“Do I really want to?” I was mentored by a wonderful woman, Lolly,who had the age of 80 started asking herself this question.
She had been to Bible College, and became a minister’s wife at 22. So all her life, she would think, “Should I? Ought I? Is it my duty? Would God want me to? Would people expect me to? Would people be hurt if I didn’t? Would people be happy if I did? Can I encourage someone?”
When she was 80, she was invited to a big happening event in Williamsburg, Virginia. One of the richest families had adopted a child, and had a christening in the poshest hotel in town. It was going to be very posh, very exclusive, money was going to flow. The pastor of our church was invited, and was going happily. He was appalled when he found out that Lolly had been invited too, and declined, though she was also mentoring the adoptive mother.
“Why did you decline?” I asked. This was ten years ago, and I am ashamed to say I used to go to events like this, fund-raising dinners at $1000 a plate, if invited (and paid for!) for silly reasons like the prestige, the cachet, the name-dropping later, being “in.”
“Oh, I couldn’t be bothered,” she said. “I’d rather stay in and read. I am 80 years old. I have done what other people have wanted for most of my life. It’s high time I start asking myself what I really want to do.”
* * *
What do I really want to do? Well, what I really want to do most of the time is read and write and think and pray. I am turning down more and more social invitations, party invitations to do just this after slowing down and asking myself “What do I reallywant to do?”
Isn’t it surprising that so many of us live life on auto-pilot, do what’s expected, fall in with other people’s plans, desires and expectations without asking ourselves what we really want to do?
That’s not to say we shouldn’t do ministry. My first spiritual director suggested that I always have at least one person in my life to whom I give, spend time with, serve, without getting anything in return. He never said why, but I think it’s a good discipline if your work and ministry are visible, as mine are, and give you lots of feedback, attention, affirmation and praise! It keeps you real and humble. I have been given someone to whom I can be a blessing, and I am excited about it. (Of course, it’s someone who will be a blessing to me in turn….but God’s good like that!).
* * *
Where is my heart? What do I really want to do? What am I really excited about? Where are my passions?
Funny how people stop asking these questions.
To celebrate life together, to be together in community, to simply enjoy the beauty of creation, the love of people, and the goodness of God—these seem faraway ideals. There seem to be a mountain of obstacles preventing people from being where their hearts want to be. It is so painful to watch and experience. The astonishing thing is that the battle for survival has become so “normal” that few people really believe it can be different.”
Henri Nouwen, Seeds of Hope
Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we constantly say No to our hearts, defer gratification? Why choose duty, and the unimportant shoulds over joy?
Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart. W. B. Yeats
* * *
I am listening to The Sacred Romance by John Eldredge (which was recommended, incidentally by Lolly, who loved it) on my iPhone, in little scraps of time, here and there, as I do housework.
Somewhere along the way, we have lost heart. We do things without much enthusiasm, without much joy, in a half-souled way. We become dominated by Shoulds and Oughts, Eldredge said.
If I am doing things listlessly, mechanically, going through the motions, without much joy, I wonder if I am either not doing what God intended, or I am, but I have lost the way.
For instance, I am called to blog, but when blogging becomes a burden, a heaviness, it interesting to ask why. It’s almost always because I am not following my heart. My real interests may lie in little, short, not terribly significant posts like this one. But fear may say, “No. That’s boring!! Write something interesting, significant, ninja-like, meaty, on an important subject.” Say this too often, and you begin to develop blogger’s block, or blogger’s dreariness. Deny your impulses, the little 250 word posts you really want to write, and blogging becomes a burden, a duty, work, rather than joy.
It’s the same with anything. Our hearts give us a clue to who we really are, what we really enjoy doing, what makes us come alive. And yet how often people deny themselves their heart’s desire, stifle it, ignore it, until they get out of the habit of asking themselves what they really like doing, what really makes them come alive.
Two last thoughts, both true (up to a point).
“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs, ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who are alive.” – Howard Thurman