Link to Journey: http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/356684-the-journey-one-day-you-finally-knew-what-you-had
It is true you know, the only life you can save is your own.
Maybe it is because of what I do for a living but sometimes near perfect strangers will strike up a conversation about outlandish things. Once, as I was working out on an elliptical machine at the gym, head wrapped in a bandana and sweat pouring down my face, the person next to me asked what I think is the purpose of life.
“Specifically, what does God have in mind for us? Do you mean, what do I think God has as the purpose for your life,” I asked.
“Yes. I have been wondering what God wants me to do,” confirmed the near stranger.
Then came a litany of selfless motivations the person said had guided them through educational and career choices. But, and this was the presenting problem, now he was feeling paralyzed by the choice between staying in a job he doesn’t really like – even though the job addresses urgent human needs of people in crisis – and a more routine kind of work with a less crisis-oriented constituency.
“What,” the person asked, “does God want me to do?”
Here the person stood, stuck in the mud of a life-long assumption that God wants us to be heroes that save the lives of others even at our own peril; and now, painfully, also awash in the existential knowledge that he may have reached the limit of his ability to handle the pain, stress, and suffering.
“What do you think God wants me to do,” the person repeated the question.
Back up about fifteen years and that was me. I was asking my spiritual director to tell me what God wanted me to do because I was stuck in existential squalor, and no matter how loudly or eloquently I uttered that question in my own inner darkness, no answer was heard…only the echoing of the question.
My spiritual director was an old but spritely Irish priest about the size of a Leprechaun. “Don’t play cute with God,” he quipped in his slight brogue.
I had no idea what that meant at the time. It was a koan that I had to stutter over for years and years until its meaning crept up on me.
Back to the gym and the elliptical question about the meaning and purpose of life. “What do you think God wants me to do?”
How would you answer that question? Here is what I said.
“That is an ego-driven question,” I answered.
“What,” the person seemed surprised.
“It is not a bad question to ask,” I responded, “but it’s ego-driven not God-driven. But if you are asking me what I think, it’s that God didn’t give you a purpose, not personally, not uniquely and individually. It is your life, and when you are using your skills and talents in such a way as benefits you and those around you, you can feel yourself flowing in the current. At least, that is my experience.”
I don’t know what the person thought of my response because they stopped talking at that point. I suppose to be told that our altruism is an ego question doesn’t lend itself to further conversation unless we actually want to go deeper.
When we ask what God has in mind for us personally then we are playing cute with God. The only life we can save is our own.
When we have saved our own life, then perhaps, we will be able to offer the maximum benefit to those with whom we live and work and play.