FOR THE DAY YOU REALIZE YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU WANT TO DO WITH YOUR LIFE
“Make known to me your ways, LORD; teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my savior. For you I wait all the long day, because of your goodness, LORD.”
- Psalm 25: 4-5
Dear Sister, Dear Brother, Dear Friend,
Does life feel like an adventure full of opportunities to explore new places, meet fascinating people, and do meaningful work? Do you feel a profound sense of peace, like you are doing exactly what you were made to do? Or do you usually feel lost, unsure of who you really are, and unaware of where your true home might be? Sometimes there are tasks placed before us that cannot be denied without great personal cost. We are expected to study hard in school, or care for a sick relative, or work evenings in the family restaurant. Duty often comes with the clarity and grace needed to accomplish it, though we are always free to turn our backs if we choose to do so.
Yet other times the way is not so clear. We might feel trapped in a life we did not ask for and no longer want, or we might find ourselves at a crossroads and have no idea where to turn next. Maybe we struggle to discern what we should study in school, where we should live, what career we should pursue, who to date, or how to spend our days. Sometimes we have clear dreams of what we want, but we cannot see how to overcome economic hardship, previous responsibilities, and oppressive social barriers.
It can be difficult to discover who we are, find our way, and build a life around our passions. As gay Christians, we are sometimes forced to expend a great deal of time and energy discovering or hiding our identities, justifying our choices, and searching for places to belong. This takes away from exploring, practicing, and living out the other important aspects of our lives. Our sexualities and gender identities are vital and beautiful parts of ourselves that deeply impact how we relate to others. Yet we are more than sexual beings. Each of us is endowed by our Creator with unique personalities, talents, strengths, gifts, insights, and passions. Life is an opportunity to share everything we are with others through love. We need to celebrate our sexual identities while also discovering and living out the other passions and dreams that make us full human beings.
If you are struggling with where to go on your journey, pray the words of Psalm 25: 4-5: “Make known to me your ways, LORD; teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my savior. For you I wait all the long day, because of your goodness, LORD.” God is with us each step of the way as we move through life. If we trust in God, She will move our hearts and lead us to relationships with good, caring people who can help us make sense of life.
Through it all, we must remain faithful to the great commandments. We read in Mark 12: 28-31: “One of the scribes, when he came forward and heard them disputing and saw how well he had answered them, asked him, ‘Which is the first of all the commandments?’ Jesus replied, ‘The first is this: ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.’” Jesus gives us clear guideposts for making the deep decisions of our lives. In all our pursuits, we must reflect on the following questions in prayer and conversation with others: Does this path lead me to love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength? Does this path lead me to love my neighbor? Does this path lead me to love myself?
When we think about what to do with our time on earth, we must look beyond how we earn a living. Ultimately, we are called to live as loving disciples of Jesus Christ. Thankfully, this can and must be done at all times through everything we are and everything we do.
There is more to life than finding the ideal job. Selfless love, passion, and faith should fill our lives and drive all of our pursuits. Maybe we will be paid for doing something we absolutely love, or maybe we will work hard at a job we tolerate so that we can take care of ourselves and our families. We are not failures as long as we offer our efforts to God and hope that whatever we do somehow contributes to the greater good. After the work day is done, many of us will build energy and meaning through loving relationships, creative projects, volunteer service, educational pursuits, and spiritual endeavors. One can be a restaurant worker by day and an actor by night. One might work as an engineer while also volunteering as an art teacher at a local community center. One can work as a construction worker while taking night classes in theology and ministry. Living a full life must include meeting our practical obligations while also making time for the special interests and dreams God plants in our hearts. Everything must be balanced with the universal call to love God, love our neighbors, and love ourselves.
Sometimes we are led to think that if we find the right job, it will make us feel happy and fulfilled all the time. The reality is that there is good and bad to every job. Work requires effort, compromise, self-sacrifice, and critical thinking. It takes time to build skills and competencies, and we often need to make mistakes so that we can learn from them. Most of us will probably never find a job that makes us happy all the time. In fact, nothing in this world has the power to make us happy all the time. But that’s okay. How can we learn and grow if we are always happy? How can we experience compassion for those who suffer if we are always happy? How can we be fully human if our emotional life is a one-noted drone of endless happiness? Constant good-feelings should not be the goal. Rather, we must pursue work that uses our greatest strengths to make positive impacts in our communities and the world.
