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What makes you come alive

As you start this week, may you notice what makes you come alive. What do you find yourself lost in, unaware of the time? What subject continually fascinates you? What could you talk about at length without getting bored (besides the latest binge-watching of Sherlock, of course)?

I posted this famous quote on the blog’s Facebook page a few days ago, and it sparked a few interesting comments:

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” -Howard Thurman

A few readers found it selfish, and I can see why it seems that way. It sounds like advice to put your needs before the needs of others. And maybe it means that, in some way.

But I read it as this: what makes you come alive is, in fact, what the world needs.

It’s easy to walk through the ins and outs of our weeks and months with a bit of numbing potion rubbed on our bodies—wake up, do this thing, then the other thing, rinse and repeat. Run errands, help with homework, log hours at the office. Day after day.

Now, there’s beauty in the everyday and in the small, so don’t get me wrong—I’ve come to appreciate the liturgy infused in my normal routine. But I often fail to recognize the liturgy itself, and that causes me to go a bit slack-jawed with malaise, too tired or too indifferent to the still, small stirring inside me that brings forth life.

But when I turn off the Spotify, when I stop the mental trails of dinner plans and play dates and work assignments, when I find a little quiet space for my brain and heart to do some dancing… I can sense a tap-tap-tap of life. I can hear God whisper to me ways and reasons He’s breathed into me life. And it involves, quite naturally, those things I can’t stop thinking about.

I bet it’s the same for you, too. And though it’s a noble question to ask what the world needs, it may not be the right question for you. When the good, God-given heart in you is stirred, it’s almost always for something the world needs anyway. In big and small ways.

And this doesn’t always have to translate to vocation—this thing that stirs in you may bring home a paycheck, or it might be a simple labor of love. At the Seattle meetup a few days ago, I chatted with a reader who works at a hospital but spends her off hours pouring her heart into serving her community. I could tell by the way she spoke about it that it’s her soul-stirring. It’s her gift to the world, because it makes her come alive.

This week, may you take time to be still, and to notice that stirring inside. What makes you come alive? Perhaps it’s what we all need you to do.

West coast readers, I’d love to meet you! Next up is San Francisco tomorrow, then Los Angeles (well, Tustin) on Friday, San Diego (well, Encinitas) on Sunday, and then finally at good ol’ Powell’s in Portland next week. Head here for details.

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  1. Pam

    These Monday morning posts are really helping me focus. My vocation(s) are very important to me. I am first a mom, wife and little worker bee. I volunteer as a children’s choral director which was my bread and butter as a single parent for many years.
    However, as much as I love teaching and hearing those kiddos grow and sing it still can strip me of my energy. Building lesson plans that span the ages of 4 to 12 can really make you a little bat crazy and incoporating the faith while doing it all can be super crazy.
    What do I long for, what calls me, the me that was me in the seventies as a girl and as a rock solid parent of 27 years and counting with one engaged and one in grade school?
    Art calls, me. Some kind of art.
    Nature calls me, It begs me to come visit.
    Singing calls me, my voice wants to be heard without the company of 25 little singers to lead.
    Ugh, I guess it does sound kind of selfish. but if I don’t sing, than nobody sings. I need to take the time to sing for my own supper, before singing for everyone elses or this mighty mom bridge will crumble.
    Good heavens, I need to get to bed. I get so long winded when I am not writing cleaning challenges. haha

  2. Le Swan

    So true!

  3. Britt Reints

    My mom used to tell me that “God didn’t give you those wants and desires just to screw with you.”

    What makes you come alive, I believe, are the breadcrumbs that take you to your purpose; and our purpose is ultimately always about making the whole world a little bit better (even if we don’t clearly see how).

    • Jenn @ A Simple Haven

      Britt, your mom sounds like a wise (and funny :)) woman. I think she’s right. Though the way He has me use those desires isn’t always what I expected.

    • jim

      Britt, your comment really stopped me. I just resonated.
      Thanks for that.
      And thanks for the article Tsh. I value and enjoy the work you do on your blog.


