This is a vexing question that shows up in my soul every so often. “Is all this really worth it?”
It is deemed an existential question that gets to the heart of the matter of our being. It comes predictably as we complete a major project, or approach the end of a portion of our life, when we take a natural breath, that allows us the proverbial pause, and the question arises.
For me, most recently, it came during the conference of which I was a co-facilitator.
We had been working Saturdays, giving our precious “downtime” to gather, imagine, and plan. It culminated in a four day conference that was held online, connecting clergy from Seattle to Boston, from Austin to Warsaw, Poland, not Indiana. It involved forty hours of time on Zoom, going in and out of presentations, individual exercises, and processing our work in pairs, triads, and small groups. It demanded everyone to be unusually “present” which was the “secret sauce” for the alchemy of this process to work.
With participants from all over the globe, time zones were problematic. For me, it meant beginning at 11 AM in the morning and pushed me until 9 at night. Around 6:45, sans dinner, my brain was sending survival signals to my willing soul. What the hell are you doing?
That was when the question arose, without a proper introduction: Is this worth it? Are the hours and energy you are laying down worth it? Is this just another grueling commitment to a project of which you are an inexorably dogged victim, or is this worth your very best?
Let me pause to say that such questioning, in and of itself, is worth it. I am known to question value at most turns, and that habit has allowed me to reconsider some commitments that needed to be amended. Wasting my time is something to which I am resistant. I have made tough decisions to curtail my investment when I determined that the benefit accrued was not worth the cost. The term “New York minute” comes to mind, thinking about my willingness to stop my commitment when the cost to reward ratio is low. And the question seems to rise often on my horizon. Again, is it worth it?
When there is the promise of making a real difference in the life of a person, my answer seems to tend toward the positive. Participating in the transformation of a person, a relationship, a family system, an organization, a congregation, a village or city, or larger….. such an opportunity seems to command my being and undergirds my commitment. Just don’t ask me to “play at it”, merely going through the motions. Homey don’t play that. That is to say, I am no longer willing to give my time and energy to activity that merely fills my schedule. I want it to count. Make a difference.
That’s nothing new for me, as it has shown up on any personality assessment that I have submitted to: a thirst for meaning, a deep desire of making a difference. The change in me has been that, through time, I have sharpened my discernment of worth and value. It has actually liberated me from saying “yes!” to everything people put in front of me, which is a good thing for all concerned. I have become, thankfully, more discerning.
I said “yes” to the idea of investing my time, energy, and creativity to this project, the Spiritual Leadership Development Intensive, because I have been committed to the continuing development of clergy throughout my career. It “fits” the overall trajectory of my life, and it gave me a connection to a group of fellow creatives who dreamed of doing something good through transformative interchange. So I signed the contract, handed my heart over, and off we went.
But, if I am being honest. I did not recognize the cost fully. My enthusiasm can sometimes get me out over my skis.
And, as I was deep into one of those days, the little angel on my left shoulder whispered, “Are you sure this is worth it?”
I have written everything in this piece of writing in order to set up a moment of affirmation: IT IS! It is worth it.
When we wrapped up the final session of the four day conference, we went around the group, getting their reflections on the considerable investment of time. Each one offered a moving testimony as to how the design we used led them to some deep insights about themselves, transforming their image of what it meant for them to continue in the work of serving as a leader in the church. I had a sense at the end of the event that it was all worth it, which is good stuff.
It brought to mind a concept that I have used for years. It’s called “psychic pay”. It’s not like the Cash Money that the O Jays talk about when they sing about Mean Green, the Almighty Dollar. I’ll wait while you remember the lyrics and that badass bass line. Cash money, y’all. That’s what I’m talkin’ bout. No, getting paid for your work is a good feeling, and pays the bills. But there is this other thing, “psychic pay”, where your soul cashes the check. It’s when you do something that is aligned with your greater purpose. You know it when it happens. And, you know it when it doesn’t, which may be why so many people have left jobs, the Great Resignation, that not only did not pay them well in terms of dollars, but was seriously lacking in providing the essential and meaningful psychic pay.
It’s this “psychic pay” that drives my life. When I review my life, it always has, probably always will. And I feel pretty good about that.
Many times, it’s work-related, when I get the somatic sense that I am doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing. My “doing” is aligned with my “being”, so that my energy, my juices, are flowing. My hope is that you know what I am talking about here, that vibration of your soul when you know that you are in the right space doing the right thing. It doesn’t have to be a monumental act, with fireworks and bombast. It can be a touch, a hug, a glance, a call, a word. But you know it when it happens. “Psychic pay”.
