Purpose as a Path to Stability

All month we are talking about stability. Stability is often equated with a sense of predictability or control. Many single parents feel as if they have none of that. We can feel lost when things are out of our control and then even more defeated as we continue in our struggles. We want stability to be something we can grasp and hang on to but what if stability isn’t actually realized in something tangible, like money or the physical? What if finding stability is less about absolute assurance, and more about possibility and contribution?

Marissa, a single mom to two kids, shares that she began thinking about what stability is and what it isn’t after reading an article about the brain. The author shared that brains scans reveal that our brain lights up in the same way when we experience emotional pain that it does from physical pain. If you look at a brain being scanned, you can't tell the difference between whether the subject is being physically hurt or emotionally hurt. The results look the same in the brain. These findings are significant because it reveals something we instinctively know, which is that emotional pain isn’t something we can minimize or manage by pulling our boots up a little bit higher and just walking on from it. Emotional pain impacts us like physical pain does.

There is no shame in feeling emotional pain. It is real and the impact is measurable. The author discovered this firsthand after her divorce when lab results revealed she was experiencing inflammation, high levels of stress hormones, and negative effects on her immune system. She had insomnia, an eye twitch, heart palpitations, and changes in her weight. She even developed type one diabetes. While healthy before her divorce, she was astonished at what the stress and pain did to her physical body. It became very clear to her that these physical manifestations were a result of the deeply emotional pain she was going through.

This discovery led her to want to understand more about the inner workings of the brain while also wanting to figure out what might help her find more stability and peace. She tried all kinds of things toward that end, including self-care like facials, wine, and ice cream. She tried EMDR, and meditation. She even went on a solo kayaking trip on the Colorado river only to discover how lonely she felt doing that. Each time she tried something new, she would have labs done.
Finally, after trying various things, two years after her divorce, she started to turn a corner in her physical health. Research has shown it takes an average of four years for people to recover their equilibrium after divorce and that rang true for her.

During this process, one of the doctors working on this experiment about the impacts of emotional pain on the brain found that a sense of purpose was more protective of physical health than reported happiness or sociability. Having a sense of mission or purpose, something that makes you feel useful, helped those studied feel more stability and peace.
That was true for this author too. After trying wine, ice cream, sex, relationships, meditation, the only thing that really started helping her feel more stable was finding a sense of purpose. After that, everything was better for her, including physically.

When you add a sense of purpose to pain, it makes the pain bearable. If you're about to have a baby, the experience can be unpleasant - swollen ankles, changes to your body, everything hurting constantly - and yet there is a purpose in all of this. There is  joy in knowing that what you are going through has a purpose and that purpose makes the difficulties more bearable. Sometimes when you're going through something that's broken, like illness or divorce or death or   loss, it's a lot harder to see the purpose behind it. But, if we can find purpose, it helps.  

Marissa shares that six months before her husband died leaving her a single mom, God gave her a new job. People thought she was crazy to be interviewing for jobs while her husband was sick, but she needed a sense of purpose to help her wake up every morning. After her husband dies, she also found a sense of purpose in raising her kids, and from being part of Solo Parent Society. These aren’t overnight fixes but finding purpose is very helpful when we experience emotional pain.  

Robert Beeson, founder of Solo Parent Society, couldn't agree more. It was during his solo years that the vision for Solo Parent Society started. His only experience had been in the music business but, as a single dad for eight years, he found himself blogging about his experience. Those blogs later turned into a book which then turned into the organization.

At the time he was writing, he remembers thinking how alone he was. He couldn't find any resources for single parents as he set out to keep track of what was going on in his life. He found purpose in writing those things down, and not only did it turn into an organization, but it also gave him day to day purpose for the pain he was going through. Pursuing that daily purpose to record his experiences brought him stability during the struggles even though he had no idea the book or organization would ever come to be. Robert shares, “So often we look at people who are accomplished and we think, “I want to be there” but really our purpose is in today. It's in how we interact with other people, how we take on what's given to us today.” God can work out the details eventually.

