Being Joy

This is the second time this has happened to me. The posting I had planned to write – in this case, rather ironically, on the topic of “truth” – now seems both trite and false.

Instead, I have spent this morning contemplating the distinction between “making oneself vulnerable”  — seen as a virtue in these reveal-all days – and mere self-indulgence. I don’t know the answer. But I’m going to take a chance, and tell you what’s really on my mind.

It’s this.  During the past few months, I have been thinking about vocation, inspired partly through my own restlessness and a consciousness that my working years are quickly disappearing, and partly by my conversations with John Elliot and the writings of Patricia Thompson.

Thompson pointed me to the work of Quaker author and educator Parker J. Palmer. In a slim book called Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, Palmer describes his own recognition that his chosen work as an academic and activist was worthwhile work, but not his work. He observes that “vocation does not come from willfulness, no matter how noble one’s intentions. It comes from listening to, and accepting “true self” with its limits as well as its potential.”

Palmer recounts a Hasidic story where a Rabbi Zusya says, “In the coming world, they will not ask me, ‘Why were you not Moses?’ They will ask me, ‘Why were you not Zusya?’” Parker then tells how his own acceptance of his own limitations, often learned through failure and pain, opened the way to his true vocation.

Which brings me to my current struggle. Six months ago, I was feeling stagnant. But ever since Christine “uncorked the bottle” I have been bubbling over with ideas – chiefly about my work in non-profit housing.  I feel like the cow in an old Far Side cartoon, standing amidst the herd in the farmyard, who looks up suddenly and says, “Hold it. This is grass! Hey everybody. We’ve been eating grass!” I want to run around telling my colleagues what I see, what’s  wrong with it, and the half dozen promising leads – none are fully formed ideas – that are swirling in my mind.

What’s stopping me is my depressing track record in introducing new ideas to others. In the movie fantasy, when I say, “Hey, we could put on a play in the barn,” the response is, “Yeah. And we could sell tickets, and my mom could make costumes.”  But my ideas do not capture the enthusiasm of others. I’m struggling to know why not, and what to do about it.

Amidst my swirl of thoughts is Ursula Franklin’s comments at the Quaker meeting today, who warned about the hubris of good intentions, and the pride of thinking we know more than we really do. Maybe I need to temper my enthusiasm for my own ideas.

There’s the speaker at last week’s Quaker meeting, who reminded us of the parable of the sower, where even God’s perfect ideas sometimes fall on the path, or are snatched up by birds. It seemed to me that if God is willing to persist, despite this dispiriting reception, perhaps I could do the same.

There’s the reminder from Parker Palmer not to try to be someone we are not – that I may simply not be an “ideas sort of person” even though I want to be, and I should stop trying. But there’s also the insight from Paul and others who know me well that I may have inherited mannerisms – things that are not fundamental to my character but may lead people to misunderstand me or my motivations – and these are things I should try to change if I can.

Okay. This is self-indulgent.

Friends, you see this mess. I am interested in your own experiences with sifting through competing ideas. I also have a clue that my dilemma somehow ties into the concept of humility, but I’m not quite sure how. If you can see the connection, let me know!

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Being Joy

  1. Roxanne

    Hey, you! It IS grass. Thanks for telling me. Tell some others. Please don’t stop “working”. I mean, in a nice way. You do good work. I think you have lived so long making words straighten out for the others with the ideas – your clients – that you may not believe you can have the ideas yourself. As for people not listening – you’re not the only one it happens to! And I don’t mean people like me, I mean big people with big ideas. So keep trying or get a coach or an Aaron. Or something. It sounds like you truly ARE an ideas person. You know, I worked in commercials for 20 years and thought it would be great to make a little one with the kids and send it in – I thought it would be easy since I know so much about production. But I had let the others do parts of it all these years and couldn’t produce the kids’ spot on the tape correctly. Not because I didn’t know what is a good commercial, but because I hadn’t made a practice of doing the other parts that others normally did. So practice. Find some other people that will listen and help get your “This is GRASS!” message out. They are there. “the hubris of good intentions, and the pride of thinking we know more than we really do” – I think we miss a lot because we think we DON’T know as much as we do and fail to go out. Or at least I do. Then I find out I DID know and lost a chance(s). “Maybe I need to temper my enthusiasm for my own ideas.” Up the scale, maybe, I think for you! (Writer, please edit this…)

  2. Barbara

    Hi Joy,
    Your message this week is very interesting even though you think it might be a “mess”.
    My experience of you is that you do have good ideas and your enthusiasm is most often contagious. I’m wondering if a lot of people -I’m thinking of our peers who are entering middle age- are getting tired of the ‘work’ or cynical and I find the younger generation don’t seem (generally) to be as adventurous in many ways as the ‘boomers’ were.
    I find myself thinking of lots of ideas, too, and wondering how to rally people around them. That’s very hard for me. In fact I get very frustrated when I see many happy to keep the status quo even though we all know it doesn’t work or is even ethically not quite right.
    So, when you find the answer please share it. And if I find out something I’ll share it. But in the meantime we all need good ideas and enthusiasm.
    Cheers,
    Barbara

  3. You two are cracking me up.

    i especially like this line
    “– I think we miss a lot because we think we DON’T know as much as we do”

    i totally missed whatever it is that you were sayin there.

    and it’s not just because i’m a man

    or, are you just trying to make me feel like i’m in good company?

  4. No seriously = vocation.
    Wasn’t it Buechner who said that vocation is where your passion meets the world’s great hunger.

    Or, was it when the worlds’ great hunger meets your bank account?

  5. Thanks Joy for the mess which is your life.
    It’s a mess which is mine as well.
    The vulnerability is key.
    Were we any more certain about our lives, the vulnerability would quickly disappear. And our hypocrisy would be all the more evident.
    Life is ‘Christ in us’ and not ‘in me’. In me life is lost.

  6. Julie MacLean

    You can ask anything in my name and I will do it because the work of the Son brings glory to the Father. Yes,ask anything in my name and I will do it! John 14:13-14
    You are not in a vacuum and you don’t have to look to people alone for advise and encouragement. Look to the promises of God. If your good ideas are from God they will stand and your work will bring glory to God by making the world a better place. So don’t hide your light.

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