I began my professional career as a staff accountant with a large CPA firm in New York City. While they recruited me, I was wined and dined in the finest restaurants. I was told about all of the prestigious clients in the firm portfolio. I met partners and other senior leadership. The message was clear, “If you work hard enough, all this can be yours.”
And work hard I did. Interestingly enough, one does not see much of the late nights, weekends and other sacrifices during the recruitment period. “You know you are in public accounting when you eat lunch in the finest restaurant in town and dinner out of a vending machine.” Been there, done that. Every day I caught a 5:20 a.m. train into Manhattan, and then took the subway across town in order to be at my desk by 7:00 a.m. Twelve to thirteen hours later, I would reverse direction and head back home. After a quick bite to eat and an occasion phone chat with my fiancée, Katie, it was off to bed to repeat the cycle.
Katie lived about 400 miles away in Appomattox, Virginia. Fortunately, we each had a lot of friends in the DC area, so we used to meet there for weekends about once a month. If anyone has tried to sustain a long distance relationship, you will appreciate the challenges we faced. Having a job where I did not know whether I would have to work Saturday until Friday afternoon did not help matters!
But, we stuck it out. We had it all planned out. Once we got married, she would move up to New Jersey. We would find an apartment, she would (hopefully) get a teaching job, and we would start a family together. Sure, it would be tough for a while, but I was on the ‘fast track.’ Once I made partner, we would have it made.
Or would we?
You see, as I looked down the conference room table on a lot of those late nights, the partner was right there with us! I cannot tell you how many times I overheard phone conversations that were peppered with apologies for missed recitals, swim meets and little league games. Sure, I might drive a Lexus and live in a mansion, but at what price?
It all became crystal clear for me the week before Valentine’s Day. Katie and I were planning to meet in DC. However, my manager told me that there was a good chance we would have to work that weekend. We would not know until Friday afternoon. Suffice it to say, Katie was not happy, and neither was I!
I had a lot of time to think on the train ride to and from the City every day. Is this any way to start a marriage? If Katie moves up here, she will not know anyone. My entire social life centered on the office. There was a good chance she would not find a teaching job. Regardless she would be left alone in a shoebox of an apartment, while I worked sixty to eighty hour weeks. And so, I came to a very real conclusion. If I was to commit to my marriage, I would have to leave this career, this lifestyle, behind.
Today’s scripture readings talk to us about making some pretty drastic changes. It may be tough for us to reconcile today’s Gospel message with our understanding of God’s love for the Family. How can Jesus, the mercy and compassion of God personified, talk of abandoning one’s family so abruptly?
The message of both reading is not so much that we need to run away from our parents and families. Rather, I believe the lesson is that quite often, we are faced with opportunities that cannot coexist with our current life. We must make a choice to turn away from our current life to pursue the new opportunity. If we do not turn away, if we try to incorporate the new into the old, quite often it just doesn’t work.
Now, not all of these choices are as drastic as choosing between a career and a marriage, or the life of a prophet and the life of a farmer. No. Most are far more subtle. But the more dramatic ones give us pause, and help to put the smaller ones into perspective. I would argue that the smaller choices are the harder ones. Quite often, the big opportunities almost presuppose that we will need to turn away from our old life. Who would think to accept a job in Los Angeles while still living in New York? In those kinds of cases, we know that we must make drastic changes to our lives in order to accommodate the new direction we are heading.
But as Children of God, we are called to lives our lives in a manner to draws us ever closer to Him. Paul tells us today to “live by the Spirit”. To do so, we must die to the flesh. We have moved out of the Easter Season and are well into Ordinary Time. But this time should be far from ordinary! Every day we are called to live out the promises, the commitment that was made at our baptism. We are commissioned to “love our neighbor as ourselves” Are you still willing to accept that challenge?
If so, from what do you need to turn away? Are there people, practices, things that might hold you back in accomplishing that mission? If so, today’s scripture tells you to drop them. And fast! I think the drastic nature of the departure is an acknowledgement that sometimes “cold turkey” is the only way to quite. Otherwise, those negative influences continue to hold us back.
Living a perfectly Christian life is a contradiction. When measured against the standards that we would use, it is actually impossible to do. We are imperfect beings. Story after story in scripture proves that. Throughout the Old and New Testament we find individuals who earnestly search for God and strive to enter into communion with him. None of them do so perfectly. They all have their flaws. As do we. However, they all seek Him earnestly and fervently. That, my friends, is the standard by which God measures us. We must turn away from the standards of this world, and seek to meet those of the next.
My move to Virginia was by no means a safe one. There were plenty of people who thought I was throwing my career away. Perhaps I did. You know what? I didn’t care then, and I don’t care now. I threw it away for all the right reasons. Even before I truly understood marriage, I understood that the commitment I was making would require my entire being. I had to give up the career for the girl. As you sit here today, reflect on your own lives. What do you need to give up in order to grow closer to the loving embrace of God?