Q: Upon celebrating a 50th wedding anniversary a couple may exclaim, “God has been so good to us!” My wife died after we celebrated our 25th anniversary. Should I say that God was not as good to us, or worse that he punished us? I know that the answer lies in the biblical story of Job, but I’m having a hard time applying Job to myself.
— E, Little Neck
A: Are 25 years of marital bliss not enough of a reason to give thanks to God? You were blessed and you were lucky. Some couples never had 25 years together. The fact that others might be more blessed and more lucky than you in no way diminishes the abundance of your own blessings. The key to gratitude is to focus not on what has been taken from us but on what has been given to us. In confirmation of this wisdom the Buddha taught, “Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful.”
Also try to see everything as a gift, not just the happy days but also the challenging days. My experience is that we often learn more from our challenges than from our gifts. The great educator, Helen Keller, thought the same thing: “I thank God for my handicaps for, through them, I have found myself, my work, and my God.” God has not promised any of us a smooth journey but God has promised all of us a journey in which we are never alone and never unloved. That is the promise of the shepherd to the flock.
And if all of this advice does not work for your injured heart, meditate on the meaning of this classic and deeply spiritual joke:
“A grandmother took her young grandson to the beach. The toddler was happily splashing in the sand near the shore when suddenly a huge wave came crashing in and swept the boy into the ocean. The grandmother screamed to the heavens, ‘God!! Save my grandson!!’ Just then another wave roared in and deposited the boy in the same place on the beach. He spit out some water and went back to playing in the sand. The grandmother looked at the boy, looked up to heaven, and said, ‘He had a hat.’ ”
Q: I am searching for a job and have prayed that God will send me where I can do his work. Right now a few interviews have opened up. My question is if I should receive more than one job offer how am I to know what God’s will is for me?
— N, via email
A: The best advice I ever heard about choosing a job came from my friend Gerry Roche, who was the head of one of the largest and most powerful executive search companies in the world, Heidrick and Struggles. My son, Max, was facing just your question about what work to do with his life and one day while playing golf together he asked Gerry for advice. Gerry just looked at Max and said something so brilliant in its simplicity that it has stayed with me for years. He said, “Do something until you don’t like it anymore. Then do something else.” So that is my advice to you. Think about whether this or that job offers you an opportunity to do something good in the world every day. Then make your best guess and jump into it. Do it until your guess is confirmed or proven wrong and if you guessed wrong, do something else.
Please remember that doing God’s will in the world is the task of your life, not the task of your job — unless of course you want to be a clergy person or run a soup kitchen or teach children or put out fires or protect people from crime or raise guide dogs for the blind.
I would also urge you to reflect upon these moving words from The Rev. Phillips Brooks (1835-1893):
“Do not pray for tasks equal
to your powers; pray for
powers equal to your tasks.
“Then the doing of your work
shall be no miracle, but
you shall be a miracle.
“Every day you shall wonder
at yourself, at the richness
of life which has come to
you by the grace of God.”