Recently I had the chance to watch the movie “Me Before You.” When it originally came out, I didn’t want to watch it because it seemed like just a cheesy romantic movie. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the movie goes beyond romance to raise some thought-provoking questions. The story centers around a young woman named Louise who gets a job as a caretaker for a young paraplegic man. The man was injured only a few months before, and is angry and disillusioned with his life. During the course of the story, Louise discovers that he has decided to have an assisted suicide. She attempts to dissuade him by showing him how he can enjoy life even with his limitations, but [spoiler alert] at the end of the movie he goes through with it anyway. He sees no hope in his current life.
This movie deals with many questions, but the one that struck a chord with me the most is this: “I never wanted my life to be this way. Is it possible to find a new purpose?” I have had to answer this question, along with many people that I know. Christians, especially in the missionary community, ask this question about their calling to serve God. “God, I was going to do great things for you, but now my life has changed. How can I serve you the way things are now?”
My dream for as long as I could remember was to go into missions, and I built my life around that dream. I also wanted to get married, so when I met a man who also wanted to go into missions it seemed like a perfect fit – until a few months after we were married, when he realized he didn’t actually want to go. I understood why he changed his mind; the role he would have been put in would not have been a good fit. But, my dreams for my life came crashing to the ground. I didn’t understand why God would take away something good that I was doing to serve Him. The question of “Why did this happen?” is one for another blog post, but the second question I had to ask was, “What do I do now?” I hardly knew who I was without missions. I had loved the life I was heading toward. Outside of that life, could I find a new purpose, a new calling, a new way to serve God?
The answer was yes, but getting to yes was a difficult process. I had to submit myself to God in a way that I had not done before. I had to make the conscious decision that I would serve God wherever I was, not just on the mission field. So, I began looking at where I was and looking for how I could serve God there. I felt that my first calling was to marriage. So I did the best I could to serve and honor my husband in marriage. I also wanted to find a way to use my degree and to reach out to international people, so I began teaching ESL. I never felt “called” to ESL in the same way that I felt called to missions, but I did it anyway to serve God where I was. Later, my husband joined the military and I knew my life would change again. I had never had any interest in the military before then, so I had to make the conscious decision again to find a way to serve God there. I determined in my mind that I would find a way to serve God as a military wife, starting by leading a Bible study for other military wives. If you know my story, you know that I never actually got to that point because my husband left me while he was in bootcamp. Once again I was left with a life that I never would have chosen. I had to ask God again, “Can I serve you here? Can I find purpose in life as a divorced single mother?” I truly feel that God has blessed me for my faithfulness through all these circumstances by opening the door for me to be involved in missions once again.
As I re-evaluated my life during the shock of that first change, one of the things that helped me make the decision to find a new way to serve God was someone’s life story that I heard while I was engaged. A missionary woman that I met had come through a situation similar to what I was facing. She too had been heading into missions for her whole life, but got married and had to leave that dream behind. She told me that she decided to “throw herself into being a housewife.” She and her husband were able to return to missions later, but only after she had submitted that dream to God and found purpose in a new life. I thought of her words when I was wrestling with finding a new life purpose. I had an example of finding a new purpose, so I knew that it was possible.
While I was watching “Me Before You” I was hoping Louise would help the paraplegic man find joy by finding a new life purpose. She tried to show him he could enjoy life’s activities, but didn’t get to the deeper level of life purpose. He had loved his previous life, and saw no way to love his current (and undeniably more painful and difficult) life. He saw no possible way to find purpose in his life, and no one came alongside him to help him find it.
So, I have two thoughts on this subject. First, we need to make the determination that we will serve God wherever we are. Very few people have life turn out the way they anticipated. Rather than being blindsided by life’s changes, we should be prepared to say to God, “I will serve you wherever I am. I will find purpose in whatever life you give me.” Second, we need to teach each other this truth. It’s hard to say this to each other without sounding cynical, but I think we need to find a way to do that. To say to each other, “Follow your dreams, but be prepared to serve God wherever He puts you, even when it’s not where you expected,” and then when we see life changing to say to each other, “How can you serve God here?”
Ultimately, what I have learned is that God desires our devotion rather than our service. If you devote yourself to Him no matter where you are, He will bless you. Maybe He will allow you to find your original purpose again, but that is not guaranteed. What is guaranteed is that He will give you more of Himself. It is having Him that will allow you to live in joy no matter what your life circumstances.