At the end of the day, all vocations are opportunities to serve if they are lived with hearts that love deeply. Some people provide direct service as teachers, social workers, firefighters, healthcare workers, or political agents. Some people, such as painters, musicians, writers, publishers, and museum operators, create or distribute art through which others learn and grow. Pastors, youth ministers, and church leaders actively spread the word of God and build up the Body of Christ. Merchants, retail workers, and executives have the power to support robust economies, maintain ethical business practices, and equitably share profits so that communities thrive. Farm workers produce the food that sustains human life, and engineers, architects, laborers, construction workers, electricians, plumbers, and other professionals build and operate the infrastructure that makes peaceful societies possible. To find the setting where our efforts will bear the most fruit, we must look at the stories of our lives. Pray about these questions and discuss them with people you trust: What have I been built for? How can I best serve my community? Will my primary duties be carried out through paid work, volunteer roles, creative pursuits, or personal relationships? How am I called to love where I stand today? Is there another way I am called to love in the future? How can I prepare myself in the here and now?
Sometimes we put a great deal of pressure on ourselves to find out what we love to do so that we can pursue it professionally. Unfortunately, there are times when nothing special surfaces after deep soul searching, and there are other times when we can think of a thousand things we love to do and it is hard to pick just one. In difficult moments, we are haunted by confusion and do not know where to begin. Perhaps we never had many opportunities to try new things. Perhaps we were limited by lack of resources or time, or we had significant responsibilities that kept us from thinking too much about what we wanted to do when we grew up. Maybe we never felt free to explore anything that met our interests. Or perhaps we were always afraid of failing, of looking foolish, of not being perfect, and so we locked ourselves out of new experiences that may have opened up interesting pathways in our lives.
How do we find our way out of confusion and fear? We must live and listen. If we do not know our own passions yet, we need to get excited about all the discoveries that are yet to be made. If we are overwhelmed by all the many passions we experience, we can delight in diving into them one at a time. Open your eyes to the world around you and decide what you want to try. Take an art class. Look up books at the local library on subjects you want to learn more about. Volunteer for a cause you believe in. Serve food at a soup kitchen, tutor at an after-school program, or march in social justice demonstrations. Interview professionals you admire and ask them why they do what they do. Ask a friend to teach you how to do something they are good at. Sing in your church choir or ask a member of the church band to teach you how to play an instrument. Look up videos that teach you how to do things you want to try, such as sewing, fixing cars, playing guitar, or solving logic problems. Try new things, have fun, and see what sticks.
As you live your life, pay attention to what you are good at and what feels right. Ask people you trust what they perceive to be your greatest strengths. Pray, think, and discuss with others how you can use your strengths in daily life, in relationships, and in your career. If you honestly seek God through love, you will find purpose embedded within every day.
As you go about your journey, avoid the pitfalls of self-centered living, drugs, and alcohol. God wants to help us find our path through life, but if we live only to make ourselves feel good, we will not be able to hear Her voice. As we read in Ephesians 5: 17-20, “Therefore, do not continue in ignorance, but try to understand what is the will of the Lord. And do not get drunk on wine, in which lies debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and playing always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.”
Please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying you should never have fun, and I am not saying you should live a somber, joyless lifestyle. Rather, I am asking you to consider that true joy and fulfillment is found in the love of God and fellow human beings. There is wildness and adventure in loving God and loving people. When we live soberly, selflessly, and joyfully, each social interaction becomes a special memory rather than another drunken, blurry night. Each encounter with a fellow journeyer becomes a lesson learned or a taste of God’s eternal love.
I hope you find meaning and joy every day. It is not always easy. I spent years wrestling with self-doubt and anxiety over what I should be doing with my life. From the time I was a young child, I have always been deeply moved by the words of Jesus when he describes the final judgement at the end of time. We read in Matthew 25: 34-36: “Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’” I had received incredible blessings in life and witnessed wonderful examples of service through my father, a state attorney, and my mother, a special education teacher. From gratitude to God and my family, I yearned from the depths of my soul to minister to the needs of others. As I grew up, I saw clearly that there were infinite ways to do this. How could I choose only one?
