That’s the stirring question at the heart of a recent post by spiritual writer Tony Woodlief, and the point of it seems to echo something that was mentioned at the royal wedding last weekend: “If you become whom God meant you to be, you will set the world on fire.”
Doesn’t the world need more heat and light? And gladness?
A snip of Woodlief’s essay, which concerns an address he gave to college students:
The particular words of (Frederick) Buechner’s to which I direct them concern vocation. What he says is that our vocation is that place where our deep gladness meets the world’s great hunger. “In a world where there is so much drudgery, so much grief, so much emptiness and fear and pain, our gladness in our work is as much needed as we ourselves need to be glad.”
These are scandalous notions, that we need to be glad, that the world needs our gladness. Our Puritan forbears were certainly suspicious of gladness, and their modern, secular inheritors of grimness—professors and politicians and preachers—demand not gladness, but utility. Get an education so you can earn a living. If you don’t apply yourself, how will you ever get ahead? Do something useful with yourself.
It’s good, I think, to find ways to scandalize young people, especially since there’s so little remaining, in an era of Lady Gaga and eight-figure payouts for failed CEOs, that might seem scandalous.
And so when I stood in front of some of the brightest students in the country a few weeks back, delivering the last of a series of guest lectures, I urged them to consider Buechner’s guidance.
We had to create some space, in order for his words to gather force in their hearts, between the gladness of which he writes, and the happiness to which students at an elite university, in this prosperous, peaceful, pleasure-besotted society, are accustomed.
I suggested that genuine gladness, as opposed to momentary pleasures, is something enduring, something that has heft. I didn’t have Buechner’s essay, “The Calling of Voices,” in front of me, because if I did I would simply have read his explanation of a gladness-inspiring vocation, which is something which “leaves us with the strongest sense of sailing true north and of peace.”