How to Find Passion, Peace, and Purpose (Without Looking for Them): An UnTangled Mission Statement

The Good LifeDear Reader,

Today I want to speak directly to you. Some of you have been here from the very beginning, with the first posts about therapy and redemption. Many of you arrived here in the spring and early summer after “Marriage is for Losers” took a trot around the globe. And others of you have joined us in recent weeks, with posts about pain and overcoming.

With content from marriage to parenting to pain and therapy and purpose, you might be asking yourselves, what is going on here at UnTangled?

I know I would be…

“IT WAS JUST A MISSION STATEMENT.”

The film Jerry Maguire infused pop culture with a number of phrases that have stood the test of time, like “Show me the money!” and “You complete me.” But beneath the football story and the love story, another story was playing out.

The film opens with an early-middle-aged sports agent in the midst of an identity crisis. In a moment of inspiration, he pens a manifesto—a mission statement—for the future of sports agency. He calls for fewer clients, less money, a life of sincerity and passion. He titles it, “The Things We Think and Do Not Say.”

And it’s a total disaster. By the end of the week he has no job, one client, an alienated fiancée, and only his loneliness to keep him company. As he walks through the devastation of his life, several scenes find him muttering, “It was just a mission statement.”

I loved that movie. Saw it five times in the theater.

Because I think I’ve always wanted to be the kind of person who will risk everything to follow the cry of his heart, even if it leaves him broken and alone.

THE THINGS WE THINK AND DO NOT SAY

There are at least two reasons I should think-and-not-say what I’m about to say.

First, I’m going to speak to you directly from my heart. And therapists aren’t supposed to do that publicly. Therapists are supposed to pick and choose rare moments of self-disclosure. I recognize the wisdom in this. But I also think we need to know our helpers and healers are human—they think and feel and cheer and tremble like the rest of us.

Second, I’m going to tell you the life you want—a life filled with passion, peace, and purpose—cannot be obtained by seeking passion, peace, and purpose. I’m going to break the golden rule of blogging. I’m going to complicate things.

I want to share with you my hope for redemptive living.

I hope you’ll stick around for the journey! But if nothing else, I hope you’ll remember, “It was just a mission statement.”

THE GOOD AND EMPTY LIFE

In these days, the hearts of people are filled with a deep, yet vague, sense of longing. In an age of instant recognition, overwhelming connectivity, and startling wealth, we find ourselves with an aching hollow inside of us. Whether secular or religious, conservative or liberal, native or immigrant, we seem helpless to escape the gnawing.

And everyone has an idea about how to fix it. But the solutions are like bailing water on the Titanic. The ship is sinking and the band plays on. And we all know it, and we’re all frustrated and scared, and so many of us are wondering, “What’s wrong with me? Why doesn’t the advice work for me?”

I think it’s because the solutions are always focused on finding the good life.

And the good life is a hollow promise. It’s empty of passion, peace, and purpose. If we watched a movie about a person who lived the good life—raised in wealth, protected from hardship, inheriting the family business, retiring early and becoming a great shuffleboard champion—we would not come alive inside. We would be bored. Restless. We would want more.

We would be craving a story about redemption.

THE REDEMPTIVE LIFE

The redemptive life has three movements, and each movement ambushes us with the desire of our hearts.

First, the redemptive life always begins with brokenness and pain. In our favorite stories, the character we love begins broken and haunted and full of demons. We ache for the character, and the aching is the seed of passion—a word literally meaning “to suffer.” To feel alive with passion, we must first feel our pain.

Second, the redemptive life always contains a moment of confrontation. A moment in which the character we love stops running from the slobbering beast-of-pain at his heals, turns around, stares deep into its eyes, and sometimes even growls back. This is the moment when a redemptive life really begins. And this is also the birthplace of peace. Because peace is not the absence of pain. Peace is the deeply held confidence that all of our pain can be faced.

And finally, the redemptive life transforms the pain into something beautiful. And the moment of transformation is also the conception of purpose: a sense of purpose throbs within us when we face the pain and realize the transformation of it will be the direction of our lives.

But here’s the catch: our hearts cannot yearn for both the redemptive life and the good life. The desires for both cannot coexist in our souls. I know. I tried.

I remember the day when I turned to my wife and, voice cracking, stepped into all the pain I thought would annihilate me and said, “My whole life has been one long lonely scramble for perfection.”

One continuous hunt for the good life.

