[Editorial Note: We so often speak to the need to study the Holy Fathers. What is presented below is one "letter" - one of eighty in a little book titled, "The Spiritual Life" from St. Theophan the Recluse. These letters were spiritual guidance given by the saint to those who came to him for counsel. This letter in particular is to a young adult, but its content should resonate with all of us, for we share in the insecurities expressed in this letter. For this reason, it struck me as pertinent to many things that surround us in the world today. The chapter's title is the title given this post - "The True Goal of Life." It goes longer than most posts here, but we hope you'll find it edifying enough to seek out the book for yourselves, and be edified by its content even further. ISBN 978-0-9729956-1-0. FrB]
What has happened to you? What kinds of questions are these? "I do not know what to do with my life. Should I be doing something in particular? Should I define some particular purpose for myself?" I read this and I was dumbfounded; where could such odd thoughts have come from? Indeed, you already settled all of this when you expressed the desire to stand at the level of human dignity, as God intended it to be. What have we been talking about, if not that! Where did these problems come from? I would guess that among your friends are progressive thinkers, or that you have joined a society having such people in it, and they have scattered your good sense. Such people usually rave in this manner. Phrases such as "the good of mankind" and "the good of the people" are always on their tongues. Probably you, after hearing so many profound ideas, were captivated by them, and when you turned your eyes to your real life, you saw with regret that you had vegetated in your family circle without benefit or purpose. Oh! Only now has someone opened your eyes!
If my guess is correct, then you owe me an apology, because you said nothing about this, even though you gave your promise to write about everything honestly. Wheter this is the case or not, I cannot put your problems aside without offering a solution. Our entire discussion will serve as the complete solution. For right now I will tell you only briefly a general thought, so you may see that the life you have lived up to this point, and that you are now living, is the true life, and there is nothing in it that needs to be changed.
One needs to know for certain the exact purpose of life. Is this wise, however? For is it not already certain? The general assumption is that, because there is a life beyond the grave, the purpose of the true life, without exception, must be there, and not here. This assumption is known to everyone, and there is no reason to go into it, although in practice, it is remembered least of all. But make it a rule for your own life to pursue this purpose with all your strength; you will see for yourself what light will emanate from there onto your short sojourn on the earth and onto your affairs. The first thing that will be opened will be the conviction that here on earth there are only the means to that other life. There is a single rule concerning these means: To make use of these means, and to use them in such a way that they guide you toward your purpose and do not detract you from it, and are not at cross-purposes to it. So there is the solution to your puzzle, "I do not know what to do with my life." Look to Heaven, and measure every step of your life so that it is a step toward it. It seems to me that it is so simple and at the same time comprehensive.
You ask, "Shouldn't I be doing something?" Of course that is necessary. Do whatever falls to your hands, in your circle and in your situation - and believe that this is and will be your true work; nothing more from you is required. It is a great error to think that you must undertake important and great labors, whether for heaven, or, as progressives thin, in order to make one's contribution to humanity. That is not necessary at all. It is necessary only to do everything in accordance wiht the Lord's commandments. Just exactly what is to be done? Nothing in particular, just that which presents itself to each one according to the circumstances of his life, and which is demanded by the individual events with which each of us meets. That is all. God arranges the lot of each person, and the entire course of life of each one is also His all-good industry, as is each moment and each meeting. Let us take an example: A poor man comes to us; God has brought him. What are you supposed to do? Help him. God, Who has brought this poor man to you, with the desire, of course, that you act toward this poor man in a manner pleasing to Him, looks at you, to see how you will in fact act. He will be pleased if you help. Will you help? You will have done what is pleasing to God, and will have made a big step toward the final goal: reward in Heaven. If you generalize this instance, you will come to the conclusion that in all instances, and during each meeting, it is necessary to do what God wants us to do. As to what He wants, we certainly know that from the commandments He has given us. Is someone seeking help? Help him. Has someone offended you? Forgive him. Have you offended somebody? Rush to ask forgiveness and make peace. Did someone praise you? Don't be proud. Did someone scold you? Do not be angry. Is it time to pray? Pray. Is it time to work? Work. Etc., etc., etc. If, after all of this has been explained, you set about to act in this way in every instance, so that your works will be pleasing to God, having carried them out according to the commandments without any deviation, then all the problems of your life will be solved completely and satisfactorily. The purpose is the blessed life beyond the grave; the means are the works according to the commandments, the execution of which is required by each instance of life. It seems to me that all of this is clear and simple; there is no reason to torture yourself with difficult problems. You need to put out of your mind any plans about "multi-beneficial, all-embracing, common-to-all-mankind" activity such as the progressives rant about. Then your life will be regarded as enclosed within peaceful boundaries, and leading toward the final goal without hindrance. Remember, the Lord does not forget even a glass of cold water given to someone tormented by thirst.
You will say, "All the same, it is still necessary to select and determine one's way of life!" Indeed, how would we go about determining it? We would start by thinking it over, and end up with mass confusion in our heads. Best and most hopeful of all is to accept with obedience, gratitude and love that determination which God utters in the course of our life's circumstances. I am taking your situation! You are presently under your parent's protection. What is the best thing to desire? Warmth, safety, freedom. Live, not flying a long way off in thought, but diligently doing each thing which falls to you. "But still, think about how it is impossible to always remain that way. I must, at some point, begin my own life. How should I be then? And how can I not think about it?" There, that is the best line of thought for you in this matter! Put yourself in God's hands and pray that He puts you in the place that He considers best, so that your fate does not hinder you, but instead helps you to attain that blessed life beyond the grave, without dreaming about some splendid lot. After you have made up your mind in this way, wait patiently for the time when God will speak to you. He will speak through the concurrence of circumstances and the will of your parents. After you have become strengthened in these thoughts and have found peace in God, live without making empty plans, but doing the works that fall on you with respect to your parents, brothers, sisters, other relatives and to all people. Do not think at all that this life is empty. Everything that you do here, no matter what it is, will be a work, and if you do it with the consciousness that such a work is according to the commandments and that God wants such a thing, then the work will be pleasing to God. So it is with every small thing.
It seems I have explained everything to you. I would only add the hope that you have tried to grasp well what was written, have reinforced it, and thus made up your mind. I predict to you that you will find complete peace, and that you will no longer be troubled by such thoughts as "My life is not going anywhere.... I am not doing anything useful." There is just one other thing; it is necessary to keep the heart in check, because it takes pride in such nonsense. True, it is no good without the heart, for what kind of life is it without the heart? All the same, it is not good to give it free reign. It is blind, and without strict guidance one immdiately falls into a ditch!
May the Lord bless you!