Joy: The Signpost to Your Path


signpostHe will guide you in the path you have chosen    Psalm 25:12

Can you remember when you first thought about what you wanted to be when you grew up? I was four or five, and it would change from week to week— always defined strictly by occupation; firefighter, police officer, dog-catcher, the ice-cream driver.

Yet, At the same time, I  hung to a childhood idea that whatever God’s plan for me was, it was going to involve pain and discomfort, sackcloth and ashes. It has taken me years to understand that, yes, God does have a plan for me—but it is a good plan, better than all the many little plans I imagined for myself.

I believe that the  deep longings in my heart—the ones that lay hidden my first half of life, were placed in my DNA at my conception.

From the Psalmist, 139:13-16

For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb.

     I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;             Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well.

     My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret,   And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;

     Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written  The days that were ordained for me,  When as yet there was not one of them.

I believe those desires are in fact God’s will for my life. And if that is the case, it is God’s greatest delight to see me doing and becoming what has been the deep, secret longing all my life. This is a transformational switch in my thinking, and why doing certain things brings this unexplained joy – it is part of our make-up, placed there by God.

My wife and I recently decided it was time to reduce and organize the “stuff” we have accumulated over the years -clothing, paper, books, knickknacks-everything.

We used the method in the bestselling book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo. In the book she describes a method of deciding what to keep and what to discard or donate. I was to simply ask the question “Does this item bring me joy”.

Initially the difficult part of this exercise was paying attention to what “joy” felt like. I have moved through life so automatically, from this task to that, playing one role then another, that I was not skilled at recognizing “joy” when it came up to surprise me.

Yet, the starting place for receiving guidance in following your chosen path is recognizing all the little “sign-posts” of joy—those flashing moments when we stumble into those deep and abiding desires and longings we were not conscious of or had forgotten long ago. And when the flash of joy that bubbles up from deep within subsides, there remains a renewed consciousness of a deep longings spurring us on to do the dirt and grime work that is required. As I follow the signposts I become my authentic and best self- in short, I am in God’s will.

To this day I have distinct memories of joy from a poetry class in the eighth grade as we studied Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess”.   That poem remained with me for weeks. That was a signpost.

The next year I joined a “book of the month” club, and remember the  excitement at receiving each new book. My first was    Charles Dickens “A Tale of Two Cities” – yes, ‘it was the best of times’. Another sign post.

Later on, as a sophomore in college, it came time to “declare” my major. Still waffling and unsure, I declared a double-major in Biology and English—Biology because I thought I “should” be a dentist or a Doctor, and English because I loved everything about English literature—the classics, the modern novel, the poets and their lives, and especially the disheveled English professors in their tweed jackets with elbow patches. They were just plain cool.

Since graduating, I have forgotten  most of what I learned as a biology major, but rarely has a day gone by that I have not read some literature. It turns out, the love of books was one aspect of my “chosen path”. The joy of reading was my signpost, and I followed.

Recent studies show that the majority of us discover our “chosen path” well into the second half of our lives. It’s not that we don’t find an occupation – but it takes many of us much longer to find our vocation. It requires that we pay attention to our inner self as we go about the business of living.

If we are fortunate, our vocation and occupation are the same, or at least they have elements that are aligned. A good indicator that we are not is when a large portion of our work day we are either doing or thinking about doing something other than our job is asking of us.

There is a clear distinction between pleasure and joy. Unlike pleasure, which is sensual in its nature, (not necessarily bad, just different) joy arises up from the depths of the human spirit. It is an awakening of what has always been present.

In his spiritual autobiography “Surprised by Joy”. C.S. Lewis wrote of his journey from staunch intellectual atheism to fervent Christian. In it he speaks extensively of joy;

“All Joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something further away or still ‘about to be.”

If you are a parent, friend, or mentor, helping another recognize their path through the signposts of joy is one of the greatest gifts you can give.

When my son was a small boy, he had a habit that was a little exasperating. Anything that had a sealed cover to it, he would take apart, remove all the elements the cover protected, lay them out neatly, and then methodically put them back together – only occasionally with success!!

Today, he is a skilled designer and craftsman, creating beautiful buildings and renovations that bring joy to others. He followed his signposts.

Joseph Campbell, a writer and lecturer who was best known for his work in comparative mythology and religion said this;

 “Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls.

 Follow your bliss. If you do follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while waiting for you, and the life you ought to be living is the one you are living.

 When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open the doors to you.

 I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.”

 A close look into the life of saints and social heroes indicates they responded early to some seemingly insignificant signposts which over time led them to their chosen path.

Here’s a hint: Pay attention to the signposts of joy as you go through your day— then build your life around doing it. You are now on your path…

What are your sign posts, and where are they pointing you?

Try this out.  Finish this sentence  “I find joy in ….

    • Playing music
    • Painting , drawing, or sculpturing
    • Mechanics
    • Research
    • Teaching
    • Dance or singing
    • Writing poetry
    • Writing How to books or romance novels
    • Gardening /Landscaping
    • Designing – Interiors, buildings, furniture
    • Volunteering
    • Leisure time with friends and family
    • Prayer and Meditation
    • Church or organization involvement
    • Reading, Studying
    • Physical work – building or repairing things
    • Being immersed in Nature
    • Sharing your experience with others in order to help them and encourage them.
    • Aspects of your job: The value you provide to others as a result of your work.
    • Other???

Recognize when joy rises up to surprise you—it is the sign post that you are on your path. It is your DNA trying to get your attention. Or, if you will, it is God guiding you on your chosen path. Then, find a way to repeat that activity often.

It is your path… walk on, with Godspeed and with JOY.





6 Responses

  1. Rita Keough

    June 4, 2016 9:58 pm

    St Augustine teaches that we are the very thing that we are seeking. When we seek our bliss and our peace, we find peace “within”. Then, being at peace, we will see and find peace “out there”.

  2. YkVD00NGgM9Gq+XGBAffyQo0F1Ed+NvSs6p3yJLeLMM=

    June 4, 2016 3:37 am

    I’ve thought a lot about this topic lately, partly playing devil’s advocate to the view you express, Bob, which I’ve always adhered to. My concern is the slippery slope to the worldly view of focusing on self-realization with no ties to a higher authority. Or “following your heart” when God possibly has something higher for you that might have nothing to do with creativity or similar fulfillments. If I’d been in Henri Nouwen’s situation, I don’t know that I’d have had the sensitivity or courage to give up the life he had to serve the severely handicapped. But who knows, maybe that chosen path was perfectly clear to him.

    • Bob Toohey

      June 6, 2016 2:46 pm

      You bring up a very valid point…it is sometimes hard to discern between simply a pleasurable activity such as “self-expression” and that deep running desire that just won’t seem to let us alone even after years of saying “No”.
      Thanks for continuing the thought.

  3. tim mccarville

    May 29, 2016 1:44 am

    Bob .. thanks for the “signposts” blog .. I really enjoyed it .. hope all’s well with you & yours .. Tim McCarville


I welcome your response and comments