A Chance to Make Things Better Or Worse {Book Club}

A brief announcement to save you money :)! Our January book is As Soon As I Fell by Kay Bruner.  Kay let me know the book will be on sale after American Thanksgiving this week. If you buy the paperback you get the kindle version for free (so you can keep the kindle and have a present for someone else!). More information about  As Soon As I Fell as we get closer — but I didn’t want you to miss out on the sale! And if that’s not enough, she’s got an advent book based on Handel’s Messiah.


Does the word “purpose” evoke weariness in you? I get it, I believe in it, I’m grateful for it, and I want to not feel guilty about living a life of purpose.

In  An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor dials purpose down to its bare essence, “While my chosen vocation gave me a really good job in the divine work of creation, it remained a subset of a larger vocation, which was the job of loving God and neighbor as myself.”

Isn’t that balm to our souls? “A subset of a larger vocation” — what we are doing at the moment doesn’t have to go from grand gesture to grand gesture! Sometimes living with purpose might involve a diet coke, bowl of Cheetos (I’m living in fantasy land now), and either a movie or a chat with a friend. If I’m loving her as I would myself, then this might be the most purposeful to do.

I don’t know about you, but this word “purposeful” can be one I stumble on. Over the years I’ve seen folks who were, from my vantage point (so we know it’s flawed), basically taking a long holiday on their supporters money. I don’t think that is loving your neighbor as yourself.

I’ve also seen the other extreme with cross-cultural workers do and do and do and never take a break. They come up with compelling reasons. It drives me nuts when they are ushered “up front” — either in organizational newsletters or material or at conferences — and held up as the model. Have they not read the good news of the gospel? Christ died so that we are no longer slaves to the law and we don’t have to earn our keep or prove our value by the worth of our work.

Truth be told, we all probably have a propensity to tilt towards one side or the other. Are you more likely to give yourself a break or do just a little bit more?

In reference to what Barbara learned from Luther she wrote, “Every one of these tools [acting towards our neighbors as we would ourselves] gave me ample opportunity to choose kindness over meanness. Every one of them offered me the chance to recognize the divine in human form, inviting me out of myself long enough to engage someone whose fears, wants, loves, and needs were at least as important as my own. Of course, they also gave me ample opportunity to act like a jerk, missing my purpose by a mile. Yet even this turned out to be helpful, since recognizing my jerkdom is how I remember that is not who I want to be.”

Choosing kindness over meanness. That IS living with purpose. Amen?

One last thought on this chapter. I enjoyed hearing about the different jobs she’d had as they helped expose her to those different from her. I’ll share in the comments, but I’d love to hear some of the different jobs you’ve had over the years and who is have exposed you to.

Oh and one last, last comment :). Last week after I looked up Adam’s name based on our discussion of introverts I now have many, many books about introverts and church or ministry recommended to me by amazon. Can’t wait to see what our discussion leads to that has me looking up more books. Thanks!

Over to you :). How do you live with purpose? What thoughts stirred in you as you read, underlined, and starred. Any points you disagree with? You know my mantra, disagreements welcome too! This book is a place to start the discussion, not to end it.


P.S. Next week we’ll looking at the Practice of Saying No

Disclosure : Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

Photo Credit : Unsplash


  1. Elizabeth November 25, 2014

    All our vocations being a “subset of a larger vocation,” that is so, so, so true. And such a good reminder that our main purpose in life is to love God and others. Easy to forget . . . too easy to forget. . . too easy to choose meanness over kindness. . .

    And I really resonate with the extremes you’ve seen, both the long term vacation-type, and the workaholics. Though I must admit, I see much more workaholism than any laziness. Far away from the source of your salary, yes, if you are a person who struggles with motivation to work, especially in a job that is very flexible, then living abroad gives you the perfect opportunity not to work. And it will be hidden for awhile before being discovered. But far more people seem so stretched to the max, overworking out of fear of not seeing results or being accused of being lazy, or something else internal. And you are right, that is not good for families. My husband and I are constantly having these types of discussions for our own family/marriage. Are we giving enough time to our family, are we allocating our time resources wisely, and in line with our vision? It is HARD to balance work and family life overseas! (At least, it is for us.)

    1. Elizabeth November 25, 2014

      So . . . I always hit enter too soon . . . and end up having more to say . . . 🙂

      There were some really important points in this chapter on “calling” or “life purpose” which I admit evangelicals get a bit obsessed over. I was the same way at one point which is why her point was so good. “Earlier in my life I thought there was one particular thing I was supposed to do with my life. I thought that God had a purpose for me and my main job was to discover what that was.” I so totally relate to this statement, and I absolutely LOVED what she said God told her a few pages later: “Anything that pleases you, and belong to me.”

