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Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024
The Observer

Fuel your fire

In one of my first counseling sessions with Dr. Mermelstein, he asked me, “Joey, what makes you tick?” Although I lacked an answer at the time, that question sparked an ember in my heart, prompting me to search for meaning and purpose. Thus, I pose this question to you today. What fuels your fire? No matter where you are on your discernment journey, this kind of value-based reflection can be an informative and edifying exercise, since “when we experience a deep connection to our work and a consistent flow between our life’s energies and our daily tasks, we are the most alive, at peace and whole” (https://heartsdesire.nd.edu/course/).

In this essay, I provide a concrete method for finding the fuel of your heart’s fire. First, think about it; engage in serious reflection. Next, talk through it; discuss with others. Finally, try it out; gain some experience in the field of interest. Continuously reflect on these new experiences and carry on with this method in a progressive process of reflection and action until the fruits of this labor, confidence and clarity, are ripe for harvest.

Think about it.

Reflection is a way to understand the longings of our hearts. This can take many forms. The Ignatian Examen, for instance, is a meditative practice that offers a spiritual framework for discernment. After quieting the mind, one reflects on experiences throughout the day, noticing what comes to mind, paying special attention to the parts of the day when one felt close to God.

Another practice of reflection is journaling. If you have a few minutes, I want you to try this today. The purpose of this particular exercise is to identify your calling. In a notebook or on a blank piece of paper, title the page, “What fuels my fire?” Then, draw a large Venn diagram with one side titled “my deep gladness” and the other “world’s deepest hunger,” as Frederick Buechner wrote that “the place God calls you is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” 

Start on the deep gladness side. Set a timer for five minutes and jot down any interests, passions or joys that come to mind. All ideas are valid. Consider the question, “Where and when do I feel most alive?” In my case, I am passionate about education, I am interested in philosophy and I enjoy learning about wisdom and pondering tough questions.

Next, move to the deep hunger side. Restart the timer and write what you think are the world’s greatest needs. This could be something that impacts you, your community or everybody. Consider the question, “What would make the world a better place?”

I think there are many things that would make the world a better place. Peace, food security, greater access to health care and education, freedom from all forms of oppression and persecution and the list goes on. In the United States I see room for improvement in the education, health care and justice systems as well as in basic legislative structures.

Obviously one person cannot solve all the world’s problems, nor are we called to do so. Rather, we take steps to improve our respective spheres of influence. We treat others with compassion and respect. We do what we can to educate ourselves and address systemic injustices. We discover how we are uniquely called in this lifetime to serve the cause of justice.

After you have filled your Venn diagram, consider possible points of intersection between your great gladness and the world’s deep hunger. 

Talk through it.

At this point, you have spent at least a moment in personal reflection. Take some time, now, to have intentional conversations with others. Talk to people you trust and who know you well like family members, friends and mentors. Talk to people who are experts in the field such as professors and alumni. Now would be a great time to go somewhere like the career center or campus ministry. Those people are here specifically to help students thrive. Talking with others provides a different perspective on our situation and it often comes with encouragement and validation.

Try it out.

Now that you have reflected on your calling and talked about it with others, go do that thing! Explore avenues for experiential learning such as volunteering, shadowing and internships. Join a club. Apply for a position in a research lab. Write a thesis. The opportunities are limitless. Seek and you will find.

Reflect again.

After you explore the hands-on work related to the intersection of your deep joys and the world’s deep needs, evaluate your experiences. Did you like it? Would you want to do it again? Did you feel fully alive in that position? 

In this ongoing process of action and reflection, we arrive at greater understanding of who God is calling us to be and what He is calling us to do. Ultimately, God calls each of us to love as He loves, to see as He sees, to do as He does. Yet we are called to manifest this mission in our own unique way. We are not in competition with God. On the contrary, we are most fully alive when we become active co-creators in the salvation of this world, when we abide in Him who sustains our being.

With pen and paper, reflect on your calling. Then, speak with others. Finally, take action. It can be a slow process, and it may be frustrating not knowing exactly what you want, but I promise it is worth it. If you want to, you will find yourself, and in doing so, you will find God.

Joey Jegier is a senior at Notre Dame studying philosophy, ESS and German. He enjoys coffee, conversation and taking time to be still (when possible). Areas of interests include mysticism, education and discernment. Joey loves the city of South Bend and regularly visits the farmers market, his only source of milk and eggs. He would love to chat about anything and can be reached at jjegier2@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.