I remember the months that followed, facing the isolation of my shame—my deep-in-the-bones sense of not being good enough. And I remember how my heart began to rupture, as a desire for comfort and ease gave way to another desire—a yearning to walk through the world with open arms, leaving cashiers and waitresses and customer service representatives and friends and a wife and children feeling overwhelmed by grace and marked by a sense of belovedness.

REDEMPTION BEGINS WITH YOUR STORY

We sabotage the redemptive life by starting too big. We try to fix the world before we have learned to redeem our own stories. We must find the quiet space inside of us, where we can finally touch our own pain. And we can’t go there alone. We need someone or Someone to be there with us—a loving witness in the painful silence and a source of strength when our knees get weak.

Only when our compassion has been refined in the fire of our own souls will we be prepared for authentic togetherness in our relationships.  Having first learned to face and transform the conflict within our own hearts, we will be prepared to redeem the broken relationships in our lives with love and patience and hope.

And when redemption has ruptured our hearts and healed our relationships, only then will we be prepared to step out into the pain of a world waiting to be transformed into something beautiful. In fact, then, we will want nothing else.

A PLACE (AND A POST) FOR YOU

If you are ready to forsake the good life in favor of the redemptive life—if you are craving a story with passion and peace and purpose—there is a place (and a post) for you here at UnTangled.

If your story is riddled with brokenness and shame and fear and anger, and you are seeking a quiet place in which to turn around and face it, there is a place for you here.

If your life is filled with relationships crying out for healing, there is a place for you here.

If you look around at a world mired in pain and suffering, and your heart ruptures and you feel compelled to enter into all that darkness with a redemptive love, there is a place for you here.

THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED

You may find yourself today at a fork in the road. Down one path lies the good life. And down the other lies the redemptive life.

I know which path I want to walk.

Want to go for a stroll with me?

 

Comments: Does this excite you? Confuse you? Make you scared? Angry? All responses are welcome. Please feel free to share in the comments below.

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And always, thank you for reading. It’s a gift.

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist, practicing at Alliance Clinical Associates in Wheaton, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • http://allwillbewellperiod.blogspot.com Catharine Phillips

    I thought to wait to see what others would say.
    No.
    I wait too often for that.
    I am on the redemptive path and it*s only illuminated one foot ahead of me at a time. Sometimes I get two feet. I am regularly surprised and all of your word possibilities fit at one time or another: Excited? Yes Confused? Yes Scared spitless? Yes Angry (try not to be… I*m from Minnesota). Still learning anger.

    My mission statement and reminder is my blog title: All will be well. Period.
    Thank you for a beautiful posting.

    • http://drkellyflanagan.com Dr. Kelly Flanagan

      Catharine, It sounds like there was even something redemptive about jumping out front and commenting first. I admire your courage. Period. : )

  • Jill

    Wow! I am amazed and humbled by your words. They ring true and I’m sitting here at work fighting back tears of relief. Believe me, if I’d read this at home I’m be sobbing. Thank you for such an illuminating post.

    • http://drkellyflanagan.com Dr. Kelly Flanagan

      Your welcome, Jill, thank you for sharing your reaction. Relief is probably one of the best of human emotions and it doesn’t ever get talked about. Glad your feeling some right now. Blessings.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Hariet.scott Harriet Zalika Scott

    Selah.
    What if it is too painful to bear…or if it gets too harsh to breath down the redemptive life.
    One day at a time. That’s the point where I am at.

    • http://drkellyflanagan.com Dr. Kelly Flanagan

      Harriet, yes, one day at a time, indeed. I think some who enter the redemptive path will feel an excruciating pain and we have to trust that a new life is on the other side of it. But we shouldn’t bear it alone. Make sure you have someone to walk it with you.

  • Jill

    What if you don’t know the source of your pain? What if you know you’re angry, tired, and feel as if you cannot fully experience the love in your life, but you don’t know what’s stopping you. You don’t know what’s got your emotional pipes backed up? What do you do then?

    • http://drkellyflanagan.com Dr. Kelly Flanagan

      Jill, know that you are not alone. I think you’ve described the condition of many of us, and yet at the same time, yours is entirely unique to you. I think we need a few things when we find ourselves in this condition. The first is a helper we can come to trust. And we need a protected, quiet space to be with those feelings, to let them speak to us and teach us about where they come from. Ideally, the helper is someone who, instead of trying to fix you, helps you cultivate that space and shares his or her insights about what you are both witnessing. Blessings to you as you move forward on the redemptive path.

