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A Life Purpose Lesson from Saint Patrick

Photo of statue of St. Patrick from church in Belfast.
Saint Patrick's Church, Belfast, Donegall Street, Belfast, UK

When most Americans think about Saint Patrick's Day, the following things often come to mind: green, shamrocks, Ireland, and drinking.

Americans have little understanding of who St. Patrick was or when he lived in Ireland. (It was during the 5th Century.) And most of us don't know that he wasn't born Irish, he was a Christian missionary who traveled to that country.

While St. Patrick's activities are somewhat lost to history, there are a few details of his life that are presented in his short autobiographical manuscript, Confessio.

  1. St. Patrick was kidnapped from his home in Britain when he was about 16 years old.

  2. He was carried off to Ireland where he was enslaved as a sheepherder for about 6 years.

  3. As a result of a dream, St. Patrick decided to escape to a ship on the coast.

  4. His journey to freedom, back to his family in Britain, was a difficult one.

  5. He made it home. Yet ironically, God put it on his heart to return to Ireland to minister to the people there, even to those who had enslaved him.

  6. There were many in Britain who tried to keep St. Patrick from serving as a missionary in Ireland.

  7. Though he faced many trials, St. Patrick followed his calling and successfully ministered to the people of Ireland. He is now considered the nation's primary patron saint.

As you enjoy your shamrock shake today, I hope you give some thought to the story of St. Patrick. There are many lessons we can take from his life.

A particular passage in Confessio caught my attention. He writes:

"The Lord was merciful to me a thousand thousand times, because he saw in me that I was ready, but that I did not know what I should do about the state of my life."

In this sentence, St. Patrick reveals that early on he too was unclear about the purpose for his life. He "was ready" but "did not know" what he should do.

If you find yourself in this same situation, perhaps it would be wise to follow St. Patrick's strategy. If you are ready to act, but don't know where, look to the places you have already been.

After escaping his captivity and finding his way home to Britain, it wasn't long before St. Patrick headed back to Ireland. He voluntarily returned to the place where he had suffered. He did not do this in order to bring vengeance or retribution, he did this in order to promote healing.

While this may not be a viable approach for everyone, it has certainly been empowering for me.

A patch of clovers.

I currently work part-time as a crisis counselor for a 988 suicide prevention line. A key reason for this role is because in 2017, while serving as the Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at a university in Utah, a student, a professor, and a staff member each ended their own life within a very short time period. While these were unrelated tragedies, they combined together to destabilize our college. As I attempted to lead our departments through this trauma, I vowed to make this issue a bigger part of my life's work. Like St. Patrick, I chose not to flee the hurt, but to minister within it. And that has helped me better identify the purpose for my life, as a chaplain, encourager, and crisis counselor.

On this St. Patrick's Day, I encourage you to reflect on the hardships you have experienced in your own life. Are any of them your Ireland? Does any one of them call to you?

(Credits: St. Patrick's church photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash; Shamrocks Photo by Autumn Martin on Unsplash)

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