Transcendence, Identity and Wellbeing
‘I was in advertising sales and completely, absolutely miserable because they were asking me to lie, cheat, and steal. I was required to do things that compromised my integrity, and I was not willing to do it. The only thing that brought me joy at that time was seeking after God. I did that with all I had, and slowly experienced that I was called to be a pastor’.
Stories like the one narrated by this second-career pastor are not unusual among clergy. Sometimes individuals’ lives seem to follow a predictable course—students work hard to prepare their future as engineers, scientists, or artists; professionals experience more or less successful careers as lawyers, corporate managers, or salesmen. And then, something cracks the polished surface of what seems familiar and granted. Slowly and imperceptibly, or suddenly and dramatically, what could have been a smooth sailing through an already charted route comes to a halt. As in the story above, individuals realize a deep and irreconcilable disconnection between their core convictions, and their projected professional future or present work reality.
In our research, we consider these convictions as an expression of what we call ‘transcendence’. This word indicates the understanding—often only felt as an intuition—of what is of deep meaning and value in life; the inner awareness that there are ways of being, feeling, thinking, and doing that are higher, nobler, and worthier. This understanding is at the root of what we call our ‘core convictions’. These are strong values and beliefs that we hold as standards to measure all reality - ideas, principles, ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving.
In the case of clergy experiences, the connection between core convictions and religious faith is often very deep. Through its texts, teachings, and rituals, Christianity provides believers with guiding ideas about what is true and good, or false and wrong. These ideas set the standard for what believers consider as proper ways of thinking, feeling, being, and living. Religious institutions and communal practices have an important role in inculcating and enforcing these convictions, and in pointing out individuals who exemplify noble ways of living.
In the case of the pastor we mentioned above, an irreconcilable fracture separated his professional life in advertising sales and his core convictions about lying, cheating, and stealing. Eventually, it was that sense of profound disconnection that led him to explore a work path that could more fully resonate with his deepest moral commitments. His experience as a believer pointed out the right course—his activity within the church was the only space where he could experience joy, harmony, and connectedness with his core convictions. That experience started the journey that led him to discover his calling as a pastor.
As the story reveals, we are not always aware of our core convictions. We may not understand them fully, or articulate them clearly. To the extent that we may not be aware of them, our commitment to them may vary—until we realize how profound is our disconnection from what we have become used to in our work life.
Once the pastor in our example had realized his deep inner conflict, he was able to re-chart the course of his professional life towards a more harmonious and fulfilling route. The degree to which people understand and are committed to their core convictions is extremely important for their wellbeing. In the words of Matt Bloom, principal investigator of the Flourishing in Ministry Project, ‘Vagueness or ambiguity about one’s core convictions means that one is, to a greater degree, morally adrift in the world, uncertain to a large extent about what is meaningful, important and worthwhile about life in general and one’s own life in particular and, therefore, that one is left with little sense of what purposes or strivings might orient one’s life around.’
To what extent are you aware of your personal core convictions? Are you able to articulate them? Is your work as a pastor a space where you experience harmony and connectedness with your deepest commitments?