And I don't need perfection to have a perfect day’. Shane Filan's lyrics end with, ‘I just want to see a smile on your face’, and, it is fair to say, that heavy demands can wipe a smile off your face. Facing life choices can be tough going and it is best to begin with a wide horizon rather than narrowing your vision to just one option.
The wider horizon places our choices into the right context. These days many young people are making up their minds about Third Level Courses. Some will veer off to different careers but many will find that their first choices will determine their careers. It is worthwhile taking a good look at your gifts and talents. However, you will have dreams for your future and they may well give you a clue to your overall goal.
‘I have a dream’ - this was the phrase intoned by Martin Luther King that reverberated through America, through every person, colour and creed. People have the right to fulfil their heart's desire for freedom. He was articulating a dream that liberated a people.
Dream as a Code
Happily, of course, a young person will have dreams and rightly so but they will have to struggle to bring them into the real world. I would like to have a look at a man called Joseph, a man of dreams that can teach us a few things.
Joseph is a man who dreams. He listens and is open hearted. His first dream gives him a serious shock: he is not the father of the child that his beloved Mary is carrying. Instead, he is to take this pregnant girl as his wife and care for her and care for her mysterious child.
A dream is a code for telling us that God is taking a hand in a person's life. It is saying that God is at work here. God is saving us. It is not our plan or our work. Joseph is a sign to us that God is working out his plan. Joseph will carry out the plan but nobody on this planet thought it up.
It is no harm to be aware that dreams have a place in a young person's life. They too are a code. Some dreams come as we are simply daydreaming. We might call them an insight, an orientation, a drive, an inspired moment. Or perhaps you have encountered someone that inspires, encourages, even loves you. Maybe, it is a person you admire. It is a good plan to give some quiet time to sort this out. Asking for guidance from the Spirit in prayer may well help.
Look for Signs
There are signs to look for when you are facing a choice in your life. Being at peace and in harmony with key people are signs that you are in a good frame of mind to make a good decision. A sense of being challenged and looking forward eagerly and happily to your project is a sign to watch out for too. A calm hope is another sign that you are on the right path. These pointers of the heart often tell you what you truly want. It is not just a bright idea. It is well thought-out. It has been chatted over and the risks have been taken into account. Feelings can paralyse you or challenge you. Challenge is good!
Voices of Doubt
The closer we get to taking a decision, the more doubts begin to assail us. We can be upset by the demands that come in waves upon us. Demands are couched in phrases like ‘you have to’, ‘you really must not’: these demands come to us as voices that tell us to conform. Some voices come from our peers who think us ridiculous for not being like them. Doubts and worry raise their heads. Searching for a kind guide to restore calm and spot the false paths is an important step to take.
The better way for the parents, the teacher, the friends is to accompany the young person. When we accompany a person, we walk with them and listen to them. We throw light on the dream; encourage the person to give time, even prayer to what is inspiring them. The guide throws out the odd question but rarely gives the answer. The answer is better left hanging. However, if the potential of the young person is not up to the risk then the guide's part is to guide firmly by slowing down the decision.
Weighing up Risks
Joseph experienced a second dream. He was told that the risk was too high to stay around Bethlehem after the Child was born. ‘The powers that be’ that were in Jerusalem were after power and the more power the better. That a child could be seen as a threat showed their remarkable addiction to power. The dream told Joseph to travel into Egypt. What a choice! He had to balance the danger to the Child in Palestine with crossing miles of desert to Egypt. Would Mary manage riding a camel so soon after childbirth?
The Child would become the first Christian to be persecuted and the first Christian to be an immigrant. Many were to imitate him down the centuries. I suspect that if he were born today, he would not fare any better. In fact, to be born in Palestine today, he would be dispossessed at once. To live in Egypt, he would be persecuted for being a Christian. If he were to be an immigrant in present day Syria, he would face a low expectancy of life, lucky to survive until twelve years old. It is no wonder our Pope Francis wants the Church to be a Church of the poor, to be open-hearted, to prize the person above the law. To value the person above all.
Passing on Values
We seldom make choices without being influenced by what others have done before us. I like you to imagine that you are in a church in Bethlehem recalling that it had been built over the spot where Christ was born. There are wedge-like steps that lead down to a crypt. In a little alcove lit by a few candles; there is star on the floor. This is the spot.
A seven-year-old Palestinian boy and his mother find their way down the steps with difficulty. They sit down in front of the star. There is a hole in the centre of this star and the boy puts his finger into it but he cannot reach the rock where tradition says Jesus was born.
He looks at his mother. She puts her long finger into the star and touches the rock face below. She lifts out her finger and the boy then touches his short finger to her middle finger. I was fortunate to be sitting nearby and to witness how faith can be passed on. Tradition can bind and limit your choices or can pass on key values and inspire you to stand on its shoulders and see the further horizon.
Alan Mowbray SJ