As I said in the first blog in this series, finding out who we really are is a lot like the process of finding the natural grain of this chair that was hidden underneath red tractor paint. And in the second post, I suggested that you remember who you were and what your dreams were before you were painted over.
There is a second way.
Get a feel for the grain under the paint.
A couple of years ago, we attended the Key West Literary Seminar. For some reason, the organizers are able to attract big name writers to Key West in January to speak to other people, many of them writers themselves, who also are willing to pay well to come to Key West in January. I just don’t know how they do it.
One way to make small talk between sessions is to ask the person next to you, “Are you a writer?”
Someone asked me that the first day and I said, “no”.
The second day, I said, “Well, I write a lot for my work, but I’m not a ‘Writer’”.
The third day, I said, “Yes, I’m a writer.”
The first day, I was just looking at the paint – in my case, clergy paint. I wasn’t a writer, I was a Protestant minister.
The second day, I noticed a pattern underneath the paint. I DID do a lot of writing in my job: fifty-plus sermons a year are equal to a 250-page book and that wasn’t all the writing that I was doing.
The third day, I realized that I was willing to put up with parts of my job that I never exactly loved (going to meetings, for example), in order to get paid to write every week. I also used writing to raise money, do pastoral care, organize programs – things more extroverted pastors would do through personal contacts. I realized that, underneath the identity of “minister” was my deeper identity as a writer.
What persists through life’s changes?
Moses, you may remember, had been herding sheep and/or goats for about 40 years before the LORD called him to free the Hebrew slaves. It doesn’t take a degree in Biblical Studies to see that Moses went from herding sheep to herding people. As someone who herded cows before I herded congregations, I can tell you that the tasks are very similar. You have to get the leaders going in the right direction and you also have to be sure that no one is left behind. You have to be prepared to deal with those who head the wrong way — or just stop. You also have to know where your destination is and how to get there while constantly removing the obstacles that are in the way right now. Herding cud chewers or people requires patience, perseverance and perspicacity. *
To be honest, I didn’t like herding cows and herding people was only bearable because I got to use writing in order to do it. Come to think of it, most of the time when I was herding cows, I was thinking of things I’d like to say or write someday.
But maybe Moses DID like herding sheep and people. He certainly spent a lot of time doing it. Maybe, in the end, he felt that he was born to do it – that it was the hidden grain of his life. He certainly believed that he had been chosen to do it.
The same is true in our work.
For example, all pastors write sermons, visit the sick and shut-ins, go to meetings,counsel people who are troubled, and plan events – like Christmas Eve services. Like me, they may find all of this work meaningful and become competent at it. But over and over again, I see clergy coming to the end of their working days and choosing, as one pastor said, “to only do the things I like doing.”
Some hire themselves out to big churches to do pastoral care or they volunteer for a hospice. A retired rabbi friend teaches a course at his local Jewish Community Center. I know one retired pastor who raises money – for fun, I guess. Or at least because he believes teaching people generosity is meaningful and satisfying.
I knew dairy farmers who were good at animal husbandry, carpentry, or fixing tractors and equipment who continued to pursue some of those passions even after they sold their farms and retired to town.
Sometimes we are not aware that we have passions that come out of our fundamental character – the grain of our lives – because they are integrated into our life and work. A couple of friends – women – commented on my previous posts that they had spent much of their lives taking care of others – both in traditional roles as daughters, mothers, and wives and in professions often dominated by women, like nursing. Now, when retirement, an empty nest — even widowhood — have relieved them of the necessity of taking care of people, they volunteer to help others because it is meaningful. Well, why shouldn’t it be?
The trick is finding that thing that makes your heart sing underneath and within your current work and life. Then you can sand away at the paint that covers it – and do more of what you love.
What in your life and work makes your heart sing?
Where is the grain of your life hidden in your everyday routine?
Next post: What do you find when the paint dissolves?
* Had to choose between alliteration or clarity here. I chose alliteration because I can’t help myself.