Puzzle

Some days I feel like a jigsaw puzzle, a thousand-piece puzzle dumped in a plastic bag because the box was tossed out. In other words, I don’t know how I am supposed to look when the pieces are assembled.

Once in a while, though, a few pieces slip together and I feel like celebrating. This morning is one of those mornings. As part of my search for employment, I have been reading books which I hope will help me to succeed — not just succeed at finding work, but succeed in ways which are meaningful for me, personally.

I learned long ago that I am not motivated by money; I am motivated by a need to help others, to make a difference, and I carry that sensibility into most jobs. The only job I ever held which was soulless for me was telemarketing because I could not make a difference; I could not help anyone. I was good at it, and won numerous sales prizes, but I died a little each time I stepped inside the door of that workplace.

I also learned long ago that I am multi-faceted; I can do just about anything that doesn’t require specific physical skills. When I was young and searching for a career path, I would ask people how they chose their professions (or major field of study in college). Invariably, people said, “I was good at it,” or “It interested me.”

That did not help me; as I said, I can do just about anything, and I have a magpie mind — anything about which another is passionate interests me for a while. That’s actually what made me a good newspaper person; every story fascinated me. The only abiding personal interests I’ve had are art, writing, spiritual development and people. I love getting to know people, watching the narratives of their lives unfold, and mentoring the lost souls who need someone to have faith in them.

One of the books I’ve read (and am rereading) is Sister Joan Chittister’s FOLLOWING THE PATH: THE SEARCH FOR A LIFE OF PASSION, PURPOSE AND JOY. Because I want a life of passion, purpose and joy, choosing to read this book was a bit of a no-brainer. (Besides, I’ve read a number of Sr. Joan’s books and like her God — or perhaps it would be more appropriate to say her understanding of God.) Understanding the book on a deep and personal level is surprisingly challenging.

The first time I read it, I was simply inspired, not only by her prose — her sensitivity to language calls to the writer in me — but by her ideas. “The path to wholeness of the self commonly leads through a labyrinth of possibilities, a maze of gifts. The fact is that coming to fullness of life is seldom a straight line. It is a matter of learning to listen to the call — to the magnet of the heart within us — to assess our own gifts, to follow our own passions, and to find, through them, the fit between passion and purpose.” Beautiful! Offering such hope to someone like me, seeking at mid-life greater authenticity, more meaning in the daily business of life!

Phrase after phrase, passage after passage, moved me. “We need, like raindrops in the river, to lose ourselves in what we were made to do.” “The important thing to understand is that when we are doing what we love doing, we are making the world around us a happier place for everyone.” “The song of life is born in every soul. But the song we are meant to sing does not come to us whole…. Learning to hear the song within us, finding the call within us, and then bending our lives to follow it to the fullness of ourselves is the key to happiness, to meaning, to fullness of life.”

Unfortunately, when I got to the end, I was not one iota closer to finding direction for my life than when I began. And so, I began again. This time, I am journaling about some of the passages, and making notes to consider my life in light of others — when I can set aside a day for prayerful reflection, because I know some of it will be painful and must not to be entered into casually.

However, this morning, my reflections on one passage began to bear fruit. Sister Joan had written, “Real passion focuses our efforts. It becomes the compass needle of the heart which presented with multiple options becomes the direction we take at every fork in the road.” I found myself recalling decisions I’ve made and could see the pattern, the direction I have taken at every fork in the road. I live for others.

I put aside my art career because I was persuaded that accepting a position for which I had not applied would benefit artists across the state. I put aside a professional career I enjoyed because I was persuaded I could strengthen an at-risk organization that helped abused and neglected children. In small ways, too, I have made sacrifices for others.

This morning, that insight slid into place beside two other pieces. The first was a quotation from GOD’S VOICE WITHIN by Mark E. Thibodeaux, SJ: “God has a particular calling for each person; we are not called to do every holy action that comes to mind or to respond to every good opportunity” (emphasis added). I’ve been mulling that over for months, asking, “What does this mean in terms of my life?” Obviously, it means I need to be selective, to discern when I am called and when to allow another to respond to a situation. But how am I to know the difference?

The second piece was from this morning’s gospel. “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field'” (Matthew 13:44). Out of joy — that is the key. The desire to live for others — the compass needle of my heart — needs to be expressed in ways which lead to joy, to that spontaneous outpouring of praise which is the most authentic expression of joy we can know. Choosing to sacrifice activities to which I actually feel called does not lead to joy, only despair — as I well know.

Telling myself that my sacrifice is for the greater good, when it is not an expression of my particular calling, does not lead to joy either. I can name each and every decision I have made which was not an expression of my particular calling, because I can recall so vividly the weight of obligation I carried with me day after day as I executed my job responsibilities, a weight which felt like a knot in the pit of my stomach. I can contrast those memories with others, with sacrifices that brought joy — not because they were easier to live (sacrifice involves a degree of difficulty), but because the inner peace and the outcomes were so good, so sweet, I would make no other decision if faced with the same situation again.

So, am I closer to getting a job? Yes and no. No, I do not know what career field to pursue. After all, I’ve only identified a small section of the puzzle. However, I do know how to assess whether a position is the right fit, and that seems like progress to me.

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