Author Brad Whittington recently posted on Facebook “If you have something in your life that gives you as much joy as I find writing on the deck, then you are indeed blessed. If not, take steps, if even small ones. We all must do the needful, but feeding the soul is every bit as important as feeding the body. Just ask Maslow.” Based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we must tend to the basics before we can advance to the higher levels and reach self-actualization where we become the best that we can be. While Maslow was not writing in a Christian context, and has come under scrutiny for his lack of scientific rigor, we can learn from him.
Maslow’s focus was on the individual trying to build his or her own image in attaining self-actualization. They may look at this in terms of feelings such as self-confidence or reaching a set goal. I would define self-actualization to the concept of becoming all that God intends for us to be.
Christian pastor and author Max Lucado expressed this in his book The Cure for the Common Life, Living in your Sweet Spot. Lucado maintains that God created us to live in a zone, a region, a life in which we were made to dwell. Hence, for a Christian, self-actualization is becoming what God intended for us to be when we were created. When I first read this book, I became impressed that I had always been a writer, of sorts. But I had neglected it as a serious pursuit, I became determined to work on my writing, and it transformed me.
At the time, I was a Professor, teaching accounting and tax, so the logical place for me to begin was to work on writing academic articles. I began to write and (not surprisingly) found that it gave me joy and I was able to get several articles and a couple of books published. That soon branched out into a blog in which I published consumer-type articles on taxes. About that time, the Ledger started publishing a monthly Business Journal. I contacted someone at the Ledger and became the writer of a monthly tax column for the publication. While enjoying the writing and becoming fulfilled at what I was pursuing, it also served to enhance my professional career, as the Business School was pursuing AACSB Accreditation, and my publications gave a substantial impetus to that effort. I knew I had found my sweet spot.
Then I retired. After retirement, I was no longer interested in pursuing academic writing so my writing career got derailed. Before long, I realized that I missed it. About that time David Moscrip approached me about contributing to his blog Wonderfully Plagued. After writing several articles, I had some life events that distracted me and I began to get discouraged. I wasn’t reaching the world with my golden pen, I didn’t know if I was helping anyone. I grumbled to my daughter (among others) that I did not seem to be making an impact. She responded “do you write because you enjoy it or do you write for the validation and approval of others?” She had me. I had lost my focus. I realized that I do enjoy hearing that people like my writing and are helped by it. But I probably receive more benefit from my writing than anyone who may read it. First, I am doing what gives me joy – what I believe was the “sweet spot” God created for me. Second, since my writing is primarily Bible-based, I study scripture as I research each blog.
Going back to Brad Whittington, note that he stated that writing gives him joy. We live in a society that seemingly lives in pursuit of happiness. I would draw a distinction between happiness and joy. Happiness is external. It happens to us. When my sports team wins, I am happy. When I get a financial windfall, I am happy. But in the next game my team may lose. I may get hit with an unexpected expense. There goes my happiness. Joy is a choice I make, it is internal because my circumstances do not dictate my joy. When we find joy it’s infused with comfort and wrapped in peace. It’s an attitude of the heart and spirit, often synonymous with but not limited to following Christ Jesus and pursuing a Christian life.
I need not remind you that joy is one of the fruits of the spirit. Galatians 5:22-23 reads “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Joy comes from God.