Part 1: Identity, Meaning and Purpose

Do you know who you are?

Why would knowing “who I am” be important to how we live our lives?

Consider this shoehorn.

Photo Credit: Francis Flinch

Some of you may not know what a shoehorn is. It is simply a stick that helps you get your shoes on more smoothly. In some places, this is a household staple and many people appreciate having it very much. If you’ve ever had a little trouble getting that last bit of the heel of your shoe on just right, this is just the thing you need.

Now, if you didn’t know what it was, you might still find a use for ita slide for your kid’s marbles or to clumsily swat hapless bugs or others but you might be annoyed at the way it is shaped and wish it was shaped more like a flyswatter so you could actually swat flies…

But one day, someone tells you, “That’s a shoehorn. It’s for when you’re wearing your shoes so your foot slips right in and doesn’t ruin the heel of the shoe.” And you might look at the shoehorn in wondernow you know why it’s the length that it is, and it explains the reason for the way it curves inward. Now, the little thoughtful addition of a hook curved perfectly for a person to comfortably grasp the shoehorn as they slip on their shoes makes perfect sense. From then on, the shoehorn has a little place of honor next to wherever it is that you keep your shoes.

This is a silly little story that suggests the more serious idea that: if we know our purpose in life, we can meaningfully make the choices and take actions in a way that allows us to realize our fullest potential. We are no longer swatting flies with a shoehorn. We might even imagine that, after we knew the purpose of the shoehorn, the shoehorn itself is much happier now assisting people on get their shoes on becauseit was made for that purpose. It may be a curious metaphor to use but consider an often used but the little-discussed phrase “I was born for this!” or “I was made to do this.” When is this phrase used? What do people mean when they say this?

Part 2: What is this for?

Ages: Kids 12 and under 

Materials: 3 or 4 mysterious-looking kitchen items (example: garlic press, spiralizer, seaweed hole puncher, etc.)

1) Choose a few kitchen items that have a very specific purpose that most of the kids may not have seen in action.
2) Put out one item at a time. Everyone has a chance to look and touch the object in question.
3) Then everyone takes turns trying to guess what the object is for.

Take note of the answers for later discussion!

4) Once everyone has had a turning guessing, tell them what the item is for. Note the very specific features of each item and how it is made and designed for a very specific purpose.

For example: I choose a garlic press as it has a very specific design.

Me: What do you think this is for?

Kid 1: For making pancakes! (We had just finished eating pancakes)

Kid 2: For making noodles! (Noting the many holes)

Me: Good guess. You saw the holes. Anyone else have a guess?

Kid 3: For carrots! You put carrots in it?

Me: I don’t think carrots would fit in it…

One by one, we went through the kitchen items guessing what it was for and laughing along the way.

In the end, I told them what each item was for and noted how, for instance, the garlic press had finger-shaped grooves to making holding it and pressing it easier for the user. Sure, you actually could use it for the purposes that they guessed but it probably wouldn’t work out as well. It, like all created things, was designed for a specific purpose.

Like this, to know the design and purpose of a thing are to use the thing to its fullest capacity and potential. Do you know your purpose and potential? To know your purpose and potential, where would you go?

After many such conversations through the years, my kids instinctively knew it had something to do with God – even if they couldn’t articulate the reason for this. But like the creator of the kitchen items, God, as our own Creator, would be the best place to start in order to understand our purpose and potential.

We went on to a short discussion on the idea that we were all made to make God and each other happy but that we will each have a unique way of fulfilling this purpose. Even though we were all from the same family, every person was so unique and different from everyone else.

With the different age groups involved in our discussion, we kept it light and open-ended. They didn’t have to “get it” all in one go. The point was to build on these conversations.

Later, I heard my kids looking at items around the house, giggling over what we would use this or that item for if we didn’t know what it actually was. And from now on, I’ll be on the lookout for other curious-looking items.

Discussion: Life, Meaning, and Purpose?

Ages: Kids 13+ 

Questions:

  • Do you feel you know your life’s purpose?
  • What do you need to know to know your life’s purpose?
  • Do you live in a way that connects to your life’s purpose?
  • Would you live differently if you knew your life’s purpose?

So how does one determine one’s life’s purpose? We come back to the shoehorn story to say – that perhaps the best way to know our purpose, we need to know what we were made for. I.e., we need to know our Creator.

In a not-so-secret secret, the spiritual traditions have long taught about our common origins in a Divine Creator. Read the following quotes from below:

  • Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us? (Malachi 2:10)
  • O, mankind! We created you from a single pair of a male and female and made you into nations and tribes, that you might know each other. (Quran 49:13)
  • All the people of the whole world are equally brothers and sisters. There is no one who is an utter stranger. There is no one who has known the truth of this origin. It is the very cause of the regret of God. The souls of all people are equal, whether they live on the high mountains or at the bottoms of the valleys. (Ofudesaki 13:43-45) Tenrikyo
  • But a single man [Adam] was created for the sake of peace among mankind, that none should say to his fellow, “my father was greater than your father.” (Misnah, Sanhedrin 4.5) Judaism
  • I look upon all creature equally; none are less dear to me and none more dear. (Bhagavad Gita 9:29) Hinduism
  • Even science has begun to show this, calling the fact of a “Genetic Adam and Eve” and recording the birthplace of all humanity in Africa.
  • If we all share a common origin from one man and one woman – and we are one family it might make us then think – If we’re to live as One Family Under God, what should my family, as my personal template for other social relations, look like?

While the particular passages and words of each tradition might differ, there is a general idea that points to a divine, common origin that we all share.

Knowing this, how can we treat each other badly? Knowing this, how can we not demand more of ourselves? How can we waste our lives in idle or fruitless pursuits? Above all, how can this knowledge spur our growth and development?

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