  • Carrie

    I’m with you, Brother. I was deeply wounded. My heart was broken. Then I prayed that God would break my heart for others. (Crazy, eh?) Instead, I was wounded more and my heart more broken. Then people came alongside me and loved me through it. They accepted me where I was. They healed my heart. Now I long to do this for others. I do this for others. At age 50, I’m contemplating going back to school for counseling, or maybe working alongside the Sisters in caring for the poor. I don’t know where this will take me, but I can now say that I am thankful for all the crap I endured through that painful time.

    • http://drkellyflanagan.com Dr. Kelly Flanagan

      Carrie, I’m so grateful for this. I, we, need encouragement about the fruit of the redemptive path. Thank you.

  • Iván Darío

    Muy interesante, si algo en mi vida ha sido difícil es reconocerme a mi mismo confrontarme e inclusive definir que quiero dificulta mi redención.

    • http://drkellyflanagan.com Dr. Kelly Flanagan

      Gracias, Ivan!

  • http://www.nadiamasot.com Nadia

    I’ve been following your blog since ‘Marriage is for Losers’ all the way from Australia. Funnily enough, that post came at about the time of the dissolution of my marriage. Since then, I’ve been floundering to find that ‘redemptive path’ and have recently begun to examine ‘my story’ and how I ended up here delving into each relationship and how the ‘old wounds’ in me served to find and create them. It’s involved a lot of introspection and research. I want to thank you for having a heart to help others find that path. Your posts have walked hand in hand with the steps in my journey, I’ve taken the road less traveled and I can attest to the peace it brings. Thank you.

    • http://drkellyflanagan.com Dr. Kelly Flanagan

      Nadia, I’m touched by your courage, you’ve done a lot of hard and painful work. Thank you, and blessings to you on this new path.

  • http://ponderingjoy.blogspot.com/ Anne

    I read yesterday something by a man named Jeff Goins…he said “Maybe our “coming alive” feels like being dragged through the dirt.” ha ha. I think that describes it pretty well. At least thats how it’s been feeling to me…the thing is that even though it feels so awful and I feel like part of me is dying…it also feels good. Like there is finally a purpose in life…where before there were just a lot of pointless days. And maybe someday it will get easier…and be a LOT happier!

    I really enjoy your blog. Thanks for writing it.

    • http://drkellyflanagan.com Dr. Kelly Flanagan

      Anne, how funny. His book, “Wrecked,” which I think you are referring to has been sitting on my bedside table for a couple of weeks, and I’ve just started reading it. There is a lot of overlap in thinking and ideas, although we come at it from very different angles. A great book I would recommend to everyone! Thanks, Anne!

  • http://teachmeyourstatutes.blogspot.com/ Kelly

    My family and I are with you Kelly! Forget fake comforts and security; let’s go!

  • http://goodenoughgrace.com Kim

    Your post took my breath away…more than once.
    But my heart really raced and tears sprang to my eyes when you described the moment of confrontation. I remember sitting in my therapist’s office, months, or maybe years, into therapy, and telling him that I had spent my whole life running away from that big pain…and that I was ready to turn around and look at it. My therapist said I was almost like a warrior – not just looking, but ready to do battle. That moment really stuck in my mind as a turning point..a point when I took the first step TOWARDS the pain and towards the grace. I hope that Step 3 – turning the pain into something beautiful – is where my journey takes me, even if it’s just one tiny step and one little skirmish at a time.

  • Evelyn

    An excellent post. Totally revealing and exposing the real wisdom of a life worth living. Only a person who has lived such a redemptive life can write such redemptive words of wisdom and salvation. Thank you for the enlightenment that so many need.

  • Johnny Mcconnell

    Yes I do share on brother!

  • http://thoughtsofasimplecitizen.blogspot.com/ Simple Citizen

    I honestly believe there is only one road. The good life and the redemptive life are two different maps that describe the same road. I don’t think either is the road itself, or a perfect depiction, but certainly the redemptive map comes closer to reality.
    What we seek is to live according to our values, our principles. Happiness is found in using the map closest to reality, living as close to our values as possible.

    • http://drkellyflanagan.com Dr. Kelly Flanagan

      Simple C, I appreciate the pushback. Good thoughts here.

