A week ago, at Monday Morning Prayer, Phil Woodward of the philosophy department called our attention to something that we probably all knew, if we’d stop to think about it — that people who live in monasteries don’t have career goals.
This might seem like a strange way to live. After all, the youngest in our community are striving to develop career goals. Those of us who are a little older and maybe on our way to fulfilling some of our goals and establishing more, even those of us at the latter end of careers have our plans. We call them bucket lists. These are things we’d like to get done or experiences we’d like to have before we “kick the bucket.”
Frequently we tie a strong sense of satisfaction to accomplishing our goals and imagine that accomplishment is at the root of a sense of well-being, as though satisfaction will only be found in striving for the next thing. This is inherently false. These monks without career goals, we were told, had discovered the possibility of contentment in the smallest things of life. They had discovered the possibility of joy in the mundane.
Prof. Woodward’s remarks about monks and career goals called me to remember a statement from a friend of mine. He said, “I want a personal mission I can fulfill from a jail cell.” He wasn’t looking to be incarcerated, but he was looking for that calling which was essential, that didn’t depend on situations and circumstances. He was describing a vocation that could be answered anywhere in any situation, one that wasn’t conditioned, even by his ability.
In his letter to Timothy, Paul conveys a similar insight:
Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.
Paul’s contentment was grounded in his identity as one who had died with Christ. Having been called out of himself and away from himself through an encounter with the risen Christ, he was free to live. He would write to the Christians in Rome:
We have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
Paul didn’t have a bucket list as much as he had already kicked the bucket and discovered a world of life with Christ as a result of it. Perhaps the reason that the monks have no career goals is because the goal of their lives is already achieved.
Pr. Jim +
Sept. 28, 2016
Rev. James A. Wetzstein serves as one of our university pastors at Valpo and takes turns writing weekly reflections.