As a teenager, I spent way too much time thinking about things – and not experiencing things. Now, as I look back, I have other ideas about how I could have spent my time. However, during that period of my life, I discovered a central value in my life – a value that I carried with me into my adult life, a value that I continue to carry with me, many years later.
I decided that the purpose of my life was to offer service. And I did follow that purpose. In my first years after high school and university, I worked for the Social Security Administration. When we were trained to work as Claims Representative at that time, we were trained to understand that the purpose of our work – the most important purpose – was to serve the public. I could accept that. I could work with that. I could even work hard and well to that purpose. And so I did.
At some point, I began to consider going into the ministry – this at a time when I had never seen or heard of such a thing as a woman in ministry. I had been confirmed in a very conservative Lutheran denomination that did not allow – still does not allow – women to speak in church. As soon as I could, I shed that yoke. Still yearning for a connection to something bigger than myself – something that could guide me, give me meaning – I searched for many years to find a place in church where political issues were part of the faith, where growth as a whole person – not tied to beliefs – was encouraged, and even desired. I found my own path, and now, I encourage others – I encourage you – to do the same. In my thirties, I found my way to seminary, which was a most unlikely path for people in my family, and by age 35, I had been ordained, a woman in ministry.
What I discovered as a woman in ministry did not automatically make me happy. I discovered that following my heart’s desire demanded growth on my part. Growth is hard work. Growth is a lifetime of work. Growth requires teachers, requires searching for the right teacher. And growth demands that I continue to grow, to find new teachers, new practices, new understandings. What I believe is not important to me; my beliefs change with the weather, with this new book and this new thought. I’m not interested in beliefs. What I’ve discovered is that what is important is that I am continuing to grow – always.
I know that we don’t take the path of growth until we live into our pain, our longing, our lack.
This past year, I have searched for and discovered a new guide for this part of my life’s journey. This guide listens to me, sometimes comments, sometimes suggests a new practice. And my guide has taught me that even how I understand service can evolve. I don’t always need to be laboring at something to serve. The value that I hold so deeply and have held for so long – to serve – can be lived out in many, many ways. I can guide a friend to a new place. I can listen to a stranger. I can be kind when no kindness is present.
What is your heart’s desire? What would make you happy? How will you get there? What do you need to fulfill your heart’s desire? And what about this question: what would bring you joy? Keep asking these questions, and you will grow. Guaranteed.
All of these are worthy questions. When I was young and ascertained the value in service, I wasn’t free enough to ask myself: what would make you happy? Now, from the view of a life of service and experience, I can say to you that what makes you happy can also guide you to your own service, your own community, your own life of meaning. Asking yourself what makes you happy can help you begin to shed the parts of your life that are not working, now. Shedding those things may not be easy, and it may not be pain-free, but if you hold on to your dream, if you keep searching – if you keep on keeping on! – you will discover people and places and experiences that will serve your deepest longing.