I’m not suggesting that you rush out to some distant land, or that you form a public charity. What I am suggesting is that you take a close look at the world around you.
Men want to know their lives have meaning. In spite of all the talk about being tough, manning up, or being the dominant bread winner, a man’s underlying need is to know that he has some purpose or value to the world around him.
Put a group of men together, and they will usually talk about their jobs. There will be all manner of stories about successes and struggles they’ve overcome. Whether you call it bragging or bravado, you’ll see a fair amount of chest beating going on.
But not everyone will be sharing their success stories. That’s because not every man has a success story. Many find themselves in jobs which offer little to become excited about. Surviving each day is often their only triumph.
Work, however, is not the only place to find fulfillment and success. Some might be involved with coaching little league baseball while others will turn to restoring classic cars or motorcycles.
That’s great, but what if you’re like me; I don’t know much about sports, and I know less about car mechanics. I don’t even like changing a tire.
Such a situation isn’t just about having something to boast about either. It’s deeper. It’s spiritual. It’s about the age-old question of “why do I exist?”
I found myself in exactly that situation. My work as a high school special education teacher certainly had its moments, but not the kind of thing that might earn a congratulatory slap on the back from a bunch of highly successful businessmen.
“Johnny did three math problems today!” I’d say.
“That’s nice,” one of the men would reply. “Hey, did you hear about the $3 million contract I won to build a new little league baseball complex for the city?”
Unless they’ve dealt with a special needs child before, most men are probably unaware of how difficult it was for Johnny to do those three math problems, let alone how many weeks his teacher had spent working with him to get him to that point.
While I can feel satisfaction in my work, it’s just not the kind of thing that makes for exciting conversation. And let’s be honest, most men do like to get recognized for something they’ve accomplished.
I’ve been a church-goer most of my adult life, but I wasn’t seeing anything there that would give my life purpose. Now, I know the pastors and professional religious leaders might argue with me about that, but my personal reality was that I found nothing that ‘clicked.’
I did, however, come upon something that seemed to be ‘manly’ enough and even a little adventurous. So, I figured, why not?
With my wife’s approval (yes, I asked her first), I soon found myself on an international flight to the Philippines. I was in the company of a small group of men who routinely travel around the world constructing church buildings. Although I had little experience with construction work, I figured I could make myself useful with fetching cement block or bags of mortar. That’s pretty much how things started. I helped where I could.
It was interesting to be surrounded by coconut and banana trees. We were located up in the mountains of a large island. I’d never been to a place quite like that, and I found the landscape and the people beautiful and fascinating.
In spite of the dramatic change of scenery and the hard work involved in construction, I still didn’t feel like this was the answer to my fulfillment question. I took a break under the shade of our make-shift dining shelter. As I poured myself a glass of water, I noticed a boy standing near the entrance. I estimated that he was high school age and that he should be in class, not hanging around our worksite. Before I knew it, my teacher instinct took control.
“Why aren’t you in school?” I blurted out.
He just smiled and shrugged his shoulders.
I asked him again.
“I don’t have a pencil,” was his reply.
I laughed quietly to myself. I had taught at an inner city high school for many years. I thought I had heard every possible excuse, but never that one.
“Seriously,” I said. “Why aren’t you in school?”
“Seriously,” he replied. “I don’t have a pencil.”
His name was Raymund, and his mother was one of the women preparing the meals for the workers. I asked her about Raymund’s story. She quickly confirmed that he was telling the truth. Because of her meager finances, she could only afford pencils and paper for her youngest children. The supplies Raymund needed cost too much, so he had to drop out of school.
I stared in disbelief. I admit that I had heard such tales about children in developing countries being unable to attend school due to poverty. I never expected to be face-to-face with one. Yet, here I was.
I told the other workers that I would be back shortly. Raymund and I hiked several kilometers to the town’s market. Raymund picked out the things he would need for school: a backpack, pencils, pens, paper, notebooks, and so on. We found a uniform for him, along with a proper pair of shoes. I even took him to the barber shop for a much-needed haircut. In all, I spent $25. Raymund was ready for school.
Back at the worksite, one of the Filipino workers greeted me and praised me for what I had done.
I shrugged my shoulders.
“That’s a blessing for Raymund and his family,” he began. I sensed there was something else on his mind. I was right.
“But . . . but what about the other children?”
I quickly learned that this was a very common problem, affecting thousands of children. My teacher’s heart and brain went into high gear.
Since I had limited resources with me, there wasn’t much else I could do. What I did do was, upon my return home, put together a charity which could gather money to buy school supplies and other necessities for the kids living in that community.
Within a few years, my grassroots effort had expanded to help hundreds of children throughout the island. In 2015, we provided backpacks filled with school supplies to over 1,100 children. My purpose in life was revealed. I didn’t go looking for it. It found me.
So now when I get together with a bunch of men, and they start bragging about their work, I’m ready and anxious to share my story.
“Well, I’m a high school special education teacher, but let me tell you what I’m really passionate about!”
I’m not suggesting that you rush out to some distant land, or that you form a public charity. What I am suggesting is that you take a close look at the world around you. Find a need that is begging for attention. Look for one that grabs you by the heart, and go for it. Make yourself available, and the purpose you’ve been seeking in your life may be staring you right in the eyes.
Photo: Author’s own.