    • http://allwillbewellperiod.blogspot.com Catharine Phillips

      Simple Citizen: I*m not sure they are the same road. Perhaps the difficulty comes in how we name the good life and/or the redemptive life. I think ideally they might be the same thing, but the road to the good life I read Kelly describing is that search for perfection, empty of passion, peace and purpose. Again, ideally we would name the redemptive life as wholly good. I do think we get messed up when we equate the two before doing the work required on the redemptive path.

      • http://thoughtsofasimplecitizen.blogspot.com/ Simple Citizen

        Catharine – very valid point. The work is required – it is the process that makes it the good road.

        I guess my point was that we don’t need to make poor choices in order to grow and progress.

        We do make mistakes, and we do learn from them – but we would have been better off not making the mistake in the first place.

        It reminds of C.S. Lewis when he said “A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it, and Christ, because he was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means.”

        Even without the religious part – I think this makes sense.

        • http://drkellyflanagan.com Dr. Kelly Flanagan

          Is the only pain the pain that comes from poor choices? Love Lewis, by the way.

          • http://thoughtsofasimplecitizen.blogspot.com/ Simple Citizen

            Dr. Flanagan,

            I think that is where your post is so helpful. Bad things happen, pain happens. It’s not usually from poor choices. Following Lewis’s thought – He who never made a single mistake was beaten and crucified.
            So – I agree with you.
            There is so much pain and suffering in the world, and I believe you have helped many people through it. Much of that pain just happens. But in order to find passion, peace and purpose, we don’t need to make poor choices. Life will cause pain without our help.

            • http://drkellyflanagan.com Dr. Kelly Flanagan

              Thanks again for these thoughts. And please feel free to call me Kelly. I do love that idea that to know the fullness of our temptations we must resist them. Perhaps the same is true of our pain, we don’t know the depth of it until we have stared directly into it. Thanks again for being engaged on this!

  • http://clearningspace4joy.com Susan Taylor

    After living nearly 50 years with a deep core of shame permeating my being, I learned how to be compassionate toward myself and what a difference that has made. I feel like all the years the locust of shame ate have been redeemed. PS I loved Jerry Maguire, and I LOVE movies that feature redemption. Please do a post sometime on movies that have stories that are redemptive!~

    • http://drkellyflanagan.com Dr. Kelly Flanagan

      That would be a very fun post to write! You’ve got me thinking. :)

  • Jennifer

    I think we all yearn for the good life with little or no conflict or pain. But at least in my life I have learned the most when the struggles come and you have to face the times that your life is not perfect. My not so perfect husband became treasured due to my facing very difficult health issues. He was there for me in the big and little things and was the one true loving person in my life to battle through those tough times. It was through those struggles and the loving care I received that I could face my own unreasonable expectations in my marriage and see the wonderful man that is there to share the journey with me. So yes the redemptive life is more difficult but it truely enables you to grow and to have a much richer life. I think if I had not had the struggles and health issues I would not have been able to recognize the wonderful partner I have in my life. I think i would have continued to look at him through the critical glasses I was wearing and determined he was always coming up short.

    I enjoy this blog because it causes me to think about things in a different manner. Thanks for inspiring thinking out of the box.

    • http://drkellyflanagan.com Dr. Kelly Flanagan

      Thank you for sharing, Jennifer. We need to hear stories of redemption like yours!

  • http://twitter.com/jacquebig Jacque Small (@jacquebig)

    Kelly, what a great article. I have walked the redemptive path that you talk about and have faced most (well who knows how much is left) of the backlog of pain that was within me. Yes, I found my purpose and that has evolved into a book Divine Divorce which will be published this fall.

    Like you I want to support people to have the courage to look into their pain and resolve it to find their ideal life, what ever that is for them. And your right the ideal life is not found in all the things that we are taught that we need to have. I found my ideal life and it is very simple, but it contains the things that I love to do which bring me a feeling of profound love in my heart.

    Thank you for sharing what is in your heart it helps to give others an idea of what is possible. I don’t think most people know there is something else possible than the life we were taught we “should have.” First we need to know something else if possible before we can even start heading in that direction.

    Lots of Love,
    Jacque
    http://www.yourdivinedivorce.com

  • http://laurakramerministries.wordpress.com Laura Krämer

    Absolutely brilliant..and timely. Thank you.

  • Michelle

    Your post made me cry. I don’t know why. Yet. Thank you.

  • http://Windows Naida

    I am in the continuing journey of pain, loneliness, fear, anger, frustration and feeling do lost. So hopeless Having no one to turn to for a few words. I cannot see why it stays ythe same and I feel so hopeless. Where is someone even cares if I live or die.

