As I mentioned once before, when I was in Boston last year, it happened to be stake conference in my old stake (which is like a diocese or a regional organization of several local congregations). So I went. What I heard there gently changed my life.* I think it just hit me in the right time and place. The mission president of the Boston mission spoke about what he tells his returning missionaries, as they wonder and agonize about how to take the spirit of their missions into their lives.
This was a fresh experience on my mind, having witnessed Lauren's transition from missionary life to regular life. I noticed that there was a very real grief process in giving up that full-time richness of inspiration and love and services so I tuned in especially closely to the talk with her in mind. But I quickly realized this was going to be applicable to me. For me.
There was one section that felt particularly relevant to me, practically a neon flashing sign:
The key, said President Packard, is to develop a personal daily ministry. He suggested asking yourself and God every morning, through prayer and meditation: "Who are my people?" "What do they need?"--taking note of ideas that come to mind and then committing yourself to act on the impressions when they come. Ask those two questions every day and then turn it all over to God. Ideas will flow and crystallize. You will refill with pure love every day and receive opportunities to share it with others.
Second, he said, view your entire life as a holistic offering to God. You can be "on his errand" wherever you are--whatever you're doing, even if it doesn't seen conventionally religious or service-y. He wants us to thrive at home, in school, on the job, and have a joyful life and bring that joy into all life's facets. Under that mindset, there's no room for guilt that you're not Serving enough (or full time, as missionaries have) because the love you bring into every situation is enough. You're watering your own corner of the garden, your own section of the vineyard. You're hastening the work within yourself.
These simple, profound suggestions have transformed how I treat my spiritual life. Truly. Like many women I know, I have sometimes felt a low grade guilt of not measuring up--in my church assignments, roles at home and work and elsewhere. I tend to have a running list of should be/could be items that is way longer than the day would allow. But when I have started the day with the question "who are my people and what do they need?" I have felt the freedom to consider every interaction in that day as worthwhile and part of my personal ministry--at appointments, in work meetings, with my kids and G, with neighbors and friends. Sending an email. Talking to a teacher at Sam's school. Doing research interviews. Teaching a class. These are my people, my ministry. My task is simply to show up for them and connect and hopefully be a positive presence--a conduit for some bit of love that's tailored to them. This approach replaces my feelings of aspirational anxiety with a sense of peaceful partnership. It feels beautifully zen, really, almost a Buddhist mindfulness practice. The Jesuits also have a defining phrase (and practice) for this: finding God in all things. I like that.
Clearly (if you know me) this is an ideal, a blueprint that doesn't always show up in my daily interactions. But for me it has recentered my spiritual efforts, simplified to its essence what I think being a disciple is, and released me from a racing mind. Today: Who are my people? What do they need? Send them to me and me to them. Or, in other words, what is needful?
*it was a double-header spiritual boost for me; it's where I heard this talk and had this experience as well.