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Sunday, October 19, 2008

What Does Ambition Seek?

Today in class our professor lectured on St. Augustine's Confessions, so throughout course of the day, my attention was drawn to certain passages. (whether they were a part of the lecture or not!) As often happens in class, I was struck several times by what he said and by the words that were in the text. And as usual, my mind went off to its own fields of observation.

"For pride imitates loftiness of mind, hwile you are the one God, highest above all things. What does ambition seek, except honor and glory, while you alone are to be honored above all else and are glorious forever?"


It is this passage that defines my very state in life right now, and which, ironically (or not so ironically when one considers the mystery of God in one's life), came up yesterday in conversation with a friend.

A couple years ago I lamented that I was stuck; I was in a job I hated, a career that was going nowhere. When I'd begun I saw a career path in front of me, I "knew" where I was going, and was excited that my background was going to propel me into a very successful future. It wasn't a future I'd originally forseen for myself, but it was one that seemed to arise from God's Divine Providence. But over time, the job wore on me, roadblocks went up, and the "shiny future" no longer looked like something I wanted. In fact, I saw it for what it was, and realized that I would not find happiness there.

But I didn't want to go back to the careers of my background, and in any case, I'd shut the doors that would have lead back to them, for I'd realized that they weren't a source of happiness. In fact, they were quite literally dead ends. Unfortunately, my time in that job I had begun to hate, also effectively prevented my return to any possible routes, for I'd been out of my degree field and original areas of experience for too long; I had rendered myself obsolete.

I'd unknowingly comitted professional suicide.

I was stuck. I couldn't move forward, I couldn't move laterally, every day was making me realize that my future had an Axe in it and not a promotion, and basically...the only thing I really had was God.

That's how I met Him face-to-face, so to speak, I think. That's the crisis that drew me to Him; I didn't know who I was, where I was going, or who I was supposed to be. In fact, I was on my knees in what I saw as the ashes of my life, once again. But let's face it; that's the BEST way to learn who we are and where we really belong. That's what made me start asking the right questions, redefine "happiness" according to a proper standard, and subsequently understand that life isn't about what we do...it's about who we are called to be.

One of my biggest laments was that all through high school and college I'd been very DRIVEN towards my career goals. I knew what I'd come from and what I desperately was trying to escape, I knew what I wanted to do, I knew I had a future, and I thought I was in control of it. And sure enough, everything I touched turned to gold: doors opened, gates parted, and my dreams (really quite humble ones, if glorious in my eyes) were on the verge of being realized. And really, they WERE realized.

Unfortunately, they lost their sheen, and like the Prodigal Son, I, the Prodigal Daughter, found myself eating muck and begging for my bread.

It's been a repetetive pattern in my life, but it was the last manifestation that was finally definitive; each crash was really a new ascent. A new purification. Each disaster, I now see, was bringing me closer to God.

To be perfectly honest, while my goals were truly humble in this world as I did not desire fame or political power or anything like that, I WAS still ambitious, and that ambition was truly a way of seeking glory for myself. I wasn't doing anything for God or out of love for God; everything I did was centered upon myself and what I wanted and what I thought I needed.

In short, it was my quite unholy opinion that I thought the world revolved around me, and whenever it didn't, I became upset and demanded that such "injustice" should change.

No, I never truly realized that this was my position, and I never voiced such an idea; in fact, I abhored the thought! All of us realize, rationally, that the world does not revolve around us, but when we get to the depths of our wounded souls, we have to face the fact that, if we are not living in reference to the Sacrifice of the Cross, then we are living for ourselves. With that kind of flawed philosophy, the only truth is that we make ourselves the center of the world.

We will never find happiness if we define ourselves according to our own scales, for we can ONLY know ourselves through knowing others, and we can only discover who we are called to be if we are willing to embrace the Mystery of the Cross - and in fact, let the blood of the Cross be mingled with our own blood and sweat.

Yesterday, in speaking with a friend, I revealed to her that I still don't know my future. I'm no longer in the job that made me so miserable, but the position I'm in now is definitely not my "calling". I do recognize a certain Call in my co-workers, which they are fulfilling beautifully. They are enthusiastic and passionate, and God's hand is on them. Myself...I'm there, I'm taking up space, I'm doing the best I can and I'm learning a lot, but it's not my future. It's a waystation, another purification, but have no fear; it is developing virtues and skills I'd not have in any other way. And it's building relationships that draw me further out of myself, refusing to take me out of the shadow of the Cross. I'm at peace, knowing there's a reason for where I am, and I do truly love the people with whom I work and those I am serving.

A New Future?

I don't see a future for myself, not when I consider my life according to career or material, worldly goals. "Future" is a word that's not really in my vocabulary anymore, for it's an irrelevant term. In fact, when it comes to my material future, I "foresee" disaster only. But it doesn't matter. God has taught me how to re-define my priorities, and even though I still battle with myself in self-love and glory-seeking ambition, it's not what defines me any more. My identity is no longer tied to what I do to pay my bills, but rather, it's in my identity in Christ.

I'm learning to live with reference to God, to know myself through loving others, and to look to the Cross for the answers of my deepest questions.

St. Augustine, one of my dearest and longest-suffering Patrons, really hit the nail on the head in the quote I used, and I love him even more for his honesty. His words still condemn me, but they also reveal, in hindsight, the spiritual journey my life has taken thus far, and remind me to continuously look to honor and glorify God in all things.

As long as we remember that, our own ambitions can be put into their proper place, in deference to God's own will, for He desires only our good, which cannot be separated from the good of the salvation of others.

It's a lesson I'd suffer again to learn...and probably will.

St. Augustine, pray for us!

4 comments:

you know who (in NE ... just in case) said...

This is probably the most worldly comment I've ever left on a blog. BE CAREFUL. I am now in a postion to hire people, and have learned that a HUGE red flag is people who flit from job to job to job. One of our prerequestits is "stable and progressive work history." As much as I want to hire an applicant who loves the church, and desires to work for the church, his work history is absolutely horrible, and everything in me says he'll quit the week he's fully trained. Is it a lack of trust in God? Maybe... definatly an awareness of human nature, and history repeating itself. Don't have a red-flag filled resume!

Adoro te Devote said...

You've put your finger on one of the very reasons I've delayed in so long in pursuing what I'm pursuing now. Maybe I'll send you the post I wrote but won't post although it was up for a couple hours once.

My work history really isn't "going from job to job", as each one I left had a reason and explanation that does actually show continuity and progression. I was in Insurance for just short of 5 years.

So my resume isn't "flaky" by any means. It IS well rounded and continuous.

Hidden One said...

I'm not gonna say anything, just gonna let you know that I'm still praying for you.

Adoro te Devote said...

Keep praying, Hidden One! Please! And THANK YOU!