I’ve been struggling with some tasks and responsibilities in my life lately, things that I have committed to do and things for which I have a great deal of talent, but things that, well, are really part of a life I walked away from many years ago. I’m getting them done, but I am not very happy about it. And I keep asking myself, and some others suggest to me that perhaps this discomfort springs from the fact that while I’m skilled at these tasks, perhaps I am not called to do them. Perhaps I am in fact giving in to my over-functioning self by taking them on, perhaps my participation is blocking someone else’s access to their own bliss, that bliss that comes with answering their own call.
Maybe. All those things are possible. But that doesn’t seem to be the answer.
A couple of weeks ago something became clear to me: the idea that accepting and executing our calling is supposed to feel good is, well, to be nice about it, poppycock.
You see, I, like many of my time and place, have fallen victim to the ethos created by such books as Marsha Sinetar’s Do What You Love, the Money will Follow (a favorite in New Age circles) and the more practical but equally navel-staring What Color is Your Parachute, both volumes revised and updated and reprinted and read by who knows how many Americans all in search of a calling (whether or not they know and use that word in that capacity). And only now am I smart enough to understand that Jesus didn’t say, “Follow me and you will be happy and your work will be fun!” Maybe it was in the Apocrypha and I missed it, but I’m pretty sure that even those in the Red Letter movement can’t find that quote.
Is all of this effort really just about feeling good and being happy?
Sometimes there is just work to be done. Sometimes we have the skill for it but not the joy in it, sometimes we do not have the skill but the work must be done anyway and so we had better find the skill. When we agree to live in community, we agree to take part in the work of that community. We really do not have the option of picking and choosing according to our “bliss”. It is called growing up and accepting responsibility. It is what is meant by the Zen Buddhists saying: “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water; after enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”
Really? Well, yes I do believe that. But on further examination, I have realized that not all places are the right places to exercise our gifts. What if a place is just the place to remind you that you have a particular gift, but not the place where that gift will find its full use and life in the world? What if, as a wise friend said to me, your gifts just aren’t meant to be deployed THERE, where ever THERE is. What if….what if…what if…
Sometimes you hit a wall. Maybe it means you’ve taken a wrong turn in that maze called Life. I’m not afraid of walls…but it is sometimes difficult to know which walls to demolish and which walls to walk around. Sometimes that decision is particularly difficult when you are also surrounded by open doors.
Maybe there is a big difference between “being happy” and the meaning that comes from answering God’s call in your life. Maybe “call” does not equal “bliss”, maybe it equals meaning. Meaning, unlike bliss, carries no promise of happiness and comfort. I think the answer to that one is a big yes.
All of these changes in understanding, when mixed with a lot of other influences in my heart and my life, are leading me to a moment in time where I hear the call on my life very differently. It will be interesting to see just where this door leads.