I've been reading a memoir by Madeleine L'Engle called Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. Since entering the School of Social Work, I've been completely consumed with the "immediate reality" of a broken and suffering world, and have had little time to be creative, imaginitive or artistic. Artistic expression at times seems "impractical" and separate from the real world, but I'm starting to see that to be an artist is to follow a prophetic calling. Sometimes it's only through poetry, a melody, the movement of the human body in dance that the true reality of the human condition surfaces, captivates and inspires.
During this sabbatical I'm really asking myself, "Why am I doing what I am doing?" Is social work really something that I want to do? Am I even enjoying it anymore?
While I'm at school there's this urgent, almost desperate sense that if we as social workers don't get out there and do something about poverty, oppression, trauma, etc. then the world will end. It's a guilt trip gone horribly wrong. I know that I want to lead a meaningful life, to love as best as I can and "be on the side of the underdog," as it were...but not to the point of utter self-depletion and despair.
What is God calling me to? How can I be faithful to his call? More and more I am beginning to see that he is not asking me to be a super heroic martyr and change millions of lives for the better. I have to trust that the work, the community he sets before in each season of life is exactly where he wants me to be. My worth as a Christ-follower does not come from my "successes" (client or situational "improvement"--i.e. improved test scores, financial stability, liberation/"empowerment"), because so much is out of my control. What counts is the effort and the intention behind the effort, which should always be love: love for God and love for others.
I recently finished up Henri Nouwen's Sabbatical Journey, the journal of his time away from his "work" with the mentally handicapped. He just really brings it all home, back to the heart of things, the heart of Jesus.
"A Democratic senator was pondering how to influence people the most--as a politician who is able to introduce laws that can help millions of people, or as a minister who continues to offer hope and consolation to people in their daily struggle?...
For me it is not a question of how we can most influence others. What matters is our vocation. To what or whom are we called? When we make the effect of our work the criterion of our sense of self, we end up very vulnerable. Both the political and ministerial life can be responses to a call. Both too can be ways to acquire power. The final issue is not the result of our work but the obedience to God's will, as long as we realize the God's will is the expression of God's love" (205).