This is Supposed to be a Great Post {Book Club}

On his blog, Donald Miller asks “What makes a meaningful life?” And in part he answered:

Viktor Frankl spent most of his life studying the mystery of meaning, and amazingly, he came up with a prescription for how we can experience it ourselves.

His prescription was remarkably simple:

1. Have a project you’re working on that requires your unique skills and abilities. And preferably a project that helps others.

2. Share your experience within the context of safe, loving relationships.

3. Find a redemptive perspective on your suffering and challenges.

I found myself saying, yes, yes, yes. Purpose, connection, and redemptive suffering, that does about sum up the kind of life I want to live.  And we are also circling back to earlier ideas we’ve touched on here at Velvet Ashes – in particular I’m thinking of the time and space we collectively invested in discussing and wrestling with suffering.

Brene moves us from a meaningful life and with Guidepost #9 has us looking at meaningful work. We’re a group familiar with the idea of calling, aren’t we? I’d be willing to bet many of us had to discuss our calling during the interview/vetting process if you are some form of support. Now, please understand I think it calling in our line of work IS important. But I also think we can elevate it, at times, to almost idol-like status. And we can rank what we consider to be worthy callings. And if we have it too nice, you might as well know that some of the “meaning” of your work just went down the drain.

I’d ask for a show of hands as to who has troubles explaining what they do in a neat and tidy answer. But then I wouldn’t be able to see you over the sea of hands. Part of it is that we have our own lingo that those outside of the biz don’t know. You’d think I’d learn, but I still blithely talk about Member Care when people ask about my job and more often than not am greeted by blank stares. Oh, right, people don’t use CP, fellowships, member care, or TCKs as a part of their everyday vocab.

But it’s more than just vocabulary, we have gone a bit off script as to what the world says is meaningful. I am a “slash” person as Brene calls it. I live a slash life. I know slash people. And so do you. And more important, so are you.

If only it were all rosy, right? Sadly, we too know the underbelly of “supposed-to’s” and have added to them with a “bless her heart!” Isn’t she supposed to spend more time educating her kids, bless her heart? Isn’t the husband supposed to be the head of the house? What’s he doing washing dishes, bless his heart? Isn’t she supposed to trust God for a husband? What’s she doing on e-harmony, bless her heart?

Brene suggests looking at our “supposed to list” and asking “Who says?” and “Why?” A big one of my supposed to is around work. I’m supposed to work from 8 to 5 right? Except we don’t have those kinds of jobs, so this “supposed to” is the one I wrestle with the most as I try to live out meaningful work in a non-traditional context.

How about you, what stood out in this chapter? How are you with cultivating meaningful work into your normal everyday life? What are the challenges of letting go of supposed tos? What subtle ways does our line of work impact your understanding and relationship with meaningful and supposed tos??


P.S. Here are the posts related to The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown:


Disclosure : Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 
Photo Credit: JoelMontes via Compfight cc


  1. Elisa May 5, 2014

    First of all…Amy, I LOVE the title! 😉 Way to really stick with the theme!

    What were my take-aways?

    1) She nailed it, when she was describing the gremlins using the “battle cry of fitting-in, perfectionism, people-pleasing, and proving ourselves.”–AKA “supposed to”.   “Supposed to” is the phrase that I’ve learned is my “orange light” (possible yellow or possibly red) warning me that a there might be lie threatening to highjack what I know to be true, namely my identity in Christ.  The “supposed to” deceives and masquerades as light; using my christian-ese vocabulary and knowledge of scripture to proof-text it’s veracity.

    2) I also found this quote from Brené particularly interesting: “Self doubt is letting our fear undermine our faith.”  Does she mean to say that this is the definition of self doubt?  That’s how I read it initially. But then I got to thinking that serious “self-doubt” seems to breed doubt in God. Not to mention that when I’m struggling with self-doubt I’m mainly focused on MYSELF instead of God.  How did the rest of you read this sentence?  Is what I’m writing making any sense?  This all reminded me of a dear counselor I once had that looked at me one day (after giving me the homework of writing down who I was in Christ) and said, “Elisa, do you think God is a liar?…..Then why don’t you believe who He says you are in Him?”  I guess then my conclusion then is, is self-doubt really just another way to say that we aren’t trusting God?  I’ll more easily admit to self-doubt, but when it comes down to it am I really just doubting who God says that I am?

    1. Brittany May 6, 2014


      Good way of looking at “supposed to” as being a warning that there might be a lie coming to hijack the truth!  I’m going to have to remember that for myself.

      I completely understand what you are taking about with self-doubt.  I think it’s impossible to separate doubting ourselves from doubting the Creator of myself.  I think it’s a great, and helpful connection.

  2. Elisa May 5, 2014

    One more question for all you book clubbers:

    What other questions do you ask people when you’re trying to get to know them that are better than…”What do you do?”  I found myself asking this at a Sunday School party in the states just this past weekend and I thought, “I don’t even know how to answer that question well, why am I asking it of others.”  Any good ideas?  I’d love to hear them!

