so much for reading, Pam. I always appreciate your time and perspective. I thnk you do speak words of joy often via your blog, your art, and your personal emails, cards, and letters. You exude joy, in fact. And yes, I’m by no means telling people the one-word focus is wrong; it can be inspiring. It’s just that I don’t believe we can allow it to supersede purpose. Life’s short, so being on-purpose is paramount. So lovely to see you here!