July/August 2011 - Vol. 51

.Where Am I Headed? And How Far 
Have I Journeyed?

By Martin Steinbereithner

Recently I was invited to speak to a group of young people on the theme of “vocation.” This seems a very dusty and somewhat religious topic: monks have a vocation, Catholics pray “for vocations,” but what does this have to do with young people who wear chucks and facebook each other? A lot, I would hold. Isn’t the most profound question of any human being, young or old, what they are supposed to do with their lives? When we are young, it is a searching question, full of hope and some anxiety, and we are eager to discover what it is that we are meant for. When we are older, the question presses upon us to look back at the landscape of our life and inquire whether we have given ourselves to something worthwhile or alas, spent ourselves on a dream, an illusion. Or even worse, whether we ever engaged in what we were supposed to do. As Stephen Covey puts it, “Nobody says on his deathbed, ‘I wish I had spent more time at the office.’”

One of the greatest painters of the 20th century, Pablo Picasso, was regularly haunted by the question whether he was really fulfilling his potential. The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote ten “Letters to a Young Poet” dealing with the question of finding one’s calling. And the coaching industry is booming as people try to find out what they are supposed to do with their lives. You might even say that the only ones who don’t regularly ask the vocation question are those who drown it out with busyness and noise.

What are we to do with our lives? What has God intended for us? And  how will we ever find an answer? Life seems so full of choices and possibilities that one can easily get overwhelmed. And is it not a luxury to ask questions of calling, in the face of sub-prime crises and unemployment: let us just be grateful for having a job! In 1522 a young Spaniard who converted to Christ decided to put together a set of readings or meditations to help some of his friends confront squarely the vocation question. In the course of four weeks he helped them deal with their fears, hopes, and the so-common mechanisms of self-deception. The result eventually became the “Ignatian Spiritual Exercises,” and  since then thousands of men and women around the world have followed them, often with revolutionary results.

When you get some time off where you can reflect a bit, take stock and ask afresh the question, “Where am I headed and how far have I journeyed?” 

The Jewish philosopher Martin Buber quotes the old rabbi Zusya who says: “In the world to come I shall not be asked: ‘Why were you not Moses?’ I shall be asked: ‘Why were you not Zusya?’” We do not need to be somebody we are not, let alone measure ourselves with people more gifted, more beautiful, or more holy. The point of life is to become who we are meant to be, to become ourselves. Finding that unique contribution, that calling which nobody else can fulfill, brings unique energy and satisfaction. It can also be a bit scary, for it might mean changing our lives to accommodate what it requires. But, we are not alone in this quest – the Lord journeys with us as well.

So take courage and ask!

If you would like to read more, you can visit Martin’s blog post

Martin Steinbereithner is a member of the Servants of the Word and is the Director for Mission Development for the Sword of the Spirit region in Europe and the Middle East. 

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