Landisa: What I’ve learnt is the purpose of life

2020-01-24 09:23
James de Villiers.

James de Villiers.

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When I was younger, strangers would often pray wonderfully strange things over me. They would take it upon themselves to convey what they believe God was telling me. 

At church camps often in the secluded countryside, as I raised my hands to worship God above, they would lay their hands on my shoulder telling me how I was created with a purpose, a time such as today. 

A bridge-builder, I was often told I was called to be. And occasionally these strangers would also take the liberty to pray that God restores the "masculinity" that was taken from me. 

"God, restore the man that James was called to be; restore what the enemy has taken."

I cringe at the thought of these prayers today. 

These prayers, however, plunged me into several years of anxiety as I grappled with what my purpose would be. 

I was so overwhelmed that I was missing my "calling" in a certain job, or "sinning" which was pulling me away from my "calling", that I spent many a day in bed. 

I was so afraid of making a mistake, petrified that I took one misstep and would, therefore, miss the wonderful future God had planned for me. 

Roughly three years ago, in the midsts of panic over what I am supposed to do; panic over my purpose, I interviewed prominent South African HIV activist Zackie Achmat

"There is no purpose to life," this man I looked up to, seated at his favourite cafe in Cape Town, said.

Petrified I looked at him, unable to consider that my life on this planet could possibly only be a mere coincidence. 

I so badly wanted my life to have meaning. I so badly wanted that my life be worthy enough for it to have meaning. 

Because why else would I spend my hours working, sacrificing hours to craft articles and interviews? 

Why would I spend so much precious time on projects, building what could be monuments for people to remember me by, when it ultimately ends up to nothing, as the great King David wrote in Ecclesiastes. 

At the time, I simply couldn’t accept that my existence doesn't really matter. 

Since that day, like King David, I tested the various routes of that which could give me purpose. Often, I pursued the pursuit of happiness, and found that it only ever left me unhappy. 

And, after reading Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari in December, where he writes how parents experience exponential happiness when they see their children take one step forward, I discovered purpose. 

He wrote that parenthood is often a tough, time-consuming and exhausting experience, but in those glimpses of progress with their children (a first step, or a first word) parents experience exponential happiness because they feel like they have a purpose. 

The cost of parenthood far outweighs the benefits, Harari wrote, but those moments make the exercise worthwhile. Parents feel like their lives have meaning. 

And so, I've learnt, the purpose of our lives is the purpose we give to it, and pursuing that purpose will make us happy. 

Not pursuing happiness, but pursuing activities we believe make a difference and give our lives meaning.  

We just have to, for ourselves, by measuring our values and what is important to us, decide what that purpose will be. 

As King David wrote: "There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil."

"The only purpose that exists is the purpose that we give to our lives,” Zackie Achmat told me at the end of our interview three years ago.

James is a journalist at Business Insider South Africa, and the curator of Landisa, and lives in Johannesburg.  

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Read more on:    purpose  |  calling  |  landisa

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