      Over the years I have come to believe much more like this, that I can serve and honor God in many ways, and it’s much more about my relationship with Him than the specific job. Although I still feel “called” to do what I do now, what this attitude does is release me (and others!) from the pressure of finding The One Thing, and the fear of what will happen if I fail to find it. It’s such a blessed release.

      1. Amy Young November 26, 2014

        Agreed!! Some how I got the message that basically anything that wasn’t sin (i.e. selling illegal drugs, or becoming a prostitute) could be equally viable paths to a life of service. I believe I WAS called to the field — but I only heard clearly “two years” after that, which was an act of obedience, it felt more laced with choice :). I have no idea if that makes any sense!

    2. Amy Young November 26, 2014

      I’m smiling as I read this! It is hard! I think it’s so helpful to remember we’re all going to face pulls :). This might be totally incorrect, and most likely is, but I’m going to take a risk and say it anyway. OK, this is hard to say out loud. Please don’t throw anything at me :). As a single woman working with mostly single women and married men, my married co-workers had a spouse and possibly children who kept reminding them that life needs to be balanced. THEY too needed attention. So, they’d go home for meals or spend the weekends doing family things — leaving the singles to bear more of the load “because you have more time to give.” Often we were very willing to pick up the slack and work harder (as you noted, most of us are wired to work hard :)!). .. but every now and then a spirit of frustration would come in — are the singles less worthy of protection? Are we willing to work them to death because there are “more where they came from.” See, I know this might not be popular. And as I said, I/we loved and valued our married men co-workers and their spouses and families. I just want to gently say, work/rest balance isn’t something only for married folks :).And I don’t think you meant that!!!! I’m just tossing the conversational ball around 🙂


      1. Elizabeth November 26, 2014

        I won’t throw anything at you Amy!! You’re right, I wasn’t mentioning singles, mostly because I don’t have that experience (got married at 18), and also because at the moment, I feel I am drowning in my family life. So many things to do! So many needs! My husband has tons of work to do (but who doesn’t??), and we’ve got 4 kids, 3 of whom I homeschool, and it’s exhausting. So yeah, wasn’t thinking about singles, not because I think they (you) should work harder than everyone else, but simply because it’s not what I’m facing right now 🙂 On our team I have not yet run into what you’re talking about, because our team is in the beginning stages and we’re still quite small, with no singles yet. So although I haven’t personally seen what you’re talking about, I can imagine it happening (ouch!), and I’m a big believer in everyone getting the rest they need. So yeah, an oversight, but only because I’m overwhelmed, and not because I think you need to work more 🙂 Sorry that’s happening to you 🙁 But I wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving today 🙂

        1. Amy Young November 28, 2014

          Oh Elizabeth, I didn’t mean to imply it was an oversight (though I can see how I did :), I”m charming that way! Sorry!). More I was continuing the conversation 🙂 and saying this can be a struggle for all of us. I was reading on Momestary this week: http://momastery.com/blog/2014/11/24/travel-light/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=travel-light

          I’ve been thinking of your word “drowning” — and it’s had me praying for you as you come to mind this past day! I’m sure you and your husband have talked about this — but it seems so often we’re given tips on how to combine things or do them more efficiently or encouraged to remove things so that we can add more. Is there one or two things you and your family could remove from your lives? schedules? Just flat our remove? Not to add more (other than more sanity!), but simply to create a little margin? I know you’re at a crazy busy phase of life! Thanks for chatting 🙂

          1. Elizabeth November 30, 2014

            No problem Amy!! I can be charming too! LOL. But I think we all have difficulty stepping outside our own stories, which is why these kinds of conversations are so important 🙂

            As for your question about what to eliminate, yes, we have been talking about these things lately. One of the problems is that we have just not made our relationship a priority lately. We are tired, so instead of having important heart to heart conversations, we end up watching movies or wasting time on Facebook. But that is not refreshing to our souls. It’s this downward cycle — too tired to do the things that actually give us the energy to feel better, which is what we need. So yeah, trying to eliminate excess technology so we can have the time/energy to be better for our kids and each other, and honestly, for myself, because I have not had the best attitude lately.