    1. Polly May 6, 2014

      So, what does a normal week for you look like?

      How do you spend your time?

      Or if you know what they do…you could ask along the “examen” questions: what do you find life-giving/life-taking (enjoyable/challenging)?

      I realize that the first two questions could be answered with, “well, I go to work and then…,” which would unfortunately lead back to the “what do you do [for work]” question.  Hmmm.  But at least you find out a bit more than just what their job is.

  3. Brittany May 6, 2014

    I’ve got a problem here because I just don’t even know what my gifts and talents are.  Or maybe I’m getting so bogged down by “supposed tos”…I don’t even know.  I’ve always struggled with figuring out what I’m good at.

    Ok, ya’ll, seriously, I journaled about this this morning and contemplated it while reading the chapter.  And then as I’m typing out the comment above, the Holy Spirit just plops it in my brain.  I’ve been thinking about it all wrong because I’ve been trying to figure out what label I’m “supposed to” wear.  Hm, I like cooking/baking…is that a gift that can bring meaning to my life?  Maybe.  I like to sing, but since I had my first baby, my abilities changed quite a bit…am I “supposed to” cultivate that even though I don’t think it’s really a gift anymore?  I feel like my life has meaning even though I’m pretty much just at home with my kids all day or doing language learning.  Can I cultivate meaningful work in that??

    But then it hit me that I’m a teacher.  It’s been a gift I’ve used since I was in middle school.  I teach.  And though I’m not in a classroom right now, my children are learning from me.  If I’m not able to cultivate it any other way right now, THAT is meaningful work.  Teaching my boys about the God we are serving, about the culture that we have left behind but is still so very much part of us, about dinosaurs and construction trucks, about using the big boy potty because wearing diapers as a man is just ridiculous, about making food choices that will fuel their growing bodies…the list goes on and on.  Wow, even reading the chapter I STILL got bogged down by the supposed tos.  Isn’t our God so amazing.  And gracious!  He has given my life meaning.  It doesn’t look like everyone else’s, but it’s mine.  It’s the purpose He’s given me for this moment.  It may change a little as I go down the road, but the way it looks right now is exactly how it is “supposed to”.

    1. Amy Young May 6, 2014

      Brittany, when I read this I wanted to high five you!!!!! So I went through my photos and found this overexposed one :). But in a pinch, it says what I want to say to you.

    2. Amy Young May 6, 2014

      OK, now to words 🙂

      Yes, yes, yes to meaningful lives looking small on the outside. Baking and teaching kids and even staying in small spaces for extended periods of time ARE meaningful. I know I have to wrestle with what makes my life meaningful and consistently push back (and examine) where I’ve gotten certain ideas. My ideas of meaningful seem more informed by Hollywood and authors who do amazing (to me) things — adopt how many children? Live with the homeless for how long? Speak how many languages?!!!!

      Here, would you like a cookie?

      What I have to offer can look so ridiculous when I compare.

      BUT when I resist the urge to compare — I can hear meaning whispering to me. Today, I chose to set aside work for a while (that’s hard for me, because what then will I have to show at the end of the day? Where will meaning derive?) — my second niece was at my mom’s house because it’s field day at her school and the kids laughed at her a lot for not knowing the rules of soccer and she didn’t want to go. So, she hung out with my mom. She LOVES playing games and wanted to play one with me and her grandma. We learned a new one — and I lost horribly :). Bonus.

      In this season of in-between for me, I’ve written a life plan and it has helped me to find meaning in places I might not have looked. I’ve chosen five areas and one is related to family. Two subpoints are “do something with each niece at least once a quarter that will foster memories” and “do something with Mom that let’s her enjoy her family.” So, even though I don’t have much to show for the day — I am slowly rewiring what is meaningful 🙂

      But it can be a internal slug-fest of voices at times!

      1. Elisa May 8, 2014

        Yeah for a life plan.  Hey Amy, while I’m in CO could you help me take a look at mine…the plan that I’ve started working on.  So funny that i started working on this plan on Sunday and here it is popping up into our book club discussion!  I love how He knew that all along! 😉

        1. Brittany May 8, 2014

          Elisa, thanks for sharing that!  So true.  The struggle of comparison is one that I have to surrender with every breath!

    3. Amy Young May 6, 2014

      and P.S. the cross out feature is one of my FAVS! 🙂

    4. Kimberly Todd May 7, 2014

      Brittany, this is just dripping with life and truth. I’ll line up for a high five behind Amy.

