Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Bliss Through Farming?

On LinkedIn this week, I saw this little graphic:

The happy intersection of passion, mission, vocation, and profession?
It's a nice cross-section and compartmentalization of different types of work. The point, of course, was to encourage people to find a career that satisfies the little blue star in the middle. Then, we would all achieve supreme happiness, live debt-free, rescue puppies, and live happily ever after.

Except, that just isn't reality.

Certainly, finding ways to blend that which you love and that which you are good at will make for a great and fulfilling hobby. After all, nobody would get a lot out of a hobby if they stunk at it (who'd want to see a broken ship in a bottle?). Add in being paid, and you're looking at a fulfilling career. I'm sure there are lots of folks on Etsy who make a great career making and selling what they do well. And heck, if the world needs what you do, even better, right? I mean, who doesn't need hand-crafted soap in the shape of Mickey Mouse?

Same idea, different words. This one adds:
Satisfaction as the intersection of what you love, what you do well, well, and
what the world will pay for;
Comfort as the intersection of well, pay, and needs;
Contentment as the intersection of love, needs, and pay;
Fulfillment as the intersection of love, well, and need;
And Bliss when they all intersect.

First and foremost, I need to clarify the definition of "vocation." As a Catholic, vocation refers to the state in life in which we fulfill our call to holiness - be it married, single, or religious. I've always struggled reconciling this definition with the world's, which is that a vocation is "a strong feeling of suitability for a particular career or occupation," according to Google. It's confusing in that a person could have TWO vocations, one of God, and one of world. I'd like a better word for the world's definition, but I'll go with it for now.

One of life's most important questions.

My main issue with the view expressed in these two graphics is that they implicitly leave out the spiritual components of life while simultaneously joining purpose to economics. It's selfish and Marxist.

But to be fair, it's a great thinking exercise. In this day and age, with so many career options available, finding a job that pays fairly based on your skills and experiences, and also that you don't hate, is certainly a reasonable goal. i think, too, a common theme in the younger generations is to find a career that is "meaningful." Manufacturing plastic widgets from 8 to 4 every day just doesn't seem to resonate with most people in the West - we want our work to mean something. So in this sense, this graphic makes sense in the lumoing together of all of these different elements into the Little Blue Star of Blissful Purpose - the key .

Unfortunately, this attitude is the first step on the long road down the slow, windy slope of unfulfilled promises.

"Our hearts are restless until in rest in thee, O Lord," said the great St. Augustine. And this holds true to this day. Unless the Little Blue Star of Blissful Purpose happens to coincide with work of and for the Church, then we will always feel that something is missing - no matter how many local veggies we buy or dollars we donate with our phones, we will remain unfulfilled. These things must occur within the framework of the Church, with Christ at their center, or they will ultimately break and down and leave us wanting something else.

Which brings me around to the point. To imply that the Little Blue Star of Blissful Purpose can be achieved by gaining what WE love, what WE are good at, what money WE can make from it, and what causes WE support is to turn fulfillment inward toward ourselves. It is a place in which WE get everything that WE want in this life, and merrily continue about our own ways. It is to deny the need to rely on God's providence for our lives.

It is, in essence, to make ourselves the Rich Man:

The Rich Man supported the livelihoods of many others through his wealth.
His spiritual emptiness ultimately led to his eternal destruction.

"[And Jesus said to them:] There was a certain rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen; and feasted sumptuously every day. And there was a certain beggar, named Lazarus, who lay at his gate, full of sores, Desiring to be filled with the crumbs that fell from the rich man's table, and no one did give him; moreover the dogs came, and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom. And the rich man also died: and he was buried in hell. And lifting up his eyes when he was in torments, he saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom: And he cried, and said: Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, to cool my tongue: for I am tormented in this flame. And Abraham said to him: Son, remember that thou didst receive good things in thy lifetime, and likewise Lazarus evil things, but now he is comforted; and thou art tormented. And besides all this, between us and you, there is fixed a great chaos: so that they who would pass from hence to you, cannot, nor from thence come hither. And he said: Then, father, I beseech thee, that thou wouldst send him to my father's house, for I have five brethren, That he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torments. And Abraham said to him: They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. But he said: No, father Abraham: but if one went to them from the dead, they will do penance. And he said to him: If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they believe, if one rise again from the dead." -Luke 16:19-31

The Rich Man did not go to hell because of his wealth - he went to hell because of his greed and selfishness. He went to hell for seeking nothing but "good things in [his] lifetime" and not the spiritual fruits necessary for salvation. He went to hell for distracting himself with his wealth to the point of ignoring the needs of his neighbor (i.e., Lazarus, the beggar at his door).

He went to hell for seeking bliss in the secular world.

And that is EXACTLY what those Venn diagrams would have us all do. They would have us search for our own wants, desires, and needs, rejecting the spiritual component and perpetuating the lie that bliss can be found in the world. In this case, the lie says that we can find bliss in a career that checks a few boxes related to the self's desires.

"Be not emulous of evildoers; nor envy them that work iniquity.
For they shall shortly wither away as grass, and as the green herbs shall quickly fall.
Trust in the Lord, and do good, and dwell in the land, and thou shalt be fed with its riches.
Delight in the Lord, and he will give thee the requests of thy heart.
Commit thy way to the Lord, and trust in him, and he will do it.
And he will bring forth thy justice as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday.
Be subject to the Lord and pray to him; Envy not the man who prospereth in his way; the man who doth unjust things." -Psalm 37:1-6

The Bible and the Catholic tradition tell us that happiness is NOT found in the work of the world, but rather in committing our ways to the Lord, as the Psalmist says..

So how does this relate to me and farming? Can I find my fulfillment, my Little Blue Star of Blissful Purpose, in working the land? Even if I could quite my job and make a great living by it?

In short: no.

Happy farm is happy.

Farming is a fulfilling activity for me, for sure. It brings me pleasure and a sense of Earthly joy. I get a great sense of purpose in raising quality food, instilling values of hard work in the children, developing patience and perseverance in myself, and appreciating the beauty and complexity and raw power of creation. But farming will never help me achieve bliss, or the type of purpose that drives my life.

What drives THAT level of happiness, bliss, fulfillment and/or purpose is in my spiritual work. Things like raising godly children, deepening my relationship with God, strengthening my marriage, and witnessing to the parish and the world around us bring far more of a deeper sense of satisfaction and purpose than anything else I could do.

In our natural desire for happiness (according to the Catechism), we often overlook the most basic and foundational thing, and that is fulfilling not what we want to/love to/can/be paid to do, but rather that which we were created to do. God created us not for jobs, not for money, not for earthly success, but to love Him and love our neighbors.

I was created to be husband and father - my TRUE vocation. If I do things to support THIS purpose, then happiness will follow in its own way. When I suppress or do things contrary to this purpose, then my life is found wanting. My farming is a way to help support this vocation, but farming is not my vocation. No career is a vocation, unless you're a priest. Farming can support a vocation, but cannot replace it. No career can do that.

Farming lets me love God by using my abilities and gifts to work in and with creation.
Farming lets me love others by serving them (tasty veggies and meat!) through my work.
Farming lets me love God by developing virtues like perseverance, patience, fear of the Lord, and hope through the waiting and changing of the seasons and the crops.
Farming lets me love others by being an example for them.
Farming helps me achieve my purpose in life - to become more of image of God every day.

But will i ever achieve bliss through my farming? No, I won't. But farming can help me get there.

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