I’ve been a busy bee these last few weeks. For a couple of weeks in March, I helped prepare a young trio from a local church to sing the extremely long and challenging Exsultet chant at their upcoming Easter Vigil Mass. Last Saturday, I gave a retreat at my old parish in Vancouver, totaling 4.5 hours, three talks, and a mini-concert. Today I gave a presentation on parish marketing to administrators from all over the Archdiocese of Seattle. Oh, and of course I work at the office and teach in the evenings. And right this second, I’m back to writing. Like I said, busy bee.
It seems like I’m suddenly going in a million directions lately, but all these things have been slowly unfolding over the past few years. I’ve always been the kind of person who had a few irons in the fire, but I certainly didn’t have this vision for my life. In fact, for a long time, I wondered if I needed to focus more, to settle down, to pick one path and stick with it. I would have gladly done that if I had only known which path to choose, but that was never clear to me. That uncertainty caused me a lot of anxiety. Some days I still wonder, but I try not to worry about it as much anymore. This prayer just about sums up why:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. (Thomas Merton, “Thoughts in Solitude”)
For years, I asked God to point me in the direction He wants me to go. Do I give up my day job to teach full time? Do I spend every last dime I have saved up to record my music? Do I get a Master’s Degree in Theology? Do I write a book? The questions were paralyzing, and they never seemed to come with any answers, and I never ran out of them. Eventually I found myself doing absolutely nothing because I was too caught up in the idea that I should find The One Thing I Am Called To Do.
St. John Paul II used to say that there is a hierarchy to our vocations. At the top of that list is our universal calling, to love God. It’s the first and most important commandment, and it’s our primary purpose in life. Everything else is secondary and tertiary to this one fundamental mission: to love God.
Apart from that universal calling, I’m learning that God rarely ever reveals our path with perfectly marked signs and spoiler alerts. He takes us through twists and turns through scenic oceanside back roads and harrowing cliffside switchbacks. He allows the stories to unfold quietly, right under our noses but just outside our line of vision, like a painstakingly orchestrated surprise. He lets nothing go to waste, making use of every breath, every misstep, every forgettable and prosaic decision. He never asks us to know the answers. He only asks, “Do you love me?” And He asks again and again, even when we say no, even when we are distracted, even when we are too preoccupied with fretting over our fruitless anxieties. Unlike me with my limitless, incessant questions, God only asks the one question. It’s so simple, there are only two ways to answer it. Do you love me? Yes or no?
So everyday, I ask myself that question. Do I love God today? In everything I do, I ask myself that question. Do I love God through the work I am doing with my hands, with my mind, with my heart? In every encounter, I ask myself that question. Do I love God through this person, in this moment, in this place? I want to say I always live my life in an act of “yes” to that question, but I’m still learning. I might live a hundred lifetimes and never learn how to do that perfectly. But it’s a lot easier to just ask myself that one question rather than asking the litany of questions I used to plague myself with before. And in the end, it doesn’t matter whether or not I know where I’m going. I know where I am right now, and I know that I have, with every living breath, the power to say “I love you” to God one more time. Where I end up tomorrow can remain a mystery, an unopened gift. Today, the only question I need to ask myself is “Do I love God?” In my heart, I already know the answer to that question. And today, that is all I need to know.