Learning from Eve: Sacrifice Defines Purpose
Adulthood is a tough and wild wilderness. On the one hand, it is considerably less prescribed than academia, which conveniently packaged our “purpose” into syllabi and GPA. But on the other hand, if the purpose of adulthood is mere maintenance—the bill paying and dishes doing—then it can feel a little like death. Things look bleak. We can start to feel like the vital part of our life is over and now we just live for the next generation. Certain dreams have unraveled, while others have been realized. Maybe, like me, you are asking yourself: “Now what? What’s next...for me? What is my purpose? Are my daily activities motivated by something that I find worthwhile? Do I have the direction and mobility that inspire me to make meaningful progress, to contribute, to take risks, to invest my heart and my best self? Do I dare branch out into something new?”
I believe we are all here with the general purpose of learning and growing and becoming even as our Savior is, but how this universal purpose takes root in our personal lives is individualized. When we have a lively sense of purpose, we feel energy and motivation. Purpose gives context to the grunt work. It often feels exciting and a little bit scary. Purpose is considerably broader than our daily task list, but considerably more specific than “being happy.” It is a vision, unique to our situation and desires and abilities. It makes us feel useful, needed, valuable. In my experience, we get to define and design our purpose as much as “find” it. But how?
Two answers that I have found are: opposition and sacrifice. Opposition helps us to recognize our true desires, and sacrifice helps us to prioritize them. So was it for our “glorious Mother Eve” in finding her purpose, and so has it been with myself. When I was in my third year of law school, I was surprised to be offered a coveted job clerking for the Minnesota Court of Appeals. I had somehow kept my cool during the interview, despite the intimidating wood-paneled room lined with over ten justices, all prepared to barrage me with questions intended to dissect my scant legal experience. Being offered the job was a dream come true. Then, mere weeks before my clerkship started, I found out I was expecting our long-awaited first child. What was I to do with a baby and an Appellate Court Clerkship?
Assuming, as I do, that God has in hand the timing of such things as clerkships and conception, it almost seemed like a joke! Why now, I thought? After we had been trying for a child to no avail? Of course I was over the moon about being pregnant! But how could I reconcile the two?
When a choice like that rises up, when we find ourselves at a crossroads—at a conflict of priorities and desires—we define our purpose by choosing what we will let go. For me, it was an appellate clerkship. The choice was between being a full-time mother or a full-time clerk. There was no in-between for that particular job. And when the conflict between the two forced a choice, a sacrifice, I chose being a mom. In so choosing, I felt a great sense of purpose and identity. I felt courageous, hopeful, and determined.
God gives us purpose, but He wants us to choose it as well. I think He knows that we will invest more fully in the purpose that we choose for ourselves, especially if we have sacrificed for it. His gift to us is as it was for Eve: space, time, and the conditions for our decision-making. Like Eve, none of us really know the full consequences of our choices or have all the requisite information at the time we feel the pinch of decision. But we know enough about ourselves to know what we are willing to give up in order to make progress. Eve didn’t know about the wide world awaiting her with all its joys and sorrows. But her decision to partake of the fruit was a courageous choice, perhaps especially because she knew that from that point on, life in Paradise would change forever. I believe she began to sense that she and Adam were not living to a fullness of their potential. Indeed, her destiny was to be "the mother of all living," even with its requisite heartaches.
Sacrifice at the time may feel unfair, especially when the road we choose proves difficult and requires more sacrifice. But God knows, as Eve learned, that progress comes as we take steps away from the Garden of Eden and towards our gardens of Gethsemane. Away from our complacence and comfort and towards the labors of self-sacrifice (what God described for Eve as “sorrow”). Indeed, as with Eve, we will take up the tools of the gardener and become more earnestly engaged in the work of the sower. We do it imperfectly, but we feel the conviction that it is worth it. Like Eve, we are grateful for the abundance we previously inhabited, but experience a stirring towards something more: a greater usefulness, a fulfillment of all that we can be. It is this instinct that gives us the courage to sacrifice the lesser and move towards the greater.
It is no coincidence that our Savior is familiar with sacrifice. His divine purpose was sealed up on the altar of His ultimate sacrifice and fully realized at the garden tomb. It is no coincidence that when we make our smaller, less perfect offerings, that He helps us to both make the sacrifice and inhabit the consequences. He helped me find another clerkship that allowed me to work flexible hours from home with my new baby. He helped me find an astonishing, encompassing joy in motherhood, when I had feared stagnation and boredom and atrophy. And now that I am five babies into things, He is teaching me about harvest, about seasons, and about the courage to again cultivate new fields and plant new seeds.
Ultimately, my efforts to define and fulfill my purpose lead me to my Savior. The best decisions I have made have rarely ended glamorously. Many times the best sacrifices I have made, and the keenest sense of purpose I have felt, have been made quietly, in moments of repentance. These are moments when I give up the things that hold me back. I then stand again, gritty and grateful and ready for what’s next. For all that we lose when we make a knowing sacrifice, there is more that is gained in confidence and purpose. When the sacrifice is rooted in our Savior, this confidence is called faith.
If you, like me, find yourself looking around, wondering what’s next; if you feel a little bored or maybe a little discouraged; if you perceive a crossroads of two good things; remember that you are the agent for change in your own story. Consider what you have to give up in order to move toward meaning and progress and purpose in your life. Perhaps you know your current purpose is worthwhile, but you need to reinvest in it. Choose it again. Ask God for help, allow time for your deepest desires to surface, trust that the grand plan is about learning, and do your best! If you need a syllabus, look to the scriptures. If you need a report card, draw from the approval of the Holy Spirit. But don’t wait for your purpose to happen to you, for it is given unto you to choose. Like Eve, your instinct for purpose, progress, and fulfillment, is inherently yours. Take up her example of courage, initiative, faith and wisdom. And in the end, the process will draw you to Christ, so that, like Eve, you will feel “the joy of [your] redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth.”
Becca is the Features Editor at The Small Seed. She can be found any night of the year satiating her addiction to buttered popcorn, she can be recognized by her Lego-induced limp on one side, and, according to knowing sources at the grocery store, she “has her hands full, bless her heart.” Rather than add more to her life, she is trying to keep up what she is already doing, just with more faith and devotion to her Savior Jesus Christ, so it can be said of her, “she hath done what she could.