    • Guest

      I absolutely love that saying from your mom! I spent a number of years (mostly through college) afraid that my calling was going to be something I didn’t really want to do. At some point, I made friends with a great woman who was a missionary and I told her I really hoped I wasn’t supposed to be a missionary. She laughed and said that if that’s what I was supposed to do, God would have laid it on my heart and I would have a desire for it. It really made me rethink this idea that serving God meant that it had to be a chore. That really, serving God is using the talents and passions He has given us to serve others. Anyway, thanks for sharing – very funny.

  4. Holly

    This is a path I am really exploring this year. Like Pam, I have this need to create, to make art. There are days when I let the fatigue of the day weigh me down into my chair, with homework, dinner, dishes etc all clamoring for attention, but I come alive when I am able to sit at my work table and play with paper, or paint, or ideas that somehow find their way from my imagination to my fingertips.

    Thanks for the encouragement!

  5. Jennifer K

    The world first of all needs people who are responsible, hard-working, law-abiding citizens who respect each other. That said, YES, the world needs people who have come alive! How much better a place would the world be if everyone had “come alive”. You can tell when people are doing the things they were meant to do, and when they are not (and they are burned-out, sour, or just plain numb). As we interact with each other, it affects us all to some degree. Not only ourselves, but other people are blessed when we are being who we were meant to be.

  6. Katie May

    This is precisely where I find myself…working out that process of discovering what makes my heart come alive and then finding the spaces in life that I can express that. What makes me come alive is writing, teaching, and leading…specifically giving those gifts to other women to facilitate their own discovery of the everyday reality of God at work in our lives and world.

  7. Samantha

    This is so very true! If none of us did what makes us happy, then no one would enjoy anything. I love doing what makes me happy and if it makes me happy, I do it well. If you’re not happy, what’s the point? If you can do something that brings out your happiness, then you’re doing it with a smile which is definitely what the world needs more of. A smile is the best gift you can give someone. I have been thanked numerous of times only because I smiled at someone. 🙂 What’s better than giving someone a smile. Happiness and positivity radiates from people and absorbs into others. Be positive! Make a difference in this world full of negativity, unhappiness, loneliness! 🙂

  8. Lori@Mothering_Matters

    Today – learning to “tap-tap-tap” dance in my living room made me come alive! 🙂 I vowed this year to do things that #1 – make me happy, #2 – scare the heck out of me but I’ve always wanted to do them (ie – auditioning for a musical, taking acting classes, tap classes, etc), and #3 – brought more fun and joy into my family and the lives of those I touch!
    So . . . 2014 should be a FUN year!
    Right now I am trying to decide whether to leave my job (which I’m good at . . . but it doesn’t necessarily make me come alive) or not. We’ll see. But for now – I’m making sure to get a good dose of those things that DO make me come alive . . . singing, acting, learning to dance, praying with people, starting a marriage ministry and seeing marriages restored and lives transformed, going for coffee dates with friends, pouring into young women through MOPS and a young adult women’s group, etc, etc! Oh yeah . . . and hanging out, having fun with my family more often! 🙂 Less chores . . . more fun!
    Thanks for this post!! It blessed my soul today!

  9. Dorothy

    Thanks for this post. I’ve been thinking all day and musing about what makes me alive. Thank you!

  10. Dee

    This is incredibly profound. Right now, in my job, I am not a live and I think it’s making many around me miserable. Similarly, our church badly needs people to be Sunday School teachers. I tried it and HATED IT. It kept me up at night, made me horribly anxious and uncomfortable. It was SO NOT what God is calling me to do. Despite the need, it’s not for me. I have other gifts to give. We all should feel alive in our lives and therefore will give the best of ourselves.

  11. Beth B.

    I first found the following quote in Parker J. Palmer’s book, “The Courage to Teach”

    “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
    ― Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC

    It’s what I thought of when I read the quote here. The world needs everything. We cannot provide everything, no matter how hard we try. And on a daily basis it’s such a challenge to separate all the jobs we must do from the job we MUST do. Age 43 and still looking…

  12. Beth Werner Lee

    I love practicing hospitality.
    Is there any chance you’re driving through Santa Barbara on the way from SF to LA, Tsh? We have sprint break going on here, so are fairly flexible!

