Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Another Growth Opportunity

At the end of the 2008-2009 academic year, I left my job at Eastern University, a small Christian liberal arts institution on Philadelphia's Main Line. Having been adjunct faculty for ten years with no visible prospect of advancement, I decided that my time and energy would be better spent elsewhere. That much was relatively easy. The difficult part is that I have no idea yet where "elsewhere" is, or what I'm meant to be doing there.

So what I'm doing here is journaling my midlife crisis--working my way through the process of discerning my vocation by documenting that process. This blog is primarily meant as an exercise in spiritual discernment for myself, but if anyone else finds reading it worthwhile, then welcome. I'd value any feedback you'd care to offer.

You may wonder why I have called the blog "Little Teaboys Everywhere." The story, as Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön tells it, goes like this: before the Indian monk Atisha introduced Buddhism into Tibet, he heard that the Tibetans were serene, friendly, non-aggravating people. Fearing lest living among such people would retard his spiritual progress, Atisha brought with him a surly, abrasive Bengali teaboy to help him continually practice patience and forbearance. The joke, of course, is that once he actually landed in Tibet, he discovered that he needn't have brought his teaboy with him, as there are frustrating people everywhere.

In Buddhist thought, the people and situations that frustrate us most are our best teachers. These people and circumstances are an opportunity for spiritual practice and growth. "AFGO," as they say in Twelve Step--"Another Growth Opportunity."

I'm no Hebrew scholar, but I'd love to know the literal meaning of the verse that is traditionally translated "This is the day that the LORD has made--let us rejoice and be glad in it." For me, at any rate, the meaning is more like this: "Might as well rejoice and be glad in it." No reason not to; nothing to be gained by fighting it, because this is it--the soup of the day that the LORD has made. It hurts you to kick against the goads. Or as we say around our house, "You get what you get, and you don't get upset."

Jesus didn't say that he came that we may have a better life, or an easier one or a more successful--he came that we may have life "more abundantly." And just as a hearing aid amplifies everything--the sounds that distract you as well as the ones you want to hear--"abundant life" means more life--all of the above. So this blog is about my coming to terms with my own abundant life. As Aeschylus put it in Agamemnon:

In our sleep, pain, which cannot forget, falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.

Sounds grim, I know, but as I get older I am coming to realize that it isn't, or needn't be--that "resignation to the will of God" is not an admission of defeat or a desiccation of human vitality, but rather the determination to find joy and fulfillment in the present moment--a moment which comes to us, as C. S. Lewis put it, as "pure gift."


  1. This is just beautiful. For me, learning to surrender to circumstance, to accept the reality of the moment I'm living in has been one of the hardest lessons to learn. I'm by nature a bit of a control freak. It's what makes me a good nurse, but in my day to day life it can be a source of endless frustration.

    After reading this, I realize that Wyatt, in many ways, is my little teaboy. There are very few things in this life that will force the surrender of control more effectively than raising an autistic child. When I was first learning to deal with his diagnosis, and the behaviors and challenges that come along with it, I was almost constantly frustrated. It took me a good 3 months to realize that if I stopped fighting it, surrendered to the reality of who my son is, and accepted him exactly as he was, life was much more peaceful. Once I TRULY did that, I started to find all the joy that had been there all along, I was living in the moment with him, and we were both so much happier.

  2. I'm going to be a lector tomorrow, and the reading is from Acts 26. Your blog popped up when I googled the phrase "it hurts you to kick against the goads." (I hadn't heard this line before and wondered if "goads" was a typo. Duh.) Thank you for your blog. I'm on the brink of a similar jump - I hope it goes well for you.


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