Life is about one thing above all else: purpose. For the one who has found his or her purpose, life is beautiful. For the one who is living devoid of purpose, life can be an intolerable hell. When adversity comes to a person without purpose, life seems pointless. When adversity comes to a person with purpose, life takes on special meaning. Purpose reframes adversity. Adversity comes to us all.
Sometimes it comes to us in droplets — one at a time. But at other times, the floodgates open, and adversity surges over us like a rushing river. We fear that we will be consumed, drowned, and swept away by it. Adversity is an equal opportunity destroyer. It does not care if your collar is white or blue. The wise person cannot reason a way around it. The strong one cannot fight a way through it. The rich person cannot buy a way out of it. Adversity will come to everyone in various ways and different degrees. Your challenge, and mine, is simply to let our purpose guide us through adversity. The greatest thinkers of our time have taught us to use the power of purpose to overcome the greatest obstacles. Adversity is not strong enough to destroy you unless you surrender to it. You may be lost in the desert or wading through the deep waters.
You may be struggling in the wilderness or walking through the fire. But your rivers of pain, loss, and difficulty cannot drown you. The fires of adversity and trauma are not strong enough to consume you if you can discover (or remember) your purpose. While your purpose may not be clear to you at the moment, you must remember that it was determined long before this current crisis. Your path was being carved for you from before you took your first breath. You may have been living unaware of the divine intervention that leads us to the one great thing that gives our life meaning. Sometimes, adversity is needed to remind us of our purpose. Other times, adversity can be the vehicle that clarifies our purpose. This has been Cornell Bunting’s experience. When everything was taken from him when Cornell faced heartbreaking adversity and was in darkness, Cornell found his purpose — and adversity ushered in the light that helped him to escape from the dark.
As the lovely Bible verse in Isaiah promises, you will discover a pathway through the wilderness and water in the desert. You will be renewed and refreshed as you see a way through the deep waters. And you will see that the fires of adversity burn up all that does not serve you. This desert imagery is rich with power and promise. The reference to the desert is made again and again throughout the literature. But it is not just the desert that is present in these ancient texts. It is the juxtaposition of the desert and rivers, the desert and the sea, the desert and plentiful waters. This imagery seeks to open our minds to the possibility that even in the most unusual places, amazing things can happen. Even in the desert, we can find places of abundance. Even in the darkness, we can find the light. Even in jail, we can find our purpose. Our job is to have the faith to believe that a path will be made for us.
In the darkest desert and through the wilderness of adversity, Cornell discovered the path meant for him. After months in the darkness of a jail cell, the light of his purpose shone through for him to see. Cornell discovered that he’s a storyteller. When Cornell was on a journey around the world, he found himself talking with elders in South Africa. One of those elders in Soweto told him that he is meant to inspire others, and bring light to the darkness, through the power of stories – his own, as well as those of others. So, before this author (Cornell Bunting) take you on this journey of escaping the darkness, let him share a story from the land of his ancestors.
Acres of Diamonds by Earl Nightingale
An African farmer heard tales about other farmers who had made millions by discovering diamond mines. These tales so excited the farmer that he could hardly wait to sell his farm and go prospecting for diamonds himself. He sold his farm and spent the rest of his life wandering the African continent, searching unsuccessfully for the gleaming gems that brought such high prices in the markets of the world. Finally, worn out and in a fit of despondency, he threw himself into a river and drowned.
The man who bought his farm happened to be crossing the small stream on the property one day when suddenly there was a bright flash of blue and red light from the stream bottom. He bent down and picked up a stone. It was a good-sized stone, and admiring it, he brought it home and put it on his fireplace mantel as an interesting curiosity. Several weeks later a visitor picked up the stone, looked closely at it, hefted it in his hand, and nearly fainted. He asked the farmer if he knew what he’d found. When the farmer said, no, that he thought it was a piece of crystal, the visitor told him he had found one of the largest diamonds ever discovered.
The farmer had trouble believing this. He told the man that his creek was full of such stones, not all as large as the one on the mantel, but sprinkled generously throughout the creek bottom. The farm the first farmer had sold so that he might find a diamond mine, turned out to be one of the richest diamond mines on the entire African continent. The first farmer had owned, free and clear . . . acres of diamonds. But he had sold them for practically nothing, to look for diamonds elsewhere.
The moral is clear: If the first farmer had only taken the time to study and prepare himself to learn what diamonds looked like in their rough state, and to thoroughly explore the property he had before looking elsewhere, all of his wildest dreams would have come true. The thing about this story that has so profoundly affected millions of people is the idea that each of us is, at this very moment, standing in the middle of our acres of diamonds. If we only had the wisdom and patience to intelligently and effectively explore our corner of the world, and ourselves, we would most likely find the riches we seek — whether they be financial or intangible, or both.