  13. Kristin S

    I’m going to have to come back to this post. I read the first half and burst in to tears. I can’t answer that question!

  14. DebbieD

    For years, I was involved in a fabulous girls’ ministry at our church. It was hugely popular and needed a lot of women to make it run well, but I loved that the director (and writer) of the ministry always worked hard to put women in a position not where there was a NEED, but that was her PASSION. So if someone told her they wanted to get involved, she would ask what their passion was. The woman would usually say, “I’ll work wherever you have a need” and my friend would say, “I’d rather have you where your passion is, because then you’re more likely to still be with us in a year”. I saw it happen over and over. Sometimes, a woman really didn’t know where her passion lay, and often my friend was able to help her figure it out. It was very cool.

    We all have things that we just have to do. But I believe we should also all have a place in our lives for the things we are passionate about. I think God wired us to need that.

    • Naomi Liz Figueroa

      Wow, I love that. Very interesting, Debbie. I often look to fill needs…and on the one hand, I do think it’s important if, for instance, I’m going to volunteer with a non-profit in Guatemala that they don’t create some make-work for me just because it’s something I’m passionate about. This is kind of a different example, but because I’m passionate about missions and development and cross-cultural work, I often think about things within that context. Unfortunately I think that a lot of short-term missions trips and volunteerism does create make-work where there isn’t really a need.
      BUT, I really like what this woman was doing and the idea she had to connect with people’s passions. “I’d rather have you where your passion is, because then you’re more likely to still be with us in a year.” That’s good stuff.
      Definitely going to have to chew on that for a bit.

  15. Sally

    Funny you should mention Sherlock. This morning, taught a Sherlock Holmes story in my British literature class. So before I even got to the last sentence of your first paragraph, I was thinking “Sherlock Holmes always fascinates me! British literature always fascinates me!” These things make me come alive, and that is when I am the best teacher I can be.

  16. Naomi Liz Figueroa

    Yes, yes, and yes. I have been exploring this question–“What makes me come alive?”–over the past month or so since I read *A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live* by Emily Freeman.

    I shared that quote that you posted a few days ago because it’s a theme that has been resonating with me so much lately. I’ve been feeling a gentle stirring and such incredible freedom as I’ve explored this.

    Something I found very helpful was taking the time to really, deeply explore that question {What makes me come alive? When do I feel most alive?} by free writing about it in my journal.

    (Even better, check out Emily’s book–it’s incredible and this is one of the things she takes you through as you read).

    If you’ve never done free writing, the rules are basically that there are absolutely no grammar or spelling rules (NO pausing to edit, no going back to edit, just keep writing) and you just write what comes into your head (your “first thoughts”). It probably won’t make sense much of the time. You might write “I don’t know what to say. My mind is blank. I have no thoughts.” {No? It’s just me that does that?} Keep writing. Maybe you set a timer for 5 minutes or 10 or 20 or even longer. Do not stop writing, keep digging. It might be scary in there. Keep going–this isn’t to share with others. It’s for you. But there is incredible power when we explore our “first thoughts” and don’t edit them–you might be surprised at what you uncover.

    Let’s be brave together!

  17. Catherine

    I love this post and I love that quote. It has been my mantra for a few years now. It never even occurred to me to see it in a negative or selfish way. Isn’t it amazing how different we all are? I just see it as using your God given talents for the betterment of yourself and others. I am teaching my children to do just this and I hope and pray they are ‘alive’ for their whole lives.

  18. Andrew Burgon

    What makes us come alive could be a blessing for others. Friendships are what make me thrive.

    Case in point, my need for close friendships during a time of severe depression a decade ago. I flung open the doors of my life and started drawing in the best friendships I could find. I hosted numerous events and took my initiative with others to a whole new level. Not only did I personally benefit but a host of friends also benefited.

    Thanks, Tsh.

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