Not long ago my roommate (Alicia) came home with a project of sorts. Her workplace as a whole was doing an exercise to explore what values ground them in their work of mediation and reconciliation. The idea being that if we can identify what core values are at the heart of our identity and the heart of our work, we can consistently measure new ideas and evaluate old programs against those core values. This is by no means a new way of looking at the mission of an organization, however, Alicia suggested that the exercise might be valuable in our own personal lives given that we are both in periods of discernment regarding calling and direction and that such periods are part of the ongoing cycle in all our lives. And it would be fun!
The process simply involves going through an incredibly long list of values and choosing those that most resonate with your own sense of identity and calling. No problem, right? That's what I thought until Alicia told me that I could only choose 6! Given that there were a few hundred, this seemed like an impossible task.
My first glance through the list I could immediately see some values that are central to my life and some that most definitely are not. Values such as "success" or "advancement" or "affluence" all got lopped off pretty quickly. But after one round through the list, I must admit that I was only able to cut it in half. How does one choose between "awareness" and "mindfulness"?
What at first blush seemed to be a fun little activity, much in the same vein as an online personality test, suddenly became a much larger process of listening, of waiting, of sitting with each value and paying attention to how it did or did not resonate. It also involved considering my interpretation of each of the words. Often I found I had many values that were quite similar or values that carried with them some inherent sense of another. For example I value both "strength" and "flexibility" but for me to be strong yet not flexible is not really to be strong at all. For me, "strength" implies "flexibility", whereas "flexibility" does not imply "strength".
And on and on I went, gradually whittling down the list, from 100, to 20, to 10, and finally to 6.
Sitting with those final 6 values a strange thing began to happen. I had thought that this exercise would simply show me what I consider to be important. I had thought that it might be helpful in making decisions. What I didn't expect was that it would begin to reveal, in a very significant way, who I am. Sitting with those final 6 words I had a sense that I was gazing in a mirror, seeing the self that God created, the self that I am meant to be, with all the baggage washed away. Certainly I am not fully all of these values. I am incomplete and fallible, I have had experiences and done things that sometimes make it difficult to see the image of God within me, I am human. And yet I had the strongest sense that God desired for me to see that these values are present within me. That they are there and I can connect with them and live out of them. My sense of my own identity was clearer and my sense of the way that the Spirit moves in me when I connect with my core self was somehow different as well.
It seems to me that the gift of God's work in the world often is, that you never know where or when or how. And for that I am grateful.