A couple of years ago, I began wrestling with a personal question that on the surface looked simple, but in practice turned out to be more challenging than I could have imagined. What do I really want to be doing with my time and life? Not a new question by any measure, it has been approached by many for millenia in the realms of philosophy, theology, psychology, politics, and neurobiology (to name just a few).
While I could write from any of those perspectives, I prefer a perspective that cuts through all of them: the question of whether my choices come from within me or from some external source. Let me explain. My areas of formal study have been theology and counseling psychology. They both deal with whether a person’s “locus of control” (meaning the ability to make self-directed choices) should be internal or external. The way many people approach religion, a divine being exists outside of them with the power to intercede into life at will. As religious texts tell the story, this being has established a certain set of “correct” choices to life’s problems. The main issue in such a framework is then about one’s level of obedience to this divine one. The options and right behaviors are determined from without and humans are tested based on their choices. Rewards and punishments follow.
Families and cultures usually function in the same way as that image of the divine (including the part about rewards and punishments). Individuals learn that certain professions, values, opportunities for entertainment, and laws (written and unwritten) are acceptable. Only some of the questions have “correct” answers, but people feel enormous pressure to choose from the prescribed list of options.
Psychotherapists often encourage their clients to develop what is called an internal locus of control, meaning that at least they can make their own choices (within the acceptable options, of course).
As I began to wrestle with what I might want to do next in my life, though I possess a pretty potent internal locus of control, I had a difficult time identifying options that were not the standard ones for someone of my education, profession, and experience. I had to get on the other side of questions like, “What am I good at?” “What are ministers “supposed to do?” and even, “What do I enjoy doing?”
Those tend to be relatively superficial questions that bypass identity, integrity, and personal authority. In our language, the pronoun, “I”, usually refers to the ego – a necessary but rather superficial part of myself. The “I” in my present question is more like Carl Jung’s identification of The Self – a deep and broad practically divine understanding of identity that hold all the other parts of who I am together in a coherent whole person. In Christian terms, Paul the Apostle wrote in a letter that the Living Christ, who lives within him, motivated his best actions. Jung claimed that Paul’s Living Christ, and the psychologically observed Self were different descriptions of the same reality.
So, it is in response to the leading of my Self that I ask what I want to do. To be truly free, I must be responsible both for identifying my options and for making my choices from them.
It was quite a surprise to me when I discovered fiction writing. (That activity had never been among my identified options.) But I have concluded that I must write, not because someone else tells me to, but because at least for now, it is the most honest expression of who I (my Self) am.
I have written one novel, Community of Promise. (Click here for more info) I am presently working on a second one. Stay tuned.
I’d be interested to know who you are choosing to be in the world?
“The Promised Land is within and among us.”
Community of Promise: The Untold Story of Moses