On Doing a Better Job, Part II

"Let thy mercy come to me, that I may live." (Ps 119:77)

Dear family and friends,

No health updates in this one, just finishing ideas I meant to discuss in the last post.  The last post dealt with "doing a good job" as a cancer patient, which I've been trying to figure out since I was instructed to do so more than a year ago.

Doing a good job with the bare minimum of resources - impressive

Talking about doing a good job makes me think of the teachings of St. Josemaria Escriva, whose teaching was that we should strive to work so well that our work could be lifted up as a prayer, offered for no other reason than for love.

"It is in the simplicity of your ordinary work, in the monotonous details of each day, that you have to find the secret, which is hidden from so many, of something great and new: Love." (Furrow, #489)

When you juxtapose the effort we can put into our ordinary professional work with the tongue-in-cheek idea that I could do a better idea of curing my own cancer, it seems simple - it's much easier to just work harder and better at my job than it is to cure myself of cancer by thinking about it (okay, maybe taking my medications, too.)  But when the bar is set where St. Josemaria puts it - and where all of us should put it - that we should sanctify our work, turn it into a beautiful prayer, poetic verse, a hymn of praise...wow.  It starts becoming clear that to be a worthy offering, maybe the quality of my work needs to improve.

It was 2005 when I started reading St. Josemaria's writings and when I first started thinking about the sanctification of work.  As a prayer, my work was a clunky, clumsy, distracted mess.  I think I'm better today, but not where I want to be.  I want to be offering an Adoremus in Aeternum in 4 part harmony.  Sometimes it feels more like chicken yodeling:

It's singing, yes.  Poetic by some definitions.  Maybe there's harmony in there
somewhere.  But it's just not what I want to be known or remembered for.
Warning: while there's nothing inappropriate here, if you click on the chicken
yodeling link above, you might never be able to get it out of your mind.

What's so hard about doing a good job?  I have always admired colleagues who have the ability to focus.  I don't know about you, but maybe I'm not wired for that to come naturally.  I find myself easily distracted, and I really have to guard against procrastination.  I think the number one thing that has worked for me on this front is something that I mentioned in an earlier post about side effects and pride: breaking my workday up into hours that I dedicate as a prayer for one individual who needs it, and then working intensely for that hour to make sure that prayer is the best I can offer.

I recently realized that there's a particular time of day when I'm most tempted to slow down prematurely and put things off till later.  I brought it up in a spiritual direction appointment this week and got a good idea that I've resolved to try.  In those times when I'm able to stop in a church to pray, I'm going to call to mind my tendency to slow down in that predictable pattern and put a name to that hour - my wife, one of the kids, one of the intentions you've shared with me - and I'm going to commit ahead of time to working well for that time period as a prayer for that intention.  At least that's the plan.  I'm sure there will be times that I'll mess it up, but I'm excited to try this out.

I get asked a lot of details about how I deal with cancer, and it recently occurred to me to share another practice that works for me.  Even after getting my recent good news, I'm trying to double down on something I've mentioned before: abandonment.  I talked about it in that post on spiritual direction, and have prayed about it for years.  I find that it's something I have to pray about frequently, otherwise I lose my appetite for it.

Back in 2007-8 (Cancer 1.0), I learned that the late Pope John Paul II had often been discovered to be alone in a small chapel in the Vatican, praying prostrate with his arms outstretched.  It struck me back then, and still does, that it's a posture that reinforces abandonment to God's will.  I adopted it back then, and I still practice it, sometimes in an empty church, sometimes at home in a place where I can find some quiet solitude.  Abandonment is hard, and I've found that the physical act of lying face down helps me feel more like I mean it.  I've pretty much prayed the same prayer for abandonment for 12 years: "Lord, I abandon myself and the care of my family into your hands.  I lay these anxieties at the foot of your Cross and ask you to take them and replace them with your peace.  Amen."

I want to close with a thank you for all of your prayers.  I recently told a friend that with all the prayers that have come our way, it feels like people have just willed my health.  It's pretty amazing, and all of you have been incredibly generous with your prayers.  You're doing a great job, so get back to work.  We need to keep things headed in the right direction.

With fortitude and prayers for you,

Jim

On Doing a Better Job, Part II