I have long believed that there is a purpose to life, to mine and to each other life on this planet. When I think of my purpose I most often think of it in terms of “vocation,” a word derived from the Latin vocatio, which means literally “a calling.” Whether you think of it as God calling, or destiny, or the core of your embodied, inspirited life wanting to realize itself, I believe it all springs from the same source.
I’ve tended to identify my vocation with my work, and in a way vocation is that, of course, but it is also much more. I’ve sometimes lost sight of the “much more” part, but it’s always tugged at me from some neglected corner of my consciousness. For many, many years I’ve poured all my energies into my work and neglected the rest of my living. Now, in this time of transition from being a full-time Christian pastor (my work) to being simply a full-time Christian person (my life) I’m finding myself struggling with being unfocused, scattered in my mind and wandering aimlessly through each day. I find it harder to make myself do what I don’t want to do. I want to do too many things long desired but neglected. My life before was filled with the demands others made on me. Now it’s filled with too many desires I’m trying to follow. It feels like I’m trying to become the person I’ve long wanted to be but left no time for, but it also feels like I’m making no progress in any direction.
I’ve put up a long foldable conference table in my office at home, which is now covered with bins and piles of distinct projects I feel drawn to work on: two books I’m doing prep for; a bin for shorter writing projects ahead; notes for my website; photos and a camera (I want to learn how to create beautiful pictures); notes on sketching and painting (another much-delayed pleasure); books I want to read; a bin for bills, budgeting, and plans for the house; and one for looking for part-time paid work. There is no physical “bin” on the table designated for family, but that’s another part of my life, of course, and another part – a large part – is praying, thinking, daydreaming. Among all these I find myself drifting from one to another at random every day. I constantly plan to take a more orderly and systematic approach, but I end up not following the plan. I am filled with a sense of gratitude for being given this time, these five months of such freedom, but I am also burdened with guilt for not using the time more purposefully, more fruitfully.
So I went to prayer just now, asking the Lord to show me how He sees these five months and how I’ve spent them. There was no answer in the time of praying. But when I got up and began to feel bad for not staying more conscious, more focused, more something… I turned and opened a little book that sits by my prayer chair, The Daily Light (ed. Edythe Draper), and there was His answer: “Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish…. After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort … The Lord will work out his plans for my life … God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey him and the power to do what pleases him.” (Heb. 12.2 … Gal. 3.3 … Ps. 138.8 … Phil. 2.13)
I admit now that I have had a recurring intuition that, though I’m spending these hours and days in what seems to my ego fruitless and foolish ways, it has all been grist for the mill of God’s intentions. But I’ve found it hard to put my faith in this. Judging myself for not being more productive is more pleasing to the ego. This is the temptation of a lifetime; I’m always accusing myself of being lazy. So this, as everything in the spiritual life, needs to be carefully discerned.
Maybe what feels like “not-working-hard-enough” is really just yielding my life more fully in dependence on God; maybe a bit aimless and wandering is what I need to be for now. Trying to drive myself harder when God is calling me to rest in Him (I have been hearing this!) is just a way to refuse to accept my innate poverty, my dependence, my imperfection and weakness. It takes an act of humility and trust to let God be God; to trust that, even if I hear imperfectly and understand imperfectly, having faith in what seems foolish is the healthy and sane way to behave this time.
Discernment of the Spirit is seldom crystal clear. It’s most often more like gazing into a dim and clouded mirror. The truth of our sense of God’s will doesn’t become clear until we act on it and the consequences begin to play out. Like babies learning to walk, we learn with each firm step we take, but we also learn by each experience of falling down. What matters is that we act in faith and we are willing to suffer correction. What matters most of all is that God is faithful to those who desire to please him and dare to trust him, and whatever happens God will turn to a good purpose.
I guess I need to return to Thomas Merton’s prayer. Here it is, if you should need it:
MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
Peace to you.