    • http://drkellyflanagan.com Dr. Kelly Flanagan

      Naida, I’m sorry for your pain. I hear in your words that, perhaps even worse than the pain, is the lack of someone to share it with you. Such people are out there, and I exhort you to make it the work of your life to find them.

      • http://Windows Naida

        Today the words reached ears that could hear. Loneliness is so unbearable for me. I have reached out but fee l rejected all over again. I feel people move away from me becauseThey are uncomfortable. I have to move into new locales of people. I have to keep searching. It is hard

        • http://drkellyflanagan.com Dr. Kelly Flanagan

          Naida, When a chronic sense of rejection keeps happening, I generally strongly recommend identifying a therapist you feel comfortable with. You are much less likely to experience the feeling there, and when you do, you can discuss it and work through it together. I even encourage making practical and financial sacrifice to make this happen.

  • Laura

    My favorite post EVER! I cannot express how much your words resonated with me. Six years ago, I made some unhealthy choices that caused me to question who I was and what I really valued. It was painful, and I felt so exposed and judged, mostly by myself. At the time, I felt like I was in the wildnerness, wandering aimelessly. Now I realize, it was the most fruitful time I have ever experienced. Stripped away of all pretense, with nothing left to lose, it became incredibly easy to be vulnerable and put myself out there. This resulted in a strengthened marriage, a career change that resulted in doing something I believe has meaning and purpose, and a renewed commitment to the relationships I realized were the most important in my life (which meant I had to realize all of those that weren’t important.) I would not make those choices again, but am so grateful that I can SEE the redemption that resulted from them….the beauty from ashes. As serendipity would have it, I read another blog post today on “The Power of Pause” that resulted from a speech Maria Shriver gave. I saw a seamless thread between your words and hers….perhaps I’m the only one to see it. Regardless, here is the link in case you have the time or desire to read: http://mariashriver.com/blog/2012/08/pausing-at-50-carolyn-ronayne. Thanks again for your honesty and willingness to be vulnerable by writing these words :)

    • http://drkellyflanagan.com Dr. Kelly Flanagan

      Laura, Likewise: thank you for your vulnerability in sharing your story. People need to hear from those that have gone through it; it’s a priceless encouragement! I will definitely check out the link. Thanks for sharing that, too. :)

  • MW

    Thank you so much for this passionate and beautifully written peace that spoke directly to my soul. I too have found that the pursuit of the “perfect life” has caused me so much pain, frustration, emptiness, disappointment, and just feeling lost…. I still haven’t figured things out yet. I have all the degrees in the world, and can’t seem to find a way to build a life for myself… one that honors who I am and who I want to be in this world. I was referred one of your posts by a FB post someone shared, and I have fallen head over heels with everything on your site. Thank you so much for your openness and the truth… It is rare to find such amazingly powerful stuff on the internet these days, and I am so thankful that I stumbled upon your site. Keep making beautifully truthful magic :) Can’t wait to read more!

    • drkellyflanagan

      I’m so glad you stumbled across us, too. Welcome! And thank you for your kind words. Your words resonate with me, as well: “all the degrees in the world” and still looking for “who I am and who I want to be in this world.” We end up talking a lot around here about how we find ourselves in the “the mess,” rather than the perfection. Welcome again to our mess!

  • Dan Upshaw

    “Because I think I’ve always wanted to be the kind of person who will risk everything to follow the cry of his heart, even if it leaves him broken and alone.”

    Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you.

    • drkellyflanagan

      You’re very, very welcome, Dan!

  • Jacqui

    Dear Kelly, I have been feeling that gnawing sense of longing you describe for awhile but even more intensely lately. All this anxiety has lead me on a quest to find “peace.” However, it never occurred to me that my definition of peace might be incorrect or that my skewed idea of it could be keeping me from feeling it. Thank you so much for this beautiful post it really has meant so much to me.

    • drkellyflanagan

      You’re welcome, Jacqui, I hope it continues to bear fruit!

  • kapitan vanz

    ” We end up talking a lot around here about how we find ourselves in the “the mess,” rather than the perfection. Welcome again to our mess!

    this hit home. i encountered your blog via 9gag. and i can’t stop reading everything.
    I’ve always loved to read about things that are like food for the soul. thank you Dr. Kelly. You saved my 100 happy days challenge today. i was about to give up but then I know God led me to you. :). thank you so much

    • drkellyflanagan

      You’re welcome, Kapitan, and welcome to UnTangled!