For decades now, I have been riding this planet as she circles the sun. Decades now, I’ve desired to please. Please God. Friends. Housemates. Coworkers. Community. For much too long, I’ve tried to do what is right and satisfactory to those I’ve respected and admired; I’ve wanted to be respected and admired, too. If I am truly honest with you and myself, I can admit this.
But pleasing others, being respected and admired: these are not my why. I have a better mission; I have better reasons for what I do.
Here is a video that invites all of us to know and claim our why.
For me, claiming my why — the call to love and serve that has been defined by my relationship in Jesus Christ — helps me focus. When I understand what my personal mission is (to accompany spiritual seekers, build community and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ by listening, writing and speaking), I am centered, grounded. I don’t waver and jump into every good opportunity that comes my way, or give into pressures to be something, or do something that doesn’t align with what I have discerned is of Christ, for Christ, in Christ.
One of the struggles with living a life in community is that it’s complex and messy. Along with roles and power structures, there are wild webs of layered relationships, and every person that we know and care for contains opinions, judgements, wounds and expectation — all ingredients for conflict. Conflict offers its own invitations for growth, for knowing our why, for reconciliation and deeper intimacy, yet sometimes it’s good to know what the conflict is symptomatic of. People want to be pleased.
Plus, pleasing people doesn’t really work; we can’t ever please everyone. Although some people really don’t think much about the actions of others, some do. I have noticed that those who are concerned about the actions of others are often passionate about their expectations. We all act this way, sometimes. Despite our best intentions, some people have fierce opinions about how things should go. And when things don’t go as they want, they can become cruel and rude.
When this happens, when I’ve caused dissatisfaction in others and it’s spilled into harm and hurt, I feel a tumult of emotions. I am saddened that we’re not united, that I don’t feel loved. I feel disappointed in myself for not being able to love and please the other. I feel confused, hurt — sometimes betrayed or belittled.
But then I turn my gaze to Jesus, and I remember that he too dealt with disappointing others, with causing dissatisfaction. He, though, was rooted in the will of his Father. Jesus shows us how to manage a life in community with authentic love.
If I am rooted in the will of God, if I am living the Gospel according to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, I can be free from shame and guilt; I can forgive those who hurt me and surrender to The Way of Jesus. I can move on and go freely where the Spirit leads, where Jesus calls. This is true spiritual freedom.
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. -2 Corinthians 3:17
In conversations with vocation discerners and spiritual seekers, I often emphasize the importance of being guided by freedom. I ask questions like: Do you want to do this because you think you should, or is it because you are choosing it freely? What is it that you really want? Who are you, really, and what could help you to become more truly yourself? What are your motives, your reasons, your hopes, and dreams? Ultimately I hope to hear people claim their why and be rooted in their why as they act. Hopefully the actions we each choose are centered in the love of Jesus Christ.
At my 40th birthday party, a celebration made up of feasting and sunshine, a friend showed up and gave me a bouquet of brightly-colored flowers. She is only a couple years older than me. She congratulated me on making it to the decade when I will no longer care what others think. When she said that, I’m pretty sure I looked confused; my mouth probably drooped open a little bit. I know I told her I didn’t understand, and she promised me that I would see. She said that I’ll understand how the 40s offer a particular freedom. As I approach my 42nd birthday, I think I am starting to understand: if I try to make my choices and live to make others happy, then I am imprisoned by the judgements and opinions of others.
Yet, if I am committed to my call, my vocation and mission rooted in the love of Jesus Christ, then I will authentically act according to the guidance that Christ gives me. And then, ultimately, I am mainly interested in what Jesus thinks, in pleasing Jesus — not people. Free from what others think, and rooted in Christ, I am free and full of joy.
“Freedom and Possibilities” by Julia Walsh, FSPA