We gathered a week after the conference to check-in, to see how it was going, how our participants were reentering their lives as they attempted to plug-in fresh insights. One particular participant, a woman, had come to the first session cautiously, which is probably wise. But for her, there was a deep fear that prevented the expression of her self to others, particularly men who were in authority. During the four days of the conference, we observed the emergence of a strong, but sensitive person who found her voice and presence in a new way. Coming to the check-in, she told of her initial approach to her “boss” and how she had been able to be present in a new way, out of strength and presence of self. She smiled, giggled a bit, as she described this encounter with a person who had previously “shut me down”. The face of the person who was now speaking to the group about this interchange looked completely changed, transformed. It was as if she became her true self, not the fearful scared little girl that presented on the first day. When I saw the transformation, I had a moment of “psychic pay”. The work we had done together made a true difference in her life. That is connected to my “greater purpose”.
My colleague, John Scherer, has another way of talking about this special moment. He recounts the biblical narrative of Creation. After God has done the heavy-lift work of creation, the text says that God looked at the Creation and then said “Tov!”, the Hebrew word for “good”. God declares, “It is good!”. Tov actually means more than a simple affirmation of goodness. It is an exclamatory statement recognizing that what one is witnessing, seeing at a deep level, is just what was intended, just right, to quote Goldilocks. It is a profound YES! to this moment, when everything is firing on all cylinders. A bright shining moment. One for the ages!. That’s what I’m talking about! Tov!
In Jewish culture, affirmation at the witnessing of a union of two persons in marriage results in a heart-felt expression, Mazel Tov. When you have done something, especially created something, and you witness what you have made, which is expressing the deepest dimension of your being, that is Tov. An affirmation emerges, flows from the depth of your soul. It’s a kind of pride, connecting you to that moment of creativity, something we share with God. We just might be led to shout “Tov!”, even though we might be South of God. For me. my “psychic pay” is tied in with that experience of Tov, joined at the hip.
Work is not the only place we get “psychic pay”. This past Monday evening, my son, Thomas, sent me the master tapes for his new album. There are seven songs that he’s been working on for the past year. He has put his heart and soul into the writing, performing, and the production of this new album. I put on my studio earphones, as he requested, and I listened to them sequentially, as he requested, making notes. I had listened to most of them singularly as they evolved but this was a moment that my son gifted to me, a sneak peek, or listen, to the master tapes, after all the production work. As I sat listening, I was filled with pride for my son’s artistry, his creative writing of lyrics, and his courage to follow his dream. That provided a moment of father’s psychic pay. Tov!
In past moments, I have gotten that rare “pay day” when I got to see him play live on stage, watching him and his bandmates make music together. I am moved by his courage, his brave face. But my pride swells particularly when I catch him smiling while looking at a bandmate across the way, engaged in this magical, collaborative thing called music. For me, that’s as good as it gets. Psychic pay. Tov!
Same with my daughter, Mary Glen, as I see her with her husband, Michael, and they exchange looks of love across the room, or at the table. Their playfulness, their joy in sharing life together, reminds me of the joy that is in the weave of life, the joy every parent wants to see in the face of their child. Additionally, through time, I have been allowed to watch my daughter move gracefully in the world. Mary Glen has the capacity of deep relationships with her friends, as well, as she cares for them through joy and pain, crisis and celebration. That gives parents a sense of satisfaction as you pray to God that they will find a deep joy in their living. Psychic pay. Tov!
I count myself fortunate to be spending my time these days working with a variety of folks who are making their way in their careers. One is the CEO of a large healthcare system who has transformed it into a responsive organization by strengthening it into a culture of accountability. I have worked with an engineer who is transitioning out of a job he hated in a toxic system into a life-giving business that matches his deepest self. I am working with a young clergy person who is trying to figure out how to be a servant in the Church without losing his soul in the process. I am working with a priest who is wanting to close out his career by “ending well”. And I am working with a retired priest who is trying to write a new chapter in his life. I get the privilege of coming alongside these persons in their sacred journey, helping them along the way as their coach, their guide, their companion. Psychic pay, Tov!
This is the work I do each week, along with my writing. I have to tell you that most days, I end up smiling to myself that I am doing exactly what I should be doing with my time and energy, living out of my greater purpose. To have good work, to work with people that I truly love and care for……that is what I call a blessing. I am most grateful. As I said, it is my psychic pay, and to answer my own question, it is very much worth it. Mazel tov, y’all.