Purpose is tricky. Sometimes we may believe we are on the path God has laid before us…but a few miles later, we painfully come to realize we’ve been following our own GPS. Kristin Brown, Vice President of Communications for the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, has gone through many “re-routing” periods in her life and shares what she’s learned through each bend in the road to finding her purpose.
How would you define “purpose?”
Kristin: I work for an organization called the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics (IFWE), which has helped me learn a lot about life’s purpose. At IFWE, we talk about finding your purpose in how God has designed you and what He has called you to do. But purpose is not just what you do; it’s why you do it.
Finding your purpose goes back to the very beginning. God’s command to Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” still applies to us today (Gen. 1:28). God made man and woman in His image as creative, rational, and relational beings and called them to take the gifts and resources they were given and make more of them. This wasn’t just a command to multiply physically but to cause the world around them to flourish in a holistic sense. When understood this way, bringing flourishing to the world around us is something we can do even in the everyday things that seem mundane.
But when we look around, we don’t see a lot of flourishing. Just recently, I was shocked and saddened to learn that a woman shot two children in an apartment near my home. News like this takes your breath away. We live in a fallen world because of our sin. As Christians, our purpose is to give people living in this dark world a glimpse of the true flourishing that will exist when Christ returns and sets everything right—when relationships work as they should, people are free from sin and fully who they were designed to be, and where there is no sorrow, pain, racism, sexual abuse, or injustice.
My purpose is not only to tell people about Christ’s kingdom but also to live it out – by His grace and strength – in my everyday roles in my family, work, church, and community and to help others do the same. This is the “why” of what I do.
What struggles have you had with finding your life’s purpose?
Kristin: In my 30s, I struggled with a sense of purpose when life started to disappoint me. Deep down, my efforts to do my job with excellence, serve sacrificially at church, and love my family and friends were often done with this perspective: if I do what I think God wants me to do, He will provide the things I want. I desired to be married, but God wasn’t working on my timetable or responding to my “good works.”
As a result, I started to lose motivation at work. I was disappointed with God and had legitimate grief because of what looked like a lost dream. Without a purpose that transcended my circumstances, I let my circumstances define me and how I viewed God. Instead of serving God and His desires, I was primarily motivated to please myself.
But God is a loving and good gift-giver, and His gifts are not dependent on our performance. In grace, He soon led me to work at IFWE seven years ago, and He’s been shaping my understanding of my purpose ever since.
One of the most convicting moments was when I read, How Then Should We Work? by IFWE’s executive director Hugh Whelchel, and specifically, the section in which he explores the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30).
In the parable there is one servant, who, instead of investing the talents (money) entrusted to him by his master, buries the money in the ground. As Whelchel explains, the parable was told by Jesus to His disciples to instruct them what to do as they awaited His future return to establish His kingdom. He was calling them to cultivate and grow what He’d given them (gifts, resources, abilities, relationships, etc.) to advance his kingdom. For me, I realized that I had been burying my (literal) talents in the ground because of my disappointment with God!
Today, I’m motivated to grow what God has given me not just out of sense of conviction and a healthy fear of God but also because I know it carries great eternal purpose. Everything I do matters to God.
God did eventually bring an amazing man into my life and I’ve been married almost five years. But my experience through singleness has given me a heart for single women who struggle in their purpose and at work because of disappointment with God. When I share with them about God’s purpose for them in all they do, they tend to sit up straighter in their chair with a sense of hope and courage.
Why is grief an important part of the “purpose process?”
Kristin: Grief forces you to ask the big questions about life. I’m currently working through a different grief related to childbearing. In God’s perfect but sometimes unexplainable timing, I got married in my 40s. While I hoped to be able to still bear children, that may not be God’s plan for me. The pain of not being a biological mom has forced me to press in further to God to more deeply understand my purpose.
