A Purposeful Life

Last Saturday, I attended a Thanksgiving Service to honour the work of my college mate, the Rev Dr. Kang Ho Soon. After serving continuously as a pastor for 42 years, he is due for retirement. The sanctuary was filled with more than a thousand family members, colleagues and friends, including members of the Inter-Religious Organization in their religious garbs. It speaks volumes for the man who was all things to all people who, moving forward, seeks only to be there for all and sundry who need a pair of listening ears.


In sharing his vision for life, he quoted Robert Byrne, who reputed to have said, “The purpose of life is a life of purpose.” The idea that life should or ought to have a purpose resonates with many. In 2002, Pastor Rick Warren wrote a devotional book The Purpose Driven Life. The book resonated with so many that it stayed on the New York Times Best Seller list a very long time. It also topped the Wall Street Journal and the Publishers Weekly best-sellers charts. By 2007, the book sold over 30 million copies. It is reputed to be the most translated book after the Bible itself!


When I was nominated for the Active Ager Award of the Council for the Third Age in 2011, I was asked at an interview what drives me to be and do. I told them that I believe in God and I live to love God and love my neighbour as I love myself. That sums up my spirituality. That spirituality gives me a sense of purpose and purposefulness.

Life is a gift and is meant to be lived with a purpose. That purpose for me, was, is and will always be, a life of service. The shape of a purposeful life varied from pastoring to lawyering; from administration to lecturing; from writing to managing. In most of the chapters of my life, I found myself concurrently expending in multi-vocational ways, as I am now. Through them all, I was focused on serving God by seeking “to be a blessing to someone” everyday.

When I crossed the half century mark almost 2 decades ago, I realized afresh what Linda Ellis’ famous The Dash is about. The dash is the little line between the dates of one’s birth and death. It is one simple poem that had inspired millions since it was first published in 1996. It is worth reading again and again to rediscover the purpose of life:

The Dash 

​I read of a man who stood to speak
at the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on the tombstone
from the beginning...to the end. 

He noted that first came the date of birth
and spoke the following date with tears,
but he said what mattered most of all
was the dash between those years. 

For that dash represents all the time
that they spent alive on earth.
And now only those who loved them
know what that little line is worth. 

For it matters not, how much we own,
the cars...the house...the cash.
What matters is how we live and love
and how we spend our dash. 

So, think about this long and hard.
Are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left
that can still be rearranged. 

If we could just slow down enough
to consider what’s true and real
and always try to understand
​the way other people feel. 

And be less quick to anger
and show appreciation more
and love the people in our lives
like we’ve never loved before. 

If we treat each other with respect
and more often wear a smile,
remembering that this special dash
might only last a little while. ​

So, when your eulogy is being read,
with your life’s actions to rehash...
would you be proud of the things they say
about how you spent YOUR dash?

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