I was due to meet a good friend of mine recently, he being a Catholic parish priest who has just completed 50 years of service in role as a priest. We were due to meet to have a drink, but the catch was (as always with him) that we would meet after he had said mass (he recognises in me a soul that needs to be saved!). He came to the back of the church after the service and I went to meet him but he said to me would I mind waiting a few minutes. I then notice that he used this opportunity to attend to two parishioners who had need to speak to him, and he took two chairs and listened intently to the needs of his parishioners.
Once he was finished with this work, he joined me and apologised for the delay. I responded saying that it highlighted what it was that I wish to speak to him about. I asked him what it was that enabled him to remain dedicated in this way during his fifty years of service, with the continuous and unending needs of the people he served, but having to stay true to the road he must follow. He said that, apart from the sense of vocation that remained with him always, what helped him to meet the demands of his role was being able to take quiet time away to meditate and recover from the challenge of the work.
What motivated my question was a consideration of my own idea of dedication and service in my own work in the area of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. Early on in my own training, I received very valuable advice from a learned and wise person working in my field. She said to me that my dedication and drive would enable me to attend lectures, hand in course work, write a dissertation etc – but, even with all of the dedication and passion in the world, there was no guarantee that this work would necessarily be for me, or me for it.
What I had to reconcile in myself was that whilst the dedication might not be suited for the task I had in mind, it would surely be good for something. I found this the most difficult theme to deal with during my last two years of my own analysis, being able to tolerate the possibility that I might not make the grade in what I had in mind. The idea, however, of “thy will be done, and not mine” was one of no appeal to me!
What I have learned is that the most important factor in all of this is persistence and commitment to something we must retain hope that there is a plot that we are following. There is a virtue in itself in that process, god-like in the case of my parish priest friend, and maybe something similar working in the formation a psychotherapist.
Perhaps the most difficult thing of all to accept is that each of us has a unique dimension of desire within us, a covenant of sorts written in our being, and that life becomes tolerable and satisfying only with an unending passion and dedication to understand and activate what that is.