I felt as if I needed to find the perfect job that allowed me to use all my strengths to make a large, tangible impact on the world. I wanted to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. I wanted to help end modern-day slavery. I wanted to reform labor conditions and increase wages around the world. I wanted to help resolve conflicts, end war, and establish peace everywhere. I realized I had to start somewhere, and so I took on one job at a time. Every job I tried had moments of triumph and moments of defeat. When times grew tough, I assumed the position was a bad fit and I moved on to something else. For example, I taught preschool for several years. There were times when I was overcome with joy as I read to my students, made them laugh, coached them through solving problems, taught positive social skills, and ignited a love for learning. There were other times when I felt exhausted by the intense work load, and I was often discouraged when certain children continued to have emotional and behavioral issues despite my best efforts to help them learn initiative or self-control. I let the negative aspects fuel intense self-doubt until I decided to quit and become a school custodian. In this role, I discovered profound satisfaction in making something clean which was not clean. There were tangible results to my work every day, and the job provided me with creative mental space to daydream and write. Yet I felt lonely in the work. I missed the experience of building positive relationships with others. I went back to school to become a social worker and took a job as a family therapist. I loved listening, teaching positive coping skills, discussing parenting strategies, and offering unconditional support and positive regard. However, I felt overwhelmed with feelings of powerlessness as people came to me with their sorrow, apathy, anger, and brokenness. I put too much pressure on myself to solve other people’s problems rather than being a support as they figured things out for themselves. As you can see, I kept moving from role to role in hopes that I would find the perfect job that would meet all of my desires without delivering any sort of struggle or hardship.
It took me years to learn that my search for a perfect job was a false idol that kept me from the truth. We can only find deep meaning and satisfaction when we give every moment in love to God and our neighbors. In the beginning, I wanted to serve God by making some grand impact for social justice. Then I tried to fix the problems of everyone I met. When I let go of my pride and truly surrendered my dreams to God, I realized that She is the savior, not me. My duty is not to save everyone and stop evil, but rather to love unconditionally and allow God to work through me wherever I am.
With this insight, I was able to look at my work history with new eyes. Instead of seeing failure after failure, I saw a narrative of God’s grace. God used me to help my preschool students learn a bit about academics and a lot about how to make friends and how to enjoy school. God used me as a custodian to keep schools safe and clean so that students could learn and grow in healthy environments. God used me as a therapist to help young people and their families heal from trauma, meditate on life goals, and build loving relationships with each other. I did not achieve the grand results I hoped for, but through the grace of God, I planted some small seeds of goodness in the lives of others. There is a part of Matthew’s gospel where some of Jesus’s disciples are unable to exorcise a demon from a little boy. Jesus comes and heals the child, and when the disciples ask why they were not able to do this themselves, he says, “…‘Because of your little faith. Amen, I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to the mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you’” (Matthew 17: 20). I take comfort in knowing that even the great acts of life must begin by planting little seeds of trust in God.
When I give the ultimate responsibility for completing my mission to God, every conversation and action throughout the day becomes an opportunity to witness God’s unconditional love to others. These days, I work as a hospital social worker on a mother-baby unit. I work with parents and families working through mental health issues, chemical dependency, domestic violence, disability issues, health issues, resource needs, immigration issues, loss, and grief. I love my job and cherish the opportunity to meet with people in times of both joy and sorrow. In my better moments, I do everything I can to offer support and connect people with ongoing community resources. There are times when the work is deeply painful and overwhelming, and there are days when I feel like a cog in a machine. Sometimes I feel like I make an impact and sometimes I feel like I run around handing out pamphlets and faxing papers that go nowhere. But regardless of how I feel, I must always remember to do my best, ask my supervisor and colleagues for advice, continually improve, give it all to God, and ask God to work through me.
Part of letting go of the false god of the search for the so-called “perfect job” was realizing how much meaning I experience through activities and relationships outside of work. For example, I volunteer with a youth group for LGBTQ and allied young people. In this community, I do my best to help build a place where everyone who walks through the door is celebrated, nurtured, included, and loved. I volunteer for various activities at my church and hope to help people experience the love of God. I write fiction and non-fiction books with hope that I can use words and stories to teach something about what love really is. And I invest time in relationships with the people I care about, my parents, my grandmothers, my sisters and brothers-in-law, my aunts, my uncles, my cousins, my friends. I share the love God gives me with the people in my life. I am not saying all of this to make myself sound like a wonderful person. Rather, I want to show you in concrete terms how I build meaning in my life through a variety of roles and relationships. Everything comes together to create the fabric of my vocation. We must all do this in our own ways. I do my best to be a good and loyal social worker, a helpful neighbor, a passionate writer, a kind youth group mentor, a loving son and brother, and a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. I do not know what work God will call me to in the future, but I hope to always persist in my duties by remaining grounded in the Holy Spirit.
Ultimately, God is with us as we navigate our paths through life. The call will always remain to love God, love our neighbors, and love ourselves. Ask God for guidance, and trust that she will bring meaning to your life starting today. I hope you find what you are looking for.