A few weeks ago I opened a book and was hit by this phrase: “You have been created to live for something greater than yourself, and it is only through the complete giving of yourself that you will find yourself.”
It stuck with me.
I closed the book. Turned on the TV. The documentary on TV repeated a similar message: that the happiest people in the world exhibited two qualities: 1) They lived for something greater than themselves, and 2) They had a sense of community, connection, and social bonding.
Turned off the TV. Went to Theology of the Body class. The same message was repeated yet again, a third time. The priest reiterated John Paul II: “Man cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of self.” He said that there were two desires in the human heart: to give our lives over to something greater than ourselves, and to be in communion with God and with other persons.
Three similar messages. Three different sources. All within the same time frame.
The priest said that there comes a time in our lives when we become restless. After years of living for ourselves, we begin to realize: “I can’t stay by myself and be lonely. I need to give of myself, to go outside myself and establish relationships.” He said it was precisely this ache to live for something greater than ourselves that triggers the search for our vocation.
Why else do we give up our personal “freedom” to get married, have kids, and change diapers? Why else do we switch into jobs that enable us to support a cause that matters to us, even if the pay is lower than the previous job?
Because we yearn for more. After years of being told that the way to happiness is to secure the best for ourselves, to accumulate more for ourselves, to raise our own statuses and prestige, we begin to wonder if we’ve been chasing empty goals. Why? Because we’re only living for ourselves.
Yet that crazy, counter-intuitive part of ourselves calls out, that part that actually wants to make sacrifices, that wants to put someone else’s needs above our own, that wants more to life than safety, security, and convenience. We yearn for that something that is worth the inconvenience: Our vocation. Our purpose. Our unique calling by God.
I, too, came to discover this ache in my heart — that behind my typical “wants” was an even greater underlying desire: to live for something greater than myself, to let go of my own self-saving ways, and to give my life over to a worthy cause. In a way, I wanted to be “less selfish”. It wasn’t enough for me to go through the motions, securing a safe life for myself. It wasn’t enough to merely survive meeting the demands of everyday life, living from deadline to deadline, from service event to service event, from weekend to weekend. Yes, I realized a great part of life was to find joy in the mundane tasks that absolutely had to be done in order to fully function as a member of society, but still — there had to be a greater purpose.
I’m still on the way to discovering that purpose.
THE WAKE-UP CALL
We’ve all felt this “ache” some way or another. Sometimes we’d rather hide, run away, or distract ourselves than face it.
But this ache isn’t here to tear us down. It’s here to wake us up, to disturb us, to keep us from settling for a lesser life than we were destined for. In an ironic way, it makes us ‘uncomfortable’ with the comfortable, pushing us towards a different way of living.
I used to think that the only way a person could ‘give’ of themselves was to ‘find’ themselves first. But now I’m realizing that it’s the reverse. Perhaps it is how Gandhi puts it: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
The book 33 Days to Morning Glory describes ‘holiness’ in this way: “What is holiness? Dying to the self.” Perhaps this is what it means when the Bible says “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”: the only way to find true meaning in life is to ‘die’ to our own desires and replace them with God’s. He is that “something greater than ourselves” that we so badly yearn to live for.
Let this yearning, this ache for happiness, fulfillment, and meaning, propel us to seek our God-given vocation. Perhaps the first step is to let go of our self-saving ways, of our selfish ambitions, and to replace them with God’s greater dreams instead.
As Pope Francis states: “Life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort. Indeed, those who enjoy life the most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others.”