When I look at my life through the lens of God’s kingdom, I see that my purpose includes being a “spiritual mom” to any child God puts in my life, whether biological or not. It so happens that I have twelve nephews and nieces and one goddaughter! I also have been given somewhat of a platform to encourage others in my childlessness; I can be honest about my disappointment but ultimately point to my future hope in Christ’s kingdom, where there will be no more tears. Over time, grief carves out a longing in your heart to love others. That desire shapes your understanding of purpose, too.
But grief is not something you speed through. You should be aware of how it may impact your work, relationships, health, and other aspects of life, and give yourself time. The tendency is to want to get out of grief as fast as you can. It’s painful!
In my grief, I know intellectually that God doesn’t promise that any of us will be mothers and that my hope should be placed on His actual promises in His word. But sometimes what you know intellectually and where your heart is don’t match up. It has been in this process where God has loved on me and given me a lot of grace. He’s encouraged me to take my time but to keep moving toward Him in my grief.
I love that the Bible is full of examples of people expressing deep grief to the Lord. Look at the Psalms. In many of them, the psalmist is asking, “God, where are you? How could you let this happen?” If you’re feeling stuck in your grief, read the Psalms. God has given you permission to approach Him this way, with your heart wide open. I have found that it is often in these times when I pour my heart out to God that He deeply ministers to me in my grief.
If God’s purpose for your life doesn’t end up being what you wanted it to be, how do you move past that?
Kristin: When life disappoints us, we need to be aware of two extreme responses. In Better Than My Dreams, Christian counselor Paula Rinehart explains that we need to avoid the responses of entitlement and resignation.
With an attitude of entitlement, we believe that because of our “good works” we are entitled to what we want in life and when we want it. God owes us.
With a spirit of resignation, we lose all hope that God has good purposes at all. We resign ourselves to our circumstances and basically close up shop, moving through life without much feeling. God has abandoned us.
I can identify with both responses. Rinehart explains that, instead of entitlement or resignation, we need a spirit of hope and expectation that God is always at work and does indeed have good and perfect purposes in your life circumstances (Rom 8:28). This means that you may still have grief, but you have hope at the same time. It’s where you can be fully alive.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Kristin: In the search for purpose, I’ve been encouraged by other women along the way. One of those women is author and 4word Advisory Board member Carolyn Custis James, who in her book When Life and Beliefs Collide challenges women to become better theologians. Theology, she explains, is not something done in ivory towers by seminarians. It’s what we do when life unfolds, in the everyday stuff of life. It’s the perspective we have when doing the umpteenth load of laundry. It’s what we say (or don’t say) when we’re sitting next to a friend getting chemo. When life happens, what we believe about God, ourselves, and our purpose is revealed.
So, I encourage women to go deeper in their knowledge of God and to seek out their purpose as God has communicated in His word. As the world’s values continue to rapidly change around us, we must continually push forward to know God in a fuller, richer way. Otherwise, we will let the world’s perspectives shape what we value and derail our true purpose.
What would you say your “why” is? Do you truly believe it lines up with God’s definition for you, or is your “why” built more around what you’ve envisioned and believe is God’s calling? We’re so thankful for Kristin’s honest and rich words about her journey to find her life’s purpose. We hope she’s been an inspiration to you, too!
As Vice President of Communications for the Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics, Kristin Brown develops and implements the strategy to connect evangelical Christians with the Institute’s transformational message on faith, work, and economics. Kristin has an extensive background in communications, with prior roles as Vice President of Communications for Care Net, the largest organization supporting the life-affirming work of pregnancy centers, and as media director for Family Research Council, a public policy organization in Washington, DC.
As an effective spokesperson on public policy and social issues, she has appeared on CNN, MSNBC’s “Hardball,” C-SPAN, CNBC, and Fox News, and has been quoted nationwide in various publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, USA Today, and the Associated Press.
A Southern California native, Kristin graduated from Princeton University with a Bachelor of Arts in English and is pursuing a Master of Arts in Religion from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. Kristin and her husband, Scott, live in Northern Virginia.
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