Realistic life goals
Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life
Today, my older brother fulfills the second of his two greatest life goals. He will work a two-hour shift sweeping, emptying trash, and servicing lavatories at McDonald's. What sounds like a too-small vision for someone's talents is actually a huge breakthrough. Though he was born with a mental handicap thought to render him a vegetable, his life has been one small triumph after another. It has been hard for us as his family to take him seriously when he has spoken over the years of his dream of working at McDonald's. His life struggle with the extremes of hyperactivity and being catatonic had made him less than a likely employee for any business. My parents' untiring love has continued to find places to accommodate each point of readiness for progress.
I knew something had changed in him last year when his math skills expanded to include the first of his life goals - mastering the multiplication table. Steve had always been good at addition and subtraction, but he knew that he had to learn to multiply. We had all tried to teach him over the decades. His new community of Christian Scientist friends helped him accomplish his goal at age 53.
Last summer, he worked one day a week doing groundskeeping at a local resort. But still, he cherished his goal of working at McDonald's. He knew he could do it if he could just learn to stop talking to everybody all the time. As much as it has been exhausting at times to live around Steve, never could anyone question the magnitude of the love that underlay his enthusiasm for life, his welcome of others, and his deep devotion to his God. Now that we're all having to honor his progress beyond anyone's expectation, what is making sense is that the essential love that constitutes the substance of his being just had to continue finding ways of greater expression.
There's an adage that says: "Rivers make their own channels." The Mississippi River did not wait for the US Army Corps of Engineers to carve out a riverbed before it flowed from a trickle in northern Minnesota to the swollen breadth of the Port of New Orleans. So it is with the substance of our being as the expression of God's goodness. Goodness is dynamic. It will not be confined, thwarted, or forever ignored. God endows each of us with ideas, talents, strength, and initiative. And God endows man with opportunities to put those talents into action.
In the wake of Sept. 11, many people have been reconsidering their life goals. The Monitor has reported people's newfound willingness to make commitments like marriage, to be open to new relationships, new talents and ways of serving. Things once postponed now seem more urgent and essential. What is the basis of realistic life goals within the confines of our circumstances, our abilities and resources? How can we be sure we aren't making decisions based on fear of not having as much of a lifetime as we'd planned?
Perhaps the answers have to do with maintaining a spirit of expectancy. It's not hard to take advantage of present opportunities as long as we know that opportunities will continue to unfold. The willingness to commit to a marriage partner could then be based on the expectancy of an expanded capacity to love and enjoy companionship. The willingness to take a modest job as a way of breaking a cycle of unemployment could be based on the expectancy of being able to move forward when a job more appropriate becomes apparent. The willingness to learn a new skill can be based on the expectancy that we'll have a way to use it.
There's a passage in one of Steve's favorite books, which he has persisted in learning to read over the years. "When the destination is desirable, expectation speeds our progress. The struggle for Truth makes one strong instead of weak, resting instead of wearying one.... Man should renew his energies and endeavors, and see the folly of hypocrisy, while also learning the necessity of working out his own salvation." This is from Mary Baker Eddy's primary text, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," page 426.
When I called Steve to congratulate him, I asked him if he would get to wear the McDonald's uniform he's always dreamed of. "Yes," he said quietly, "a hat and a little badge with my name on it." It's a promise for each one of us to take our essential place in civilization, giving what we dream of giving, in the way that is uniquely ours to give.