As Socrates said, true wisdom is to Know Yourself. When Socrates penned those words over two thousand years ago, it was for a play in which one character utters the iconic line to another, insisting that he should consider his place and purpose in the universe. It’s easy to say but tough to do. Yet it is a necessary step if you plan to live your purpose. You have to know who you are. You have to know what you do NOT know and what your limits are. It may seem nonsensical to suggest that people should know themselves. Doesn’t everyone already know themselves? The answer is a resounding NO.
Sadly, most people don’t know themselves and repeat the same destructive patterns that bring them unhappiness. The paths to peace are lost to them because they have not done the deep introspective work required to know exactly who they are and exactly what they want. But who could blame them? The plunge into our psyches is a scary trip, indeed.
As William Butler Yeats said, IT TAKES MORE COURAGE TO EXAMINE THE DARK CORNERS OF YOUR SOUL THAN IT DOES FOR A SOLDIER TO FIGHT ON A BATTLEFIELD. Your soul is a scary place. Therein lies all of your hurts, pains, and disappointments. Looking deep within, you may discover the things about you that you dislike the most: your flaws, inconsistencies, fears, lies, and defects.
We all have a monster or two living inside of us. But we have to slay those dragons if we expect to find the treasures that lie deep below the surface. As Rainer Maria Rilke said, OUR DEEPEST FEARS ARE LIKE DRAGONS GUARDING OUR DEEPEST TREASURE. The good news is that when you embark on the journey to Know Yourself, in addition to all of the things you dislike or fear, you will find all of the great things that make you who you are. Your skills, gifts, and talents are the buried treasure that must be unearthed now to take you to the next level of life. In the business world, interviewers call these strengths and weaknesses.
We’ve all had to answer that difficult and surprisingly intrusive question when we are asked to list what is great about us and what may present a challenge for a future employer. Few people are comfortable singing their praises, but they have to answer the question if they want to get the job. So, they do. Similarly, though, we do not want to reveal to a total stranger the elements of our personality that we dislike or hide. Instead, we come up with an answer that is neither truthful nor revealing to make it through the interview. But we know that some places inside of us need to be exposed to the light. While we don’t want to expose them in an interview, during our own time of stillness and quiet, we can look at those questions and answer them honestly.
The process of self-discovery is not an easy one. It is the most difficult thing you will experience. This is not about who you are now. No one care who you are. Nobody does (except maybe your mother). The real question is who and what you are destined to be. One way to start is to answer this question: WHAT CAN I CREATE IN THE WORLD THAT WOULD NEVER HAVE EXISTED WITHOUT ME? The answer might be a song, a chair, a book, a game, a hairstyle, a company, a school, an orphanage, a charity, or a baked good. The truth is — it doesn’t matter. The point is to lay your hand on something that will never come into the world without your involvement. We live in a culture where people say “love yourself,” “take care of yourself,” and “be yourself.” It seems as if we want to love ourselves, but we struggle to find something about ourselves that is truly lovable.
We are trapped in cycles of self-deprecation, comparison to others, and chronic complaining. We don’t look good enough; we don’t weigh the right amount; the rips and muscles aren’t in the spots we want them; we aren’t married to the right person; our children don’t behave as we want; we don’t live where we want; we don’t live how we want. Some people live their dreams. Other people spend money to watch people who are living their dreams. It’s quite a paradigm shift. Every time we sit down to watch a basketball game, a movie, a television show, or a concert, we are watching someone’s blood, sweat, and tears come to fruition.
We pay for that all-important look into their lives. But the performance is only a tiny part of it. Sure, celebrities and wealthy people live lavish lives. I’ll concede that. They take expensive vacations, wear the finest clothes, and live in the lap of luxury. But they pay a high internal price for the millions of dollars they earn. For some, the price is too high and ends in drug overdose, alcohol poisoning, or suicide. But for others, they are high on life, doing what they love to do, being where they want to be. Nine hours in the studio is not drudgery for them. It’s heaven. Hitting a thousand golf balls for a professional golfer is like a trip to the amusement park. The real question is, are you living your life or are you watching others live theirs? You need to have a 360-degree view of your life.
Here is how Cornell sees it: THE PAST GIVES YOU EXPERIENCE, WISDOM, AND PERSPECTIVE. THE PRESENT SHOULD BRING YOU PEACE, PURPOSE, AND CONTENTMENT. THE FUTURE IS MEANT TO PROVIDE HOPE, AMBITION, AND EXCITEMENT. Together, all three perspectives help you to be the best person you can be with an outlook on life that is always hopeful, content, and expectant. Dreams that don’t come to fruition can bring disappointment, but our limited vision for the future can never compete with God’s all-knowing perspective. As we yield ourselves to Him, we can be certain that He is still lovingly directing our steps even when we don’t see the path ahead. (Proverbs 16:9) So how did Cornell come to Know himself? How did he find my purpose? This is the story of how adversity helped Cornell Bunting to find his purpose – how he escaped the darkness and found the light – and how you can too?