Make a Life, Not a Living
by Neale Donald Walsch
From Neale: Does God care what we do for a living? Is He even involved in our daily lives at any level? These are the questions that are raised by this story to say nothing of the question of whether God communicates directly with us, as is intimated here.
The answer to the first question is no, to the second question, yes, and to the third inquiry, absolutely.
In the matter of how we live our lives, what we do for a living, whom we marry, where we live, or any other aspect of our daily experience, God has no preference. This does not mean that God has no love for us. It means that God has no sense of need, one way or the other, for a particular thing to happen or not happen. God is without needs.
Because this is so, God gives us free will to create our lives as we choose, to live our lives as we wish, to experience our lives as we do. Sometimes, we imagine that there are things we have to do. Many people can get especially caught up in this thought around the experience of their career and work. They believe that they have to “go to work” in order to deserve a place in our society.
In truth, there should be no such thing as the “workplace,” but only the joy place. What we “do” with the days and times of our lives should be an expression of the greatest joy that lies within us an outpouring of what makes us truly happy. God invites us to reject any notion that we cannot have it that way. But it takes courage to claim it. In order to do this, we must be willing to “judge not by appearances.” It could appear as if there is only one way that we can survive, that we must do whatever it is we are doing whether we like it or not in order to earn enough money to survive.
To get out of this self-inflicted daily torture, we have to give up the idea that the purpose of employment is to “make a living.” We have to be one of the courageous ones. Someone who has chosen to make a life, rather than a living. It is possible to make the switch. Don’t believe it? Ask Tracey.
Tracey had been staring at the computer for what seemed like hours. Her mind mirrored the blank screen. Not a thought was coming to her. She had been writing scripts for a popular daytime drama for four years. In that time she had never been unable to meet her deadline, sometimes turning around material at a moment’s notice. Lately, however, she had been feeling really burned out. Each day, for the past year really, Tracey had turned on her computer feeling tired and worn. She’d had only one week of vacation in her four years of writing scripts. The constant deadlines and demands for quick turnarounds were taking their toll.
Tracey looked around her large and stylishly furnished apartment. In the garage was a new convertible she’d just bought and paid for with cash. She certainly had the trappings of a successful career woman. As stressful as this job was, there were definitely some benefits. “But,” Tracey sighed, looking longingly at the uncooperative computer. “How long am I going to be able to keep this up?” A feeling of panic began to rise in her chest as she had a horrible realization. “What if I can’t write anymore? What will I do? What will I be if I’m not a writer?”
It was Tracey’s greatest fear, the dreaded Writer’s Block. She had been stopped dead in her tracks. All those years of creating drama around the lives of fictional people, and now she couldn’t even find a shred of an idea in the recesses of her brain. She could hardly even bear to touch the keyboard. She reached for the phone instead.
“Mom, I need to come home for a while,” she whispered into the receiver. “Something’s wrong, terribly wrong. I can’t write anymore.” Tears began to fall down Tracey’s cheeks onto the blank white papers on her desk.
“I’ll book you on the next flight, honey. Your dad and I will meet you at the gate.” Tracey hung up the phone with relief. “That’s all I need. Just a few days of rest. I’ll spend Thanksgiving with Mom and Dad, and then I’ll be okay.”
But Tracey wasn’t okay. Three days of being in her parents’ home in Pittsburgh, eating Thanksgiving leftovers and trying unsuccessfully to sleep, hadn’t helped her get over her inability to write a single word. She had spent more time in the basement than with her laptop– the basement being the only place she was allowed to smoke. Puffing on cigarette after cigarette, she paced. “If only I had the courage to quit this darn job.” But Tracey knew she didn’t have that kind of courage. She had done nothing in her life but write. It had been her first job out of college, and the only thing she knew. “Please, God. What will I do?” she cried inwardly.
“Why don’t you go to church with us?” asked her mother from the top of the stairs.
Well, that’s an odd answer to my question, Tracey mused. She hadn’t been to church with her parents since she left home years ago. Growing up Catholic, Tracey had always felt that God was more her adversary than a helpmate. He seemed too well, paternal. It was not Tracey’s nature to depend on anyone; she had never wanted to relinquish her power, not even to God. “Well, this time I can use some help.” She stubbed out her cigarette.
