Knock Knock

Knock, Knock.
Who’s there?
God who?
God who created the universe, who led the Israelites out of the desert, who sent his son to save you.
Oh! That God!

Yes, that God. That’s the God who has been knocking on my door lately — metaphorically, not literally. At least, that’s what it feels like.

I’ve been feeling vaguely dissatisfied with work lately, which is probably understandable. Once upon a time, I was an award-winning journalist. In another professional incarnation, I worked in nonprofit management. These days, I am a clerk in a convenience store. My actual title is “assistant manager,” but that just means that I get to do extra work during my shift. (Lucky me.)

I actually enjoy many aspects of the job. I especially like serving customers, which includes not only scanning purchases and accepting payment, but also lending a listening ear when there’s time and encouraging those who are going through tough times. Sometimes teenagers drop by just to get a hug and older folks pick up a cup of coffee just to share their personal news. I love creating a place where people know they are valued, where they experience a sense of community.

The problem is that I’m approaching (deep breath for courage) 58, and spending 8-hour days on my feet on concrete floors is tough, even with decent shoes. Moving crates of Mountain Dew from backstock into the cooler and keeping the cooler stocked with 30-can boxes of beer also takes a toll. Sometimes by the time I leave work, I am barely able to walk home because my back and feet hurt. It would probably be more accurate to say I hobble home.

Each time I meet with my spiritual director, she asks me where I see myself in 10 years. Sometimes I’m so exhausted from work — because on occasion my 8-hour days stretch into 12-hour or 16-hour days — I think to myself “dead.” The truth is I don’t have an answer for her question.

When I graduated from high school, I had no professional aspirations whatsoever. I always imagined I would get married and be a homemaker like my mother. Later, when I got serious about college (after flunking out once because personal problems created an insurmountable obstacle), I envisioned getting a Ph.D. and becoming a university professor. I loved teaching. I loved being in the classroom and helping students discover their voices as writers. However, when I started taking education courses in order to become a better teacher, the department head criticized my lack of focus and advised me to withdraw from the program.

Because I loved teaching, I switched degree programs and learned only as I was approaching a Master’s degree in education that I was unemployable because I was overqualified and inexperienced. Apparently, I should have picked up the education courses as an undergraduate and taught for a while before beginning work on my Master’s. Fortunately, I discovered a passion for art about that time, which was a saving grace. I was unhappy about having student loan debts for an essentially worthless education, but life had thrown at me harder knocks than that, so I didn’t dwell on it.

During the years that followed, I worked for a university library (though not in a professional capacity since I did not have a degree in library science), served as the executive director of two nonprofit organizations, became an award-winning journalist and edited a weekly newspaper for four years. At this juncture in life, I don’t know how to think about my future. I love teaching but don’t have the credentials to teach at any level in these post-NCLB days. Writing is as natural to me as breathing, but newspapers are cutting staff since businesses are shifting their advertising away from the print media. As far as painting goes, having forfeited my career in 1998 (see blog of Dec. 10, 2012 — Simple Gifts — for details), I am no longer in a position to support myself that way. So what am I to do?

If my spiritual director wouldn’t continue to ask me where I see myself in 10 years, I’m not sure I would think of this issue as part of my spiritual journey. However, she does ask — and lately God has begun to throw his weight behind her. Because I’ve already thrown so much personal history into this, I’ll just summarize the past few days.

On Friday morning, as I sat down to morning prayer with “The Magnificat” (a devotional based on the Catholic liturgical year), a short passage from Exodus caught my eye. “Moses told them, ‘This is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat. Now, this is what the Lord has commanded. So gather it that everyone has enough to eat….’ Some gathered a large and some a small amount. But when they measured it out by the omer, he who had gathered a large amount did not have too much, and he who had gathered a small amount did not have too little” (Exodus 16:15-18).

Since social justice issues are of concern to me, I meditated that day on the concept of all gathering so that everyone has enough to eat. How different from our society today, I reflected, where CEOs and shareholders greedily grab as much as they can, leaving little for the workers at the bottom! But, at the end of my prayer period, I felt vaguely dissatisfied. I’d missed something and I knew it. Saturday drew me back to the same passage and tonight, when I used a meditation technique I picked up from a book called SIMPLY SOULSTIRRING: WRITING AS A MEDITATIVE PRACTICE by Francis Dorff, O. Praem., I finally picked up on what God was trying to tell me.

The technique, based on the writings of St. Augustine of Hippo, is essentially a spontaneous dialogue. Mine went something like this:

M: Lord, do you love me? [In this morning’s gospel, Jesus asked Peter, ‘Do you love me?’]
G: You know that I love you.
M: How am I to know that you love me? In what am I to see that love?
G: In the sunrise. In your desire to create. In the way your heart opens to those in need. That is me loving you and loving through you.
M: I know this, but I also know I hurt — and I seem to have spent most of my life hurting. I long to quit work and to let my life resume the natural rhythms I experienced while unemployed. I long to share my life with someone. I am tired of being alone. Do you love me?
G: Ah! St. Francis said it is in giving that we receive, but right now — in this moment — that isn’t your experience. Right now — in this moment — you feel like a dry well.
M: Right now — in this moment. Yes, I see. Other moments. It’s about daily bread.
G: Yes — and about gathering what you need to be nourished. I provide, but you must gather what you need.
M: I don’t know what I need.
G: Ask. Ask me to help you discern what you need.

And, undoubtedly he will. After all, Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks, it will be opened” (Matt. 7:7-8). Granted, I probably won’t have the answer before I go to bed tonight, but I do know how to approach the question, and that’s a pretty awesome experience.

Thanks, God, for coming into this area of my life.