Every moment of every day, we as human beings are engaged in the act of something. Whether it is related to our professional work or to our family, a responsibility we have or a form of relaxation, we are always doing something. While there is always a reason for the “something” which we do, the meaning and purpose for these is lost, many times, under layers of busy-ness, rush and even conviction. Why do we do the things we do?
The Best Christmas Presents
Nearly forty years ago, my parents gave me two of the very best Christmas presents I have ever received: a bedside lamp and a portable typewriter. The former allowed me to finally indulge in reading for pleasure in bed before actually going to sleep, without keeping the ceiling light on. It felt positively exquisite to my ten-year-old self to be able to do so. The latter gift, though, was my favourite. It still is to this day.
The portable typewriter (complete with a hard case cover and a handle for easy transporting all over the place) was my personal means for creative expression. For several months prior, my parents had seen me typing away for several hours at a time, index fingers furiously flying all over for the right keys on my dad’s old IBM Selectric. I wrote as if I was on fire, words rushing to form sentences, which gave shape to the stories, which filled my head. I wanted to see those stories on paper, and the portable typewriter I received as a gift made it even more possible to do this. What a gift that creative spark was then!
A Faltering Spark
In as much as writing had become a burning passion for me then as a budding young writer, many times since then and even now, the flame flickers and falters in the face of reality. All those years ago, it mattered to me what others thought of what I wrote. I typed up my stories in such a way that I could fold the pages in half and staple them in the middle. I purposely left several blank pages after the end for comments and feedback on the story from my eager audience of schoolmates and friends. They, as well as the occasional mom of a friend or a teacher who knew I wrote, read my stories and wrote encouraging messages of praise in the back of the book. These messages fuelled my desire to tell more stories.
Now, however, I am often seized by unwanted and paralyzing thoughts of the perceived “need” for my writing to be relevant to everyone. It still matters to me what others think of what I write, to the point I overthink everything. What I write has to be just right, appealing to most if not everyone. It must garner “likes” and be shared by everyone and their best friend on social media. What a bonus if there are good comments too! After all, this is for the good and for the greater glory of God! Or is it?
“Not Unto You, But Unto Me”
For my post-secondary studies, I attended a private Roman Catholic Jesuit research university in the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila. By the time I graduated, I had become very familiar with the Latin motto of the Jesuits: Ad maiorem Dei gloriam. AMDG. For the greater glory of God. Every time and everywhere, everything we do is ultimately for God’s glory. This disposition and way of thinking help to direct credit where it is due and rightfully belongs:
Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth’s sake. (Psalm 115:1)
However, in this day and age of unabashedly relentless self-promotion and constant brand management, a motto which seems to be more apropos is ad maiorem gloriam meam– for my greater glory. Me, myself, and I, thank you very much. Success is measured in the currency of clicks, likes and followers, with advertisers flocking to where these abound.
To simply pander to what is popular and will draw more attention seems to be more a tactic of sensationalist publications and scandal-propagating outlets. If we truly recognize and affirm that everything we are and have come from and ultimately belongs to God, there is no room at all for this kind of self-aggrandizement:
No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. (Matthew 6:24)
Rectitude of Intention
I struggled to write – what to write about. Would my writing appeal to others? Would it appeal to enough people? Could I do the topic justice? Could I say anything meaningful? I felt unworthy of this opportunity I had to express myself in a medium which had been a passion for so long. Who was I to think I could make a difference at all?
Oddly enough, in praying about this struggle for discernment, I found the answer to my conundrum after a disagreement with my husband. I do not remember what it was about, but we argued over something I thought was very important at that moment. My very conciliatory husband attempted to smooth things over with me, but I refused. Then, a flash of understanding came to me: no matter how “right” I thought I was, I had lost sight of what was important. What mattered was that we resolve our differences. It was not so I prove myself right. Was I doing God’s will by refusing to make up with him to “prove my point”? Definitely not. Whose fault was it then? Who cares!
A Purposeful Life
This welcome realization made me consider exactly why it is I write. Why do I do it? In fact, why do I do the things I do, as a wife and a mother, as a friend and member of my community? I wish I could say that I do it for the greater glory of God, but at this point in my life, I can honestly say only this: I want to do what I do for God. It is why I struggle to figure out what to write for my next article. It is why I have to work on not feeling bad or frustrated when work at home or elsewhere doesn’t seem to be appreciated or acknowledged.
I know my life has a purpose; my family, friends and community reflect a great part of the reason for my being. My faith deepens this purpose and gives higher meaning to who I am and what I do. My God is He Who gives me strength and love, and without Him nothing is possible. I must do my best in everything. This is what I can offer up to God. Anything less than my best means I have withheld from God what rightfully belongs to Him. If my best does not seem to be enough, I must trust in my heavenly Father Who will do with it as is necessary in order to bring about good.
Detachment and Humility
Truthfully, I find this to be a difficult thing to do. It is why I stare at a blank document, unable to compose and wordlessly mesmerized by the blinking cursor, which seems to say, “Well, what now?” It is why my excitable imagination goes into hyper-drive when I over think mistakes I have made and things I should have or could have done. I want to do my best and be successful at what I do. Why can I not automatically have both?
We have to choose between what we want and what God wants. If we only wanted what He wants all the time, there would not be a problem. Except it does not happen this way most times. Even with the best of intentions, we can quickly go from doing something for the glory of God to doing something for our own sake and preference. It is a fine line, which we face every day in every single thing we do. Left to our own devices, we cannot do much or anything at all. But with the help of God, we can keep on redirecting our efforts and thoughts to Him, trusting that He will take our best and put it towards the fulfillment of His loving will.
Purity of intention. The suggestions of pride and the impulses of the flesh are not difficult to recognize… and you fight and, with grace, you conquer.
But the motives that inspire you, even in the holiest actions, do not seem clear; and deep down inside you hear a voice which makes you see human reasons in such a subtle way that your soul is invaded by the disturbing thought that you don’t act as you should — for pure Love, solely and exclusively to give God all his glory.
React at once each time and say: ‘Lord, for myself I want nothing. All for your glory and for Love.’ (St. Josemaria Escriva, The Way, point 788)