What Are You Gonna’ Do With Your Life?

I hate that question–perhaps because I rarely have a coherent answer, which is normally prefaced by “In Specs’ perfect world, she would_______.” What goes in that blank? Well, for now, it’s still a blank for me and for many post-college individuals. Events have made me wonder recently whether I and my fellow-college-grads-without-a-plan have been looking for the wrong thing.

If you said the name “Elizabeth Goudge” to a group of college English students, chances are that none of them would know the name. Sadly, her biggest claim to fame in recent years is that J. K. Rowling said that The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge was her favorite book as a child. While this has sparked some interest in Goudge’s work, she remains largely unknown to most readers. In her novel, The Dean’s Watch, I read one of the most interesting descriptions of a life-calling. The book details the interweaving of several lives in an 1800’s English village. Mary Montague is an elderly spinster at the start of the book to whom everyone turns for advice, but few know her own story.

Growing up with physical ailments and no special talents, Mary thrived on her dreams of the adventurous things she would do when she grew up. During adolescence, her dreams were shattered when she began to realize that she would not have the chance to live those dreams. Here, Goudge shows us the start of Mary’s journey.

“There was no end to the entrancing careers that she mapped out for herself, and in all of them her starved longing for love was satisfied up to the hilt.

The phantasy world, she discovered, had tentacles like an octopus and cannot be escaped without mortal combat, and when at last her strong will had won the battle it seemed as though she were living in a vacuum, so little had the real world to offer the shy, frustrated, unattractive girl who was the Mary she must live with until she died…What should she do?

She never knew what put it into her head that she, unloved, should love. Could mere loving be a life’s work? Could it be a career…like nursing the sick or going on the stage? Could it be adventure? Christians…had to love, as a wife had to obey her husband and an actress had to speak her lines when the curtain rose. But what was love? Was there anything of anybody that she herself truly loved? …[With sudden honesty, Mary realized] she loved [her] cat and Blanche’s Bower. It came to her in a flash that is must be wonderful to hold God and be held by Him, as she held the cat in her arms…and in turn was held within the safety and quietness of the bower. Until now she had only read her Bible as a pious exercise, but now she read it as an engineer reads a blueprint and a traveler a map, unemotionally because she was not emotional, but with a profound concentration because her life depended on it. She saw that all her powers, even those which had seemed to mitigate against love, such as her shrewdness which had always been quick to see the faults of others, her ambition and self-will, could by a change of direction be bound over in service to the one over-mastering purpose. She saw that she must turn from herself, and began to see something of the discipline that that entailed.

It was then the central figure of the Gospels, a historical figure whom she deeply revered and sought to imitate, began at rare intervals to flash out at her like live lightning from their pages, frightening her, turning the grave blueprint into a dazzle of reflected fire. Gradually she learned to see that her fear was not of the lightning itself but what it showed her of the nature of love, for it dazzled behind the stark horror of Calvary.

At some point along the way, she did not know where because the change came so slowly and gradually, she realized that He had got her and got everything. His love held and illumined every human being for whom she was concerned, and whom she served with profound compassion which was their need and right, behind the Cathedral, the city, every flower and leaf and creature, giving it reality and beauty. She could not take her eyes from the incredibly glory of His love. As far as it was possible for a human being in this world she had turned from herself. (Goudge, The Dean’s Watch)

At some point in our lives, we have all been Mary, frustrated with the loss of our expectations and left with an uncertainty of how to proceed. We focus on what are we going to do and think mainly of career options. Should I be a this or a that? Perhaps, what we should focus on is how we live. Because the truth is, often our worry is not based on “Can I pay my bills?” (Although there are many people who face this as their primary concern, but that’s a post for another day) Often we are concerned more with why are we here, what is our purpose, and what is worth pursuing. All three of those questions underlie our anxiety about “what am I gonna’ do when I grow up?”

The more I live, the more I am convinced that a career is not why we are on this earth, and therefore my anxiety about a career is greatly lessened. I am here to know and love God. And by knowing Him, and learning what love is from His example, I, like Mary, am to pass that love on to others. And I cannot know what love is and I cannot love others if I do not know God because He is the source of love. He is the living example of love–He who gave Himself that I might live and not die. What is love? It is patient, kind, humble, long-suffering, and wants the best for others. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation of our sins.” (I John 4:10).

That’s what I want to do with my life. Love.

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