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Finding Gratitude in the Cross

There is nothing Christian, noble or courageous about all of this.

Almost three years ago, that thought ate me whole. I hit a wall. I didn’t recognise myself anymore. Hardly anyone understood. I was struggling to do so myself. In the few years leading up to that point, like a candle, slowly but surely, I burned out.

After enjoying a sheltered childhood surrounded by great people who shared the same love for Christ, working full-time in a fast-paced and competitive battleground introduced me to the heavyweight of the world. I was numb to the fact that I was losing grip of the mission and identity that I thought I once had. More than half of the people I grew up with were gone with the community my family used to serve in and I was stuck in a shallow and demanding career path that I wasn’t sure I even wanted. I couldn’t see past it. The only thing left to do was to escape it.

So, in a very impulsive attempt to find a “real” vocation and escape public accounting, I submitted a university application to study teaching. I was certain it was a good opportunity to find substance again, have more meaningful encounters, have more profound conversations, and fulfil my mission in the right, Christian way. I felt a rush and excitement that I hadn’t felt in years. In my heart, I genuinely felt that this was God’s will about to manifest in my life in all its grandeur and majesty. Life can finally begin.

My application was rejected, and just like that, I was back to where I started.

Surprisingly, the rejection wasn’t as painful as I thought it would be. I didn’t even question it but I wasn’t any less puzzled either. After having conversations with people, a hundred messy prayers (pretty much the only type for me), seeking some help, and some sort of action, the door that finally opened was the closest to the realities and opportunities present in my life at that very point in time. So eventually, I packed my bags and headed for a new city.

I still spend most of the day in front of spreadsheets, numbers and file notes, yet in the few months leading up to today, slowly but surely, I understood.

The struggle of finding meaning, vocation and purpose is the cross that many of us have to carry. More than ever, we are exposed to the shiny, the beautiful, the victorious and the extraordinary, every minute of every day. While I drink my morning coffee, clearing my inbox and submitting my timesheets from last week, Instagram tells me someone who is about to become a mother in a couple of months just bought a new house with their husband (after returning from a medical mission trip last year).

It seems like the more you scroll, the heavier the cross gets, the uglier your reality looks. Is it possible to serve the Lord by preparing income tax returns? Perhaps Microsoft Excel could be a vocation?

Therefore, it is consoling that even more than a century before social media changed our world, St. Therese of Lisieux probably felt the same kind of agony about her reality, mission (or lack thereof) vocation and even the existence of God. She cried many times out of frustration with herself. Yet, as she wiped her tears to look past herself and towards Heaven instead, she articulates what is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful testimonies of all time:

“I saw that every flower He has created has a beauty of its own, that the splendour of the rose and the lily’s whiteness do not deprive the violet of its scent nor make less ravishing the daisy’s charm. I saw that if every little flower wished to be a rose, nature would lose its spring adornments, and the fields would be no longer enamelled with their varied flowers. So it is in the world of souls, the living garden of the Lord. It pleases Him to create great Saints, who may be compared with the lilies or the rose; but He has also created little ones, who must be content to be daisies or violets, nestling at His feet to delight His eyes when He should choose to look at them. The happier they are to be as He wills, the more perfect they are.”

Then, eventually, in her littleness and simplicity, she became one of the most revered Catholic saints of all time.

Most of the time we forget that the will of God in our lives, if we let it, manifests itself in reality - in the world we’re in right now, in the world of souls, in this living garden of the Lord. In my own quarter-life crisis, I learned to rediscover that service and love of God take many, many shapes and forms. As a young professional who is constantly challenged with purpose in a secular workplace, I often saw my job title and daily tasks as a useless and shallow vocation so disconnected from God. Like St. Therese, I would cry and cry and cry out of frustration because there was no way that I could participate in God’s great work by being a full-time employee instead of being a full-time missionary. Because I couldn’t look past this and myself, I have tripled the weight of my cross.

Yet, like St. Therese, I am constantly invited to wipe my own tears, look past myself and towards God instead. When this happens, suddenly, every day that I come into work becomes a holy opportunity to encounter different people, to mentor and inspire and motivate junior staff, to practice empathy and compassion when a client is beyond difficult, to talk about and walk my values as a Catholic, and to challenge myself to be my authentic self in all circumstances.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have the chance to record the priest’s homily at the Holy Thursday Mass I attended this year. But in the span of ten minutes, he shared that one of his greatest joys as a priest is to be able to stand in front of us, the living body of Christ, at least every Sunday. We, as the people of God, inspire and give him hope because we as lay people are the ones who faithfully live as a witness to the redeeming love of Christ in this mad and desolate world that thirsts for it.

We may not be of this world, but we are still in it, and we are all uniquely called each day to bloom and look towards Heaven, wherever we are planted.

“God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it if I do but keep His commandments. Therefore, I will trust Him, whatever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him, in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him. If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me. Still, He knows what He is about.” - St. John Henry Newman

St. Therese of Lisieux, pray for us.

St. John Henry Newman, pray for us.

St. Josemaria Escriva, pray for us.

St. Joseph, pray for us.


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