Rather than imagining a purpose in the future, when the pain may be less or the transition be “over”,  the question we need to ask is “How can I be present today even as I am going forward?” When we ask that, it helps us find purpose now and it takes  pressure off knowing what the future holds which is often out of our control anyway.

As single parents, one of the things we can focus on is how we interact with our children. We can find purpose in our long-term goal to teach our children how to be good adults. That focus can bring stability in the middle of the unknowns.

Single mom, Kimberley Mitchell, shares she felt like a failure when she got divorced but that her solo parent journey helped her realize God’s purpose for her in raising her kids. Part of that was serving in their community. They volunteered at everything, especially at church. That focus helped her find purpose, and not just for her, but for her kids also because they were going through pain too. During that season they couldn’t give money, but they could give of their time. That focus reminded them of their purpose and that there is always someone going through something harder than you are.

Sometimes when we think of stability or purpose, we think we will find it in money or a relationship or accomplishment but so often what God is doing in our lives is about personal transformation. It's not really about predictability or comfort. It's about who we are becoming. It about feeling comfortable about the future without feeling like we need to achieve something or have a specific outcome. It’s finding purpose in the process and in who we are as God transforms us.

Of course, there are so many places we find ourselves where we cannot find a purpose in the struggle and that can be defeating. We may wonder, what is the purpose of a divorce or loss in our lives. Numbers, 19: 7-9 describes the process of how Israelites were told to sacrifice animals to cover their sin. The priests were called to take cedarwood, hyssop, and scarlet wool, and cast them into the midst of a burning fire. Then, the priests were told to wash in this as purification from sin.
How is this relevant to our struggle and finding purpose? This is the recipe for soap. The ashes are what makes lye, and when you mix that with water you end up with soap. Even better is learning that hyssop is antibacterial, antiviral, and anti- inflammatory. God gave the Israelites a recipe for antibacterial soap. He didn't reveal to them in the process of sacrifice, He had an additional purpose.  There isn’t an explanation provided. He just said, “If you do this, you will be rewarded.” Fast forward in history to 14th century Europe when the bubonic plague was killing everybody. The only people who survived were the Jews who were used to cleansing themselves through biblical methods.

It may look like God is asking you to make an incredibly difficult sacrifice, but God may be using that for a greater purpose to protect you and care for you in your struggles. As we continue to follow Him, He can use every one of these difficult times for greater purpose and to create stability. Marissa shares those moments where she felt most unstable were times God was using to give her a stronger foothold in Him. In those moments, He helped her believe there was a greater purpose going on than appeared. When we believe that “all things are working together for good”, we can find a sense of purpose that can become a pathway to stability.

Kimberley shares that her mom who lives in Canada will reach out and leave her encouraging messages. Recently she shared something she heard related to the difference between finding purpose in our talents rather than the things God calls us to focus on in Philippians 4:8.
Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”
She shares, “Certain people have some talents. Other people don't have those talents. Talents are just given out here and there. You can't always live by your talents, but everybody has the same “whatsoevers”, and everybody has to live by their “whatsoevers”. Your “whatosevers” are more important than your talents and things you do.”

When we can focus on loving God and seeking Him daily by focusing on the “whatsoevers”  He brings us each day, that takes away doubt and fear and brings a sense of purpose and stability instead. And we can all do that. We can seek Him in the things in our life that are true, good, honest, pure, and lovely.  

So, when it comes to finding stability, it starts with finding purpose in our daily lives. Rather than focusing on what we want our life to be like in the future, we can look for purpose in the here and now. Second, we can find purpose in the struggle. We can trust that God is refining and transforming us through the trials we are facing. Third there is purpose in what we can give to others, right now. We can find purpose in the “whatsoevers” of our current circumstances. There is nothing we are going through that God can't use for our good and for His purposes.

Even when things feel unstable and uncertain, there is a purpose in the brokenness in our lives. God made us for this very moment and He has seen everything we have walked through. We can find a great sense of purpose and stability knowing He is in control and that He is working all things together for our good.

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