As my 44th birthday rolls around next month, the thought has occurred to me that I am almost halfway through the "regular" working years of my life - I finished law school and started practicing law when I was still 24 years old, so assuming that I work until my mid-60s, I have completed approximately half of my work life.
As I look toward the second half of my work life, the patterns that have developed during the first half will shape the future of my vocational path. In my law practice, I have always preferred resolving disputes through reconciliation as opposed to the lengthy and sometimes soul-killing process of litigation. I still litigate on behalf of a client when necessary, but upon recognizing the pattern of preferring reconciliation to litigation, I have sought out training in mediation, and have served as a mediator in certain cases.
My life as an ordained pastor (3 1/2 years) is much shorter than my career as a lawyer, but I have been doing it long enough to recognize certain patterns there as well - this blog has documented the development of my thoughts on how to incorporate the Benedictine way into my personal spiritual life, as well as into ministry in the context of a small Lutheran congregation. The next step on this path will begin this fall, when I enroll in a two-year course on spiritual direction taught at a nearby Benedictine monastery.
In other words, it took me approximately two decades - half of my work life - to finally figure out what I want to do when I grow up!
It is through the patterns that have occurred in our lives that we can get a sense of where God is calling us to go. Many times, we cannot see those patterns in our own lives, so we rely on others to identify those patterns for us.
St. Seraphim of Sarov was a hermit monk who lived in nineteenth century Russia, who had the gift of seeing patterns in the lives of people who sought his counsel. He had these words to say about discerning God's will for our lives through recognizing those patterns:
"The visible pattern of every single life is of God's choosing. We only have to become conscious of it, follow it courageously, and see that we don't distort God's intention. No two leaves on a tree are perfectly alike. Neither are any two lives. Everyone must strive to fill this unique life of his own with a love of God so constant and so great that it flares up into a luminous love of man. Listen, my joy, we... must learn to feel, discern and understand. This only comes through years of reflecting on good and evil. Then we see things good and bad, in the light of God's wisdom: and then we develop the gift of true discrimination without which no one dare guide others...... Try to see how the pattern behind the events of today is transformed into the pattern behind the events of tomorrow."
(Quoted at p. 51 of "A Simplified Life" by Verena Schiller).