The church was remarkably peaceful. In the dark and quiet, Tracey kneeled and folded her hands, feeling that for a few moments she might even be able to let go of her anguish. Her mother looked over at her with a concerned smile. As the mass began, Tracey allowed herself to become lost in the sounds and smells, so familiar from her childhood. The priest began the liturgy, “Seek and you shall find'” The words were like a soft cloud settling on the room. Tracey felt her shoulders relax. Her entire being seemed to become quieter as she breathed deeply, filling her lungs with the warm, peaceful air of the church. It was like breathing in God.
Slowly opening her eyes, Tracey looked past the pulpit to the frescoed alcove beyond. To her amazement, the space seemed to suddenly illuminate with the most beautiful golden sunlight. She blinked. Every figure and object in the fresco was so brightly lit that Tracey could make out every detail. Where was the light coming from? It was dark outside, and there were no skylights in the alcove. What was this Tracey was seeing? She stared in utter astonishment.
Then, as if in response to her bewilderment, a voice from deep inside her said, “Everything will be all right, Tracey.”
Incredibly, Tracey knew it was true. Everything would be okay. The voice was so powerful and so profound that Tracey could not question its veracity. There was no doubt. It was true–all Tracey had to do was to accept what was happening. She only had to trust, and everything would work out exactly as it should.
In that moment Tracey knew it was time to leave her job. That’s why she couldn’t write anymore. She wasn’t supposed to be writing now. Everything had changed in that moment when she heard the voice. Tracey felt completely calm. As soon as she and her parents returned home, Tracey went directly to the basement. This time she didn’t light a cigarette she picked up the phone and dialed her boss. She was no longer afraid. She didn’t have to be a writer anymore. She could just be herself.
Three weeks later, Tracey and her best friend, Travis, were sitting on the shining oak floor of her empty apartment, having a farewell glass of wine. The December sun was pouring through the windows. They had been busy moving her furniture out all day, placing most of her things in storage and giving away the rest. Clinking their glasses together, Tracey said, “Here’s to change.”
“What now, Tracey?” Travis asked. He knew that Tracey’s boss had not wanted to let her go, and was continuing to call to ask her to resume the writing job.
“Well, I’ve been thinking. I know that I no longer have to be a writer to have an identity. I don’t need that job. I can do anything and I’ll be fine. But with this new perspective, I want to actually consider going back to writing for the network. I don’t know. Perhaps the decision will seem smaller if I think about it at the edge of the Grand Canyon. Wanna go with me?” It had just popped out, with no forethought at all, but suddenly it seemed like a good idea.
“Sure. I’m game. Sort of a Thelma and Louise thing.” Travis smiled into Tracey’s eyes over his glass, grateful to see his friend feeling happy for the first time in months.
Tracey and Travis never quite made it to the Grand Canyon, although they listened to the Thelma and Louise soundtrack during the long drive through the desert, the red convertible piled high with what few belongings they’d managed to fit in. As they pulled into Albuquerque, Tracey heard the bells of a little church, and the sound went straight to her heart. She looked around at the mountains and the lovely town opening before her. Without a warning she fell in love. “How would you feel about staying right here?” she asked Travis.
A few days later Tracey was driving a pizza delivery truck, loving every minute of it and constantly musing on the promise that had been fulfilled. Everything had turned out all right. Tracey hadn’t been so happy and free in years. She had learned that she could be just fine working a minimum wage job and living in a big, old house with three roommates. All she had needed was a new perspective, a different way of looking at things. She didn’t have to be Tracey Kelly, Soap Opera Scriptwriter. She could just be Tracey Kelly. She could just be. What a huge gift she had given herself.
Shortly before her thirtieth birthday, almost three years later, Tracey gave herself another gift the gift of being a writer once again. Her boss had continued to call her sporadically to ask her to come back to her old job, promising she could write from wherever she was, even Albuquerque. Tracey had continued to refuse. As her satisfaction with her life grew, however, Tracey knew that she would be able to go back to doing what she had once loved, going at it from an entirely different place this time. It was just a job now. Just as delivering pizzas had been a job, and being a produce clerk in an Albuquerque co-op had been a job. It was now about who she was, not what she was. Things were entirely different in her life since that night in the church when God had spoken to her. God was now a presence in her life, even as she, herself, was more present in her own life.
As a reward for receiving her first Emmy nomination this year, Tracey and Travis are planning a trip to the Grand Canyon. This time there are no big decisions to juxtapose against the vastness of the landscape. It will just be a nice vacation, or maybe a simple ritual to celebrate the bringing of Tracey’s spirit full circle.
Tracey Kelly, 32, is a soap opera writer, living happily ever after in the Rio Grande Valley of New Mexico, thanks to one brief, but life-altering, conversation with God.