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The Pursuit of Joy: The Whole Story
  • Community
  • Formation
Emily Blasdell

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Everyone seemed to have an answer in elementary school. I was surrounded by future vets, teachers, lawyers, and presidents. As my turn to answer would approach, I can remember the panic that would bubble up in me, but I have no recollection of an actual answer that I would have given if any. This question, of course, follows us through adolescence becoming more and more serious the closer we get to impending adulthood when we would be required to commit to an answer.

Around middle school age, I began to notice a theme among adults when they discussed work. There was a general dissatisfaction with the idea. You were supposed to dread Mondays and mornings. Your job was a means to an end and nothing more. Peter Pan was right. Never grow up.

Then, when I was 14 years old, I met a youth minister, and she was happy. She loved her job. She loved her life. She was joyful, and it was attractive. I declared to myself that I finally figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up…a youth minister! More importantly, as a devout church youth groupie, it was a career that would make God happy and fulfill my “duty” to serve Him.

This initial epiphany began an insightful journey through high school and college that revealed the true desire of my heart would never actually be a particular career. My desire was to be happy. I didn’t want to be a youth minister. I just wanted to love Mondays and mornings. I wanted to smile and get excited when I talked about my work. I was relieved and delighted to eventually find out that this was the same desire the Lord had for me. 

I am grateful for a wise mentor who once challenged a question I, along with many faithful Christians often ask when we are discerning decisions such as college, career, vocation, and the like. Instead of asking “What does God want from me?” he said we should be asking, “What does God want for me?” I too often saw God as a controlling taskmaster trying to get me to guess the next right thing rather than a loving Father who delights in my joy and gifted me my interests and desires. 

When I stopped trying to figure out the right decisions and began to pursue joy (which ultimately I found was just a byproduct of my pursuit of a relationship with God), I began to find myself in careers and communities which felt like hitting the jackpot. Saint Constantine is the most recent winning ticket. Since graduating college, I have always been able to say, “I have my dream job.”  And when I think, it surely can’t get better than this…it does! 

I would like to just end here and say, “In summary, pursue God and you’ll be living the dream.” To a certain extent, I do believe that, but we all know that’s not the full story. Entangled in the beautiful stories we live are moments, seasons, and even lifetimes of suffering and hardship. In the same breath I exclaim “It surely can’t get better than this,” I can easily say, “Surely, it can’t get worse than this.” I know I’m not the only one anxiously waiting for the next “shoe to drop,” the next tragedy to strike, or the next loved one to pass away. I genuinely wonder if I could handle a year harder than the one 2022 has given me. How is it possible to live the dream and live the nightmare? 

Another dear mentor and friend of mine spoke wisdom to me earlier this year as she was in the midst of her own deep suffering. She said, “We need to be people of and, not but.” We shouldn’t sweep away the hard with a “But God is good!” We should be able to freely and confidently say, “This is hard, and God is good.” In suffering, whether personal or communal, we have the choice to react from a place of fear, avoid with ignorance, or journey further up and further in with the trust that God is who He says He is and is going to do what He says He’s going to do. The Resurrection was and is the final word, and it always comes after death.

When we say that our school provides “an education in pursuit of wisdom, virtue, and joy,” I usually just associate the joy part with our philosophy of play, the sheep and our ever growing population of fowl, endless 4-square games, random bubble machine dance parties on a Friday during lunch, the contagious smiles that spread through campus, and so on, but I don’t think that’s the whole story. I believe the joy we pursue as a school is in reality a byproduct of our pursuit of God as a community and the resurrection story He invites us into each day. 

It’s a seed that has to die underground in our garden in order to produce some delicious okra. It’s saying bye to our beloved homeroom teacher at the end of the school year so we can move forward in our education (and discover a new beloved teacher because there are more than a few in each grade). It’s finishing the sixth and final performance of a play we’ve poured our all into for a whole semester so that we can tell a new story a few months later. It’s the passing of our dear animal friends and the welcoming of new ones. It’s the whole story: the suffering, death, and resurrection. We don’t fearfully react or ignorantly avoid, we enter into the whole story and count it all as joy.