The “Work” of the Year
Sophocles once said: “Without labor, nothing prospers” and this year (more than most) has proven that sentiment to be true. While most years there is some form of “labor”, I didn’t realize that my “labor” would come in every possible form it could: internal, relational, religious, and employment. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start from the beginning…
On December 30th, 2019, I used Jen Fulwiler’s Word of the Year generator to see what the year 2020 would hold for me. As the wheel spun round, word possibilities flooded my mind. Words like “love”, “relationship”, “achievement”, and “success” were at the forefront. However, when the wheel finally did stop, the word looking back at me was…work.
…Not necessarily a dream-come-true, hopeless-romantic fairy-tale word, but – once the disappointment subsided – not necessarily a word to scoff at either, especially since God had given me a renewed hope in my professional work life only days earlier. (I had recently accepted a job offer to move schools the following year because work in the literal sense had finally become too much and I was hellbent on leaving the toxic environment that I was being placed in daily.) Thus, feeling hopeful and inspired, I decided to look at this as Providence ensuring that this new year was ripe with possibility.
As for all of us, 2020 started out normally. I was grabbing life by the horns and feeling confident and excited for the new trajectory my life was taking. I was idealizing my future when suddenly, the world stopped, and I, like everyone else, was powerless amidst a global pandemic. Being an introvert, though, being asked to stay away from people while in lockdown, honestly, wasn’t the hardest thing I had to do. In fact, the pandemic had taken me out of my toxic work environment, and I was thriving. What got to me was all the endless time that I had for deep thinking and self-reflection. While these actions did occur on a semi-regular basis, whether it be through monthly therapy sessions or in bi-monthly adoration events, what made this time unique was that these hours of unguided silence were where I really looked at my life in hindsight and gained a 20/20 perspective.
Thus, as the introspection began, so too did the Work.
The Work started slow…even easy. Those first few weeks of March quarantine, I truly gained a deeper appreciation of our religious freedom here in the States. Going months without receiving the Eucharist at Mass or the ability to pop into Adoration when I was needing some extra “Jesus-time”, made me realize how lucky we are here when so many of our fellow Catholics aren’t privileged with multiple, daily mass and adoration options. Over the years, my faith has waxed and waned as I grew into adulthood, cultivating a faith that was my own and nobody else’s. Considering this pandemic, I worked harder to continually remind myself of the privileges we had in this state as we struggled to go without being physically present in our faith community. But luckily, with technology, even that wasn’t too much of a struggle. With live mass opportunities from around the world, I could attend morning mass with the Pope at midnight my time or attend Sunday mass with Fr. Mike Schmitz. Furthermore, there were live Zoom calls with my fellow Catholic young adult communities which provided encouragement and grounding.
Then, unsurprisingly, it got harder. In April, my introspection turned to one of my most challenging pitfalls over the years – my “love-or-lack-there-of” life. While I had succumbed to online dating over the last few years, it was 2020 that made me realized that I was only using the apps as a placeholder for the disease that prior generations claim as singlehood. Thus, going on dates with guys who I was giving “the benefit of the doubt to” because I longed to be in a serious relationship that would hopefully lead to marriage was continually disappointing – though not surprising – when they didn’t turn out to be my “Gilbert Blythe” or “Prince Charming”. Similarly, I’d be even more upset when the male friends I texted in weak moments of searching for emotional validation turned out like the end of My Best Friend’s Wedding rather than that of The Wedding Planner or a similarly-themed Hallmark movie.
So, I went on a self-imposed dating fast to work on one of the hardest quests of self-exploration I’ve had to date. I needed to truly take a step back and separate fact from fiction. My fairy-tale “meet-cute” wasn’t going to happen if I continued these counterintuitive patterns and as I worked, so did God. It was He who gave me the wisdom I needed to truly analyze these things in my life that weren’t healthy, and in June, I turned a new leaf in self-assurance and self-respect, when I literally talked myself out of sending a text that I knew would only lead feelings of hollowness, sadness, and bitterness. At that moment, I felt proud of all the work that had gotten me there. No matter the struggle, I was liberated.
With this newfound confidence, I traversed into August excited for that new job God had providentially provided way back in December. But that excitement quickly faded, as the ideals I had of this new job came crashing down with a severe thud. Suddenly, work was WORK.
When I had decided to go back into teaching, I was blissfully unaware of the work that teachers put in all days of the week, and all hours (pandemic aside). I have cried myself to sleep on more than one occasion and have not figured out the work-life balance more than halfway through the first Semester. This work is draining, tear-inducing, belittling, and exhausting. The question always on my mind is: “God, why is this job so hard when getting the job was so easy?!? YOU literally laid the groundwork to make it happen and I am not seeing why you have brought me here. Please help.” This was work I was unprepared for and the fact that I was drowning had me disconcerted. This was not what I had envisioned, and I didn’t know how to correct the lenses I was looking through. But of course, while I was despairing in my work, God found ways to praise it – a comment from the administration, the words of my students encouraging me, handwritten notes of praise and excitement…etc. God’s work was teaching me patience, perseverance, and continuing amid struggle…it’s probably also teaching me to not complain and suffer in silence.
As God has been working in my religious, personal, and work-life, He wasn’t content in leaving me be. In addition to the struggles of work-life, my mom’s health began to rapidly decline and I was asked to recalibrate my thinking. And, thus, more God-given-introspective work began. I struggle with true empathy and compassion in relation to my mom. Therapy has helped some, but in all honesty, I still have a long way to go. It seems that God, in all my prayers to send me what I want, has decided to send me what I need. I have realized that, far too often, I still try to hold onto the selfish tendencies that society instills in us – that self-care and self-gratification go above all else. But then I know God is asking me to continue WORKing these last few months of 2020, to continue the process of sanctification.
So, as I look back at these last 11.5 months, pandemic or not, I truly see the growth that has happened to me as a person during this year of WORK and as I look towards the future, I am encouraged by the work that I see coming to continue molding me into God’s “Fiat” for my life. As Neil Young eloquently states: “Instead of cursing the darkness, light a candle for where we’re going. There’s something ahead worth fighting for.” Let us think of growth as an antidote, not a disease.
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Rebecca was adopted and raised in Austin, Texas. She graduated from the University of Dallas with a BA in Education, and master’s from TWU in Library Science. She works in education as a teacher-librarian. In her free time, Becca loves music, reading, baking, and watching Hallmark movie channel.