            Actually, I am hoping the Christmas season goes more slowly than the past months. I know it sounds ridiculous to say that, but my kids extracurricular activities are done till the new year, and I’m hoping that gives us the extra padding in our schedule to breathe. And now that I’m sitting here responding to this, I realize that the last several months have been somewhat crazy for us, so it’s no wonder I feel this way. We hosted an intern at our house for a month in the summer (exhausting). Then we started our school year. Then we welcomed new teammates, and that very same week, another teammate had a really bad moto accident that required my husband to be gone at the hospital a bunch, including one overnight. Right now my parents are visiting which is great but puts you out of normal. So wow, looking back, I’m realizing that was a lot. And it seemed we never recovered from one thing before another hit. The social calendar for December looks pretty empty right now, and I’d like to keep it that way! I really want to do this advent thing a bit more calmly than the past several months. In January we are going to Chiang Mai for a break. Scheduled it ahead of time, before we thought we needed it, b/c our first two years overseas we did NOT take good breaks, and we regretted it. This time we thought we’d avoid it by planning ahead of time, and I’m really glad we did, b/c I think I’m really going to need it. I hope that didn’t sound whiny. But only now that I’m typing this did I realize what’s been going on in my life!

  2. Elizabeth November 25, 2014

    P.S. Super excited you are going through As Soon as I Fell and Expectations and Burnout in the next year (I think Danielle mentioned that a few weeks ago). Both books were hugely helpful to me this past year! And being able to discuss them in a group will, I’m sure, be even more helpful in absorbing the material. 🙂

    1. Amy Young November 26, 2014

      Me too! Thought I’ve read “An Altar” before, I know after this fall, I’ll remember it so much better :)! And the same with the two books — except that I’ve about memorized the Expectations Book I love it so much. Still, can’t wait to discuss it and add to and expand my understanding on expectations!



  3. Jenny November 25, 2014

    I also really resonated with the stress of the ONE THING, and often in my life have been all knotted up in trying to get it right in finding it instead of resting in Jesus as the Author and Perfector of my faith, the Guide in my life.  Way too often I have believed the lie that it is about me hearing rightly (and not sure I have) instead of a simple trust in Him directing my path.  Decisions like where do I go to college? who do I marry? where in the world do I live? used to be fraught with tension as I prayed and fasted and hoped I was hearing some Answer and Getting It Right.

    Just now we are in the process of buying our first house and I have approached this major decision differently.  Before we even started looking I knew that my tendency would be to feel stressed out by finding just the right one and making sure it was the right one.  So I asked God to help me trust Him to lead us each step of the way, and my prayers for the ‘right’ house have been more about His guidance and leading.  And so far this has been the most peace filled decision I can remember, where my trust is really in HIm to lead and direct rather than the pressure being on me to distill some Answer.

    I really appreciate her exhortation throughout the book to get our heads out of the clouds and back into reality wherever God has put us.  It reminds me of Kathleen Norris’s essay about laundry and dishes and cleaning (I can’t remember the name of it right now), something which gave me new life in a season of a lot of work living in a logistically hard place.

    I have been mulling on this quote, “With all kinds of opportunities to tell people what to think, He (Jesus) told them what to do instead.”  As a lot of my internal paradigms about service are shifting, i’m wrestling with this simplicity.  I know that in other seasons i have served to have a sense of worth for myself, to please others, and earn God’s favor, and I’m walking out of that and into a healthier truthful relationship with God in which I am simply and purely loved, not for any performance.  In that I have stepped back from service in some ways because I know my tendency for it to confuse things in my heart.  But service/loving others still IS what Jesus taught and calls followers too, knowing that many of us will wrongly seek our worth in it.  I may well be overthinking or over theologizing, what do you think?


    1. Amy Young November 26, 2014

      Oh Jenny, so many thoughts as I read your comment :). First isn’t ONLY ONE right job, marriage partner, number of children, house, you name it … more like the chains of the law and less like the freedom of the gospel?! So much potential to blow it and getting it “right” seems like a needle in the haystack. I love the practical ways this is manifesting in your life right now with buying a house (which has got to be stressful enough without looking for THE ONE).

      Over thinking? It seems more like healthy wresting and processing. It does seem Jesus mentioned doing — and I’d need to go back and look at the context more carefully, this is off the cuff — but it could be that the people thought their thinking was right and Jesus is saying, “Are you kidding me? If your thinking was right, it would be reflected in your behavior. DO right so I’ know you’re Thinking right.” So, maybe for you, “doing right” is doing less showing that your thinking is right (your value is not tied to your performance). Ah, the paradox of the gospel. If only it were a formula :). But then we wouldn’t have these discussions that push us (at least me) further and to really interact with what I’m reading/learning/living :)!

      Thoughts, anyone, in response?

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