    5. Elisa May 8, 2014

      Brittany,  your post resinates with me too.  I agree with Amy, the strike-out feature is awesome.  Brittany, thank you so much for sharing your strike-out comments.  I feel like you were so open and vulnerable.  It’s like you let us see your journal…well, you did. Know that what you wrote at the beginning is very similar to my journal and what I need to strike-out (literally) in my own journal at times.  He is so good to show us the lies that come to snatch our joy and our focus on Him!  Praising and grateful with you for what He showed you.  I love how our God communicates with us.  And Guides us to truth.  Just sat down and read Isaiah 43-44 today and saw so much that I’m going to have to go back and wade through it all again so that it soaks deep down into my soul.  We are all still just His “kids under-construction…maybe the paint is still wet.  Kid’s under construction, the Lord is just not finished yet.” (a song from my childhood that helps remind me that I’m a work in progress).

  4. Brittany May 7, 2014

    Thanks for giving me a glimpse into your life plan.  What a great idea!  My dear, sweet, wonderful husband gave me an entire day to myself last week (seriously, a whole day! Even though he wasn’t feeling well.  I only came home once to nurse the baby!) and I was able to just sit with the Lord and figure out what my work/purpose is in each of my roles.  That way, I can look at what I “do” during the day and ask, okay, how does that fit in with my purpose?  If it doesn’t, then I can feel free to throw it out, but if it does, I have the freedom to say, YES it was worth my time!  Even if other things get neglected.  After spending the afternoon in spontaneous play with my children rather than spending that time hitting the language homework, is it okay that my children felt cherished instead of my head having time to grasp more of the language?  YES!  Now, obviously language is important and contributes to my meaningful purpose here.  But my children are first and sometimes I don’t feel like it’s okay to sacrifice homework for time with the kids who are supposed to be my most important ministry.  So…anyway…this book has had me thinking about so so many things and I would say that my day away last week was largely in part to this book.  Trying to find what is life-giving to me as I’m struggling with the “blues” most days here.  What does play look like for me?  How am I comparing myself to the other Western families here and how do I make it stop? I’m loving this journey.  My husband and my little people are appreciating it too.  And my time with the Lord has never been more consistent and rich as I try to figure out what is hindering the “abundant life” He has promised me!

    1. Brittany May 8, 2014

      I feel like I need to amend this comment slightly to say that my HUSBAND is actually my first and most important ministry.  However, my children are definitely a close second!

      Elisa, I’m so glad that my sharing that encouraged you!  I think that getting away for a day to seek the Lord and what HIS plans are for me is going to be a quarterly experience!

  5. Elisa May 8, 2014

    Brittany, I loved hearing how you approached your one day away.  I really feel like I gained even more motivation from hearing how you tackled thinking through your purpose and mission in each of your roles.  I most recently have been grappling with these two lies:

    1) I am who others say that I am (or what I perceive others say that I am).

    2) I am what I do.

    Both of which feed the lie that my identity comes from someone or somewhere other than Jesus!  So I’ve been thinking about how to pray through and ask about my roles both present and possible future roles.  How to learn how to say no when it’s right and good and yes when it’s right and good.  So you sharing how you did that helped me so much. 🙂

    1. Elisa May 8, 2014

      Also, Kim Todd, your family always pops up in my head when I think about people that have lived out their search for finding a right and pleasing rhythm through their mission and purpose of their family.  I might not have a family but I can apply the same truths that drove your family into my life as well.  I love how universal these truths are.  So Kim, thanks for living that out in front of me in China!

  6. Jenny May 8, 2014

    This chapter really resonated with me. The word I usually use is “should” rather than “supposed to” but it boils down to about the same thing. Even to the point of sitting here thinking- I “should” post in the book club discussion… (I decided that I also wanted to), but it is so my automatic mental approach to life. Lately, Romans 12:2 has been my prayer “that I would be transformed by the renewing of my mind” but the process feels so slow.

    1. Elisa May 10, 2014

      What a great verse to help arm you for the battle of your mind against the “shoulds”.  I have to agree that the process feels so slow.  Something that I really have been both encouraged by recently is recounting the truth that I am in the process of being sanctified (the process of being made new) while also be finished/victorious in that I am justified through Christ and what He did for me.  I live in both the on going -ING of life and the eternally secure -ED of life.  Still, it all seems so slow. When I just want it all to be finishED!

  7. Kara May 13, 2014

    Okay, I’ll be in Colorado for all of June, and I want to meet you people and learn to write a life plan!

    Seriously, this year has been one of exploring who God has made me to be and what He’s calling me to. My three kids are all in school, and I have hours to spend. It’s been illuminating, yet mostly I’ve discovered there are so many needs and I have so many desires, and the two don’t usually line up. And there’s the reality that in any meaningful work, there is a lot of tedious hours and uninspiring days. I experienced that as a mother of young children, but also am learning it’s true in any work, no matter how ultimately meaningful.  I am still seeking answers 🙂

    1. Amy Young May 19, 2014

      Kara!! Let’s do it 🙂 …. email me at [email protected] and we’ll work out the details. And if anyone else wants to skype about a life plan, let me know :). I love talking about these things!

      1. Kimberly Todd May 20, 2014

        I’ll be in CO in July (12-20 roughly). Just sayin’… Could there be something brewing?

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