Candle treeDear Readers,
In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? Check this out: My new advice column! I’ll answer questions every week,* so if you’d like to ask a question, click here. I look forward to hearing from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below.

 

Dear Maria,

I’m with a small start-up company in a growing industry. We’ve had our ups and downs, and recently had to lay off several employees. This is the third layoff in as many years, and so far, I’ve survived the cuts. This last layoff was really hard on me. I feel lucky to still have a job, but sad about my coworkers and friends who lost theirs. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, it’s just hard some days. I miss them, and wish I could do more to help.

Signed,
Still Employed

Dear Still Employed,

You’re not alone in this situation. The economic ups and downs leave people hurting on all sides. Sure, you are grateful to still have your job, but there’s always the lingering insecurity that you may be included in the next round of layoffs, if and when it comes. You may not feel you have the right to be sad when your friends are suddenly looking for work. It’s still tough on you, though. There’s real grief in seeing empty desks, or losing a lunch buddy. Plus, your work load has probably increased to pick up the slack. Project deadlines still loom, even if the staff has shrunk.

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You’re in crisis management mode right now, and that takes a toll on your physically, mentally, and emotionally. Be especially careful to eat well, get enough sleep, exercise, and spend time with people you love doing things you enjoy doing. Work is demanding a lot from you, so take good care of yourself so you have something to give when you show up every day. As for the colleagues who’ve been laid off, keep your eyes open for job opportunities and pass along any leads you have. They may not be open to staying in contact at first, as I’m sure the layoff really stings. Though it sounds harsh, your first priority is to take care of yourself and stay healthy. Radical self-care is in order, including honoring your feelings. Both employment and unemployment are stressful. Be good to yourself.

 

Dear Maria,

I’d love to be a writer, but real life gets in the way. I have been writing for quite a while. I have been published online and have a blog, but between my day job and the kids, I don’t publish as often as I should. I need to contribute an income to my family, but when I get stressed, I can’t focus on writing. Advice? How to balance reality of paying bills while pursuing my real interest?

Signed,
Fit to Print

Dear Fit,

All writers share your dilemma!

The most important thing about writing is to keep writing. It’s easy to set it aside to focus on “more important” things, like taking care of the family. We think we’ll write better if we’re not so stressed. The truth is, writing is part of the process of life. It needs to be a priority and to be attended to on a regular basis. Find a slot of time every day to write, and then fiercely protect that time. You may need to get up a little earlier or stay up later, but the personal gratification will more than compensate.

Bradbury_fail_don't writeNext, keep submitting material anywhere you can get published. Being a writer in the internet era is very tough because so much content is free. We end up giving away way more stuff than we would have in the old days of publications with paid advertising. That model has been smashed by the internet…note the decline in newspapers.  Here’s one writer’s take on the situation. The good news is that you can communicate directly with your readers. You might try this site: http://www.freedomwithwriting.com/ for paid writing opportunities.

Building your writing gig takes time, and you need some income in the near term. Perhaps part-time opportunities, like substitute teaching, a librarian, or in the field of an avocation, like at a craft store or book store or restaurant could provide some income without full time hours? Many a writer has worked other jobs while pursuing their craft. The key is to keep at it. My best successes have come through steady attention to my work. When I get discouraged and hide from the world, I lose what momentum I had. Hang in there, and good luck!

Dear Maria,

I wonder what I should do when I go to Mass with my spouse, when I really don’t know that I believe all that the Church teaches. I love Jesus, but not sure if I believe that what is written in the Bible is true. How do you know what to believe? Do you have to take all that on faith? I understand science more. 2 + 2 is always 4, it is never 5 or 3 or some other number. I understand gravity, and that every time I jump up, I will come down again and be on the ground. Every time. But with religion, I don’t know much. I used to think I understood what was true, but now, not so much.

So I usually go to Mass, make the sign of the cross, and pretty much only verbally join in when we say the Our Father, pray for the general intercessions (“lord hear our prayer”) for most of them that I believe are important, and the sign of peace. And yes I go to Communion, though this bothers me because I don’t think I am worthy to do so.

I do what I think is acceptable to me, not what was taught in my PSR classes years ago. I do read the readings, never liked the Psalms readings. And use to sing the hymns but have no zeal to do that anymore.

I feel stuck….cannot go back to the zealous person I was….cannot go forward to find what fits for me.

Do you have any suggestions what I could do to grow in faith? Not to be a Catholic per se, but to grow in faith to love Jesus and believe in what his life meant to the first Christians and what it might be said to mean now in the 21st Century?

Signed,
Genuine but Confused

Dear Genuine but Confused,

Thomas Merton, an American Catholic monk, author, activist, and mystic, wrote this beautiful prayer for seekers:

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

This searching is a kind of prayer. Religion teaches us words and rituals for prayer, but as we mature we long to find our own expression of faith. Your restlessness is evidence that your spiritual life is thriving. Embrace the longing as a sign that you’re on your right path, even, as Merton says, “I do not see the road ahead of me.”

Keep asking the questions. Find and spend time with people who are also seekers, in prayer groups or spiritual book studies. Ron Rolheiser’s book The Holy Longing is a great place to start, as he says, “In Search of a Christian Spirituality.” (This book will also help with your questions about Mass.) Create a space and time in your home for daily prayer and meditation. Don’t worry about where the searching will lead you, just trust the search. Take the next step that appears, and the one after that, and the one after that. In time, you’ll look back and see how the path became clear to you.

are you on your path J Campbell

Thanks for your questions, dear hearts. Send me more!
*Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. Use of this column is not intended to replace or substitute for any professional, financial, medical, legal, or other professional advice. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.