Recently, having volunteered to participate in a study investigating “gay men’s spiritual development at midlife,” I found myself being interviewed about my faith … and my life in general.
The interview, which lasted two hours, was wide-ranging. As a child, how did I see God? (He was a bit like Santa Claus, actually — an invisible spirit whose omnipresence allowed him to know when I was bad or good.) How did this image change over the years? (My image of God shifted from benevolent to harsh, fierce, and judgmental — a parent who would withhold love and salvation if certain terms and conditions were not met.) How do I see God today? (Less personal, perhaps, but also less constrained by human ideas of what God is or can be.)
In addition to matters of faith, the interview also cast a spotlight on my progress through life. While filling out a pre-interview questionnaire concerned with achievements and goals, I had a disturbing revelation.
As a young child, I had a clear goal: to please my parents by doing well in school. As a teenager, I had a clear goal: to please my parents by doing well in school and rising to a leadership role at church. As a young man, I had a clear goal: to earn a degree while pleasing my parents by preaching and preparing for ministry. In my late twenties, I had a clear goal: to escape the church and be honest with everyone about what I believed and who I loved.
In my early thirties, I had a clear goal: to rise through the ranks at SkyTel and move from training designer to training manager. In my late thirties, I had a clear goal: to fulfill my old dream of becoming a writer and see my books on the shelf in the local bookstore.
Now, here I am, in my early forties … and, for the first time in my life, I have no clear goals.
In fact, as I look back over the past three years, instead of forward motion … I see someone drifting. Oh, I’ve gotten a lot done: writing more books, designing more decks, and, now, creating more websites for friends, businesses, and corporations. In other words: I’ve taken old achievements … and I’ve achieved more of the same.
But what’s the next milestone? The next big challenge? The next step in my personal evolution? The next thing that will inspire me to push my limits? Honestly? I don’t know … and I haven’t known the answer to that question for at least three years.
That realization has shaken me to my very core.
I discussed this with the interviewer — a wise young man, despite his youth — who tilted his head to one side, considered my insight, and said, “Drifting may be a harsh word. There’s value, you know, in just being receptive, in opening yourself to see what comes your way, in taking time to attune yourself to the flow of events around you. Waiting for guidance and drifting are two different things.”
This is certainly true. At the same time, though, I want to live a life that has direction. I want to know that direction, and I want to feel passionate about that direction — to be willing to work hard, to push my own limits, to learn new things in order to achieve a meaningful milestone. I crave a sense of achievement, of arrival, or triumph — and I realize, very suddenly, how long it’s been since I’ve experienced that.
So I guess my prayer, today, is, “God, I’m ready for a change in direction. I’m ready to have a new passion to pursue, a goal to reach, an achievement to attain, a brass ring to grab. Help me make better choices, every moment of the day, so that, instead of wasting my energy on piddling little projects that amount to a way to pass the time, I find opportunities to go beyond what I’ve been called on to do before.”
Life’s short. I don’t want to look back, three years from now, and see myself still drifting on a sea of directionless days.