When I was a young teenager, I spent a lot of time riding around the neighborhood on my bike or walking in the fields while asking that age-old question: “What do I want to do with my life?” As for many young people, my search for a direction or purpose in my life was marked by angst and uncertainty.
An answer finally came in the form of a high school audition. To borrow a term from the title of one of this week’s CatholicsRead books, I experienced one of those Cannonball Moments (Loyola Press): a moment or time of significant change in our lives that brims with both challenge and opportunity. For me, the audition led to several very choice roles over the next five years and an eventual bachelor’s degree in theatre.
After five years, however, the question of purpose arose again. It niggled at the edges of my thoughts and eventually wedged its way to the center of my conscious mind. The next “aha” experience came after a minor but lengthy illness during which I had a lot of time for prayer and reflection. I was able to focus on nurturing my interior life and cultivating my relationship with God. This prepared me to tend the seeds of a new calling.
Several of the books on this week’s list can provide guidance during such transition periods in our lives. Fr. John Welch’s lived experiences related in An Interior Life, from Paulist Press, can provide guidance in spiritual growth. For those who are trying to deepen their personal friendship with God, I would definitely recommend Ascension’s It’s Personal: Cultivating Your Relationship with God, by Fr. Mike Schmitz. Birthing the Holy, written by Christine Valters Paintner and published by Ave Maria Press, is a reflection on Mary that can help those who are discerning a new call.
When my health returned, I discovered an unexpected call to leave my rather prestigious job and teach high school religion instead. I had never imagined being a teacher, though I had been teaching in professional settings without really thinking about it. The graced moments of rest and awareness during my sickness helped me to recognize and embrace this new direction and purpose.
Recognizing a choice and making a choice are two different things, though. Making the proverbial “leap of faith” takes a certain amount of courage and trust in God. There have been multiple times over the course of the last few decades where questions about purpose have returned. The ultimate outcome of such questions is a choice, a choice that has to be either accepted or denied.
As I reflect back on this pattern in my life, one of the constants is the voice of God saying over and over, “I Am With You” (Loyola Press). This new collection of Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s sermons and writings focuses on God’s grace and on the healing power of Jesus that can get us through tough and turbulent times.
Like most people, while listening for God’s voice I also turned to friends and family for advice. When I was faced with one of the biggest professional changes and geographic moves in my life, my best friend helped me to frame the decision. She said, “Go, try it out, stay for a few years. If you don’t like it, move back. Your friends will always be here.” It was a simple but direct piece of advice. I made the move, and I didn’t move back.
As adults, we search for models; people who represent what we want to be, those who have figured out some aspect of the process. Deacon Greg Kendra’s insights in Befriending St. Joseph (Ave Maria Press) present St. Joseph as one of those possible models. Or if you like literature, you can turn to authors and characters that have touched you. Jane Austen’s Genius Guide to a Good Life, by Haley Stewart and published by Ave Maria Press, would definitely be at the top of my “go-to” list.
As we all know, the question of our purpose evolves over time. As I support my aging parents, the question of purpose is a daily struggle, particularly for my elderly father who asks me many times a day, “Why should I wake up?” I really don’t know how to answer him. At 87, what is your purpose? So I say, “Because I’m here.” I hope that answer serves to carry us through to the next day, when the same conversation will repeat itself.
Therese Brown is the Executive Director of the Association of Catholic Publishers. She holds a master of arts degree in youth and liturgy from Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. She previously served as senior marketing specialist at United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Publishing Office. She is the author of Graced Moments: Prayer Services for the Lives of Teens (World Library Publications). She resides in the Baltimore area.