Mr. Usher first told me. I don't remember exactly when but it must have been sometime my freshman year of academy. He was my Bible teacher and I had Algebra 1 with him too-- widely different disciplines mind you, but both classes were just a platform for Mr. U to share the really important lessons of life-- some gleaned from years of hard life experience, some from history, many from the dinged-up, coverless copy of Education that he carried with him everywhere.
I loved learning from him.
I, a fifteen-year-old roller coaster of turbulent emotions, feeling my wide-eyed way into the future. He, a veritable reservoir of spiritual experience.
I would seek him out almost daily with some question or another. He would be in his classroom grading copious stacks of papers, before going down to the greenhouse to help fix a water pipe, and then over to the cafeteria to supervise supper, and then direct choir, and then home to a hundred other burdens a freshman couldn't begin to understand. But he was never in a hurry when a student needed to talk. He always made you feel that you were his number 1 mission. He'd bend his six-foot-seven lankiness onto the desk in front of him and listen like he was hanging on your every word. Then he'd smile and begin telling how the Holy Spirit came knocking on his heart for something that morning in the shower. "And I said, You want that, huh Lord? Ok that's what we're doing then. And ahhhh, instantly, peace like you wouldn't imagine.." His shoulders would relax, hunching him further into the table at this point, his voice dropping to a hush punctuating each word, his face glowing with the joy of the peace he described.
Everything ended that way with Mr. U. Knowing Jesus was the aim of life and education, and surrendering in obedience to Him was the answer to every question. "This is what you want, Lord? Okie dokie!"
That was his philosophy when it came to work too. "Loving what you do is a choice. If you choose to accept the work God gives you, and do your faithful, responsible best, pretty soon you'll love it. And you'll be the kind of worker every employer out there is looking for, too."
And He was right. I learned to love hard work in the greenhouse and long hours in the cafeteria. I found joy in doing above and beyond what the supervisor expected. Work became fun.
All through academy and into college I learned to love many different jobs. I told myself that no matter what it was, or how much I wanted to do it (or not), it would teach me something to prepare me for "real life."
"Real life" was a nebulous, idealistic impression of what life would be after college when I was working in a dream job that fulfilled and satisfied me every day. But I didn't know that at the time. To me it was just the natural progression of life: childhood-> school -> real life.
The closer I got to graduating the more fear I began to feel. What if I wasn't ready for real life? I wasn't sure that I had found my dream job..maybe I wouldn't be fulfilled in teaching.
Grad came and went and I found myself dunked into "real life," warily testing my feet in the waters to see if I had chosen the right career and trying to find where the joy was in grading papers. I couldn't find it. I did have joy in teaching, but not the sense of fulfillment and passion I had expected. The next year I was in the office making schedules and handling details. This was definitely not my best fit job. I was a fish out of water. Details have never been my strong suit and every day I struggled with getting up the courage to go to work. I began complaining in my heart.
But I'm starting to understand that my job is not the problem.
Somehow along the way I had lost the sweetness of "Okie, dokie, Lord" and started looking inside myself and my work for a sense of fulfillment. I stopped seeking peace and started seeking passion. I sought satisfaction instead of submission.
And finally it's beginning to dawn on me why I'm not finding it.
Mr. U had it right all along. Life isn't all about finding fulfillment and satisfaction. It's about finding Jesus.
It's about surrendering to a God who is bending near saying "If you'll let me, I'll come closer to you and love you more than you can imagine."
It's about being so wrapped up in Him that even the lowest most menial work is sweet because it's done for Him.
I'll never find true fulfillment outside of Jesus, but in Him I cannot avoid being satisfied and fulfilled.
Mr. U would say, "You got it, Bess." And maybe, after all these years, I am.