Service and Meaning

Let’s look at another path to Joy.

Viktor Frankl writes in Man’s Ultimate Search for Meaning that we all search to bring meaning to our lives. Some achieve it through doing or creating: an act of heroism, a painting, a garden, or a novel. Some discover meaning through relationships, by loving deeply and well. But most rewarding according to Frankl are those who, facing the unchangeable like suffering or pain, change themselves for the better.

Author Matthew Kelly writes in his book,  A Call to Joy, “Suffering puts us in touch with what is really important. Sacrifice spells out our commitment and confirms our love.”

Frankl says of a person who grows through life’s challenges, “He is actualizing himself precisely to the extent to which he is forgetting himself, and he is forgetting himself by giving himself, be it through serving a cause higher than himself, or loving a person other than himself.”

Jesuit priest Fr. Robert Spitzer speaks about  four levels of happiness.

  1. Satisfaction of the senses, the moments when we are enjoying tastes, sounds, aromas, sights or sensations. It is a low level, because it is transitory and self-focused.
  2. Comparative advantage – you feel better than another. Competitors understand this elusive happiness.
  3. Seeing good in others and doing good for others.
  4. A reach for fullness or perfection through the pursuit of goodness, beauty, truth and love.

“We get glimpses of the sublime nature of beauty, truth and goodness at rare moments in, perhaps, the arts (music, story, film) or nature, or when we are loved by or love others.’  But for lasting happiness of this level Spitzer says, “Only God in Jesus is perfect and, according to Christians, our ultimate happiness is found in relationship with God through Jesus (prayer, obedience to his teachings etc.) who overcame sin (separation from God).”

Frankl, Kelly, and Spitzer concur that one way to truly feel you are making a difference is by being of service to others. I watch the generation above mine and am humbled by their acts of service. My mother is approaching a major milestone birthday (beyond typical retirement age) and still is secretary for several organizations and serves her parish daily. My husband’s parents have also lived lives of service, from St. Vincent de Paul to Scouts, from backstage management to helping children with reading difficulties.

That’s fine, we might say, for people who are retired and have time, but how can I possibly add one more thing to my busy life?

They started early. Their retirement years are simply continuations of earlier years of service.

However, service doesn’t have to be a large commitment of time. In fact, you are probably already of service and just haven’t realized it. Every parent serves the needs of little ones. And every adult child can help her parents or his siblings. Beyond family, you might take a friend out for coffee, knowing they needed a chance to talk, or watch your neighbor’s children while she goes to a doctor appointment. Look at all the small services you do for people, and acknowledge the spirit of service within you. Focusing on that spirit, rather than feeling taken for granted, can shift our attitude and put us solidly on the road to Joy.

Remember that old bumper sticker, “Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty?” It only takes a minute to get a second cup of coffee to share. Or to put away laundry for someone who needs to study for a final. Or to take on a task for a coworker who is swamped. Share small moments of your time if you can’t spend a weekly evening or Saturday helping out.

Of course, there are many opportunities for more formal service to the wider community. Short term commitments offer us a chance to experiment with using different skills and might even help us determine a new direction in our lives. You could discover a talent at carpentry while working for Habitat for Humanity. You might find you are a natural with teenagers or coordinating groups or understanding spreadsheets. Or maybe you will reconnect with old talents that have gone rusty by helping with a school play or teaching Girl Scouts about vegetable gardens. If you have no idea what a new interest might be, or how you best can serve, these short term commitments can be invaluable experience.

Perhaps, though, you are seeking a long term direction for service. If you are looking for a vocation, whether through a career or apart from the work you do, I recommend you take the advice of Parker Palmer in The Heart of a Teacher,

“When I follow only the oughts, I may find myself doing work that is ethically laudable but not mine to do. A vocation that is not mine, no matter how externally valued, does violence to the self—in the precise sense that it violates my identity and integrity on behalf of some abstract norm. […] In contrast to the strained and even violent concept of vocation as an ought, Frederick Buechner offers a more generous and humane image of vocation as ‘the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.’ […] The best inward sign of vocation is deep gladness. ”

Matthew Kelly agrees.  “In the midst of all the hustle and bustle of the world, there is a whisper in the marketplace. The whisper is the voice of God. He is calling to you. He is beckoning to you. He is gently inviting you to a quiet place, and His call is a call to joy.

May you hear His call and follow it to your joy!

Betty Arrigotti


Simple Joy

Teachers of both Western and Eastern spirituality concur that one path to Joy is Simplicity.

Isn’t there something universally attractive about those who value simplicity? Think of the Amish, St. Francis of Assisi, the pioneers who fit what they needed into a covered wagon, the Native American culture, the self-sufficient monastic abbeys, or Mother Theresa.

I value simplicity, but I don’t yet live it. My house is cluttered with meaningful things— that is— things that I have attached meaning to. I want flowers in my yard that were favorites of certain loved ones and souvenirs on my shelves to remind me of travels or my girls’ childhoods. I take photos to mark every occasion and think of my boxes of books as old friends.

It is fine to enjoy the memories which our items inspire, but if we give too much meaning to things, they can become too important. Global awareness forces us to realize our abundance causes others scarcity. One element of simplicity is remaining detached from our possessions so that we can share and give away to those in need. The less we own, the less time we must devote to the care of our possessions. That time would be better spent in a myriad of ways: prayer, our own refreshment, pursuit of our life passion, or enjoyment of our loved ones.

That leads me to another break with Simplicity that impedes our Joy, Busy-ness.

Today’s culture declares we must always be busy, always productive, always struggling to catch up with the best. Even though technology advances were expected to provide us with more time for enjoyment, in fact, men and women are working longer hours. A generation or two ago women generally spent their days focused on family life while men focused on financially supporting the family. Now we are all expected to balance and even excel at homemaking, family life, fitness, and volunteering, as well as a career.

Granted, most people need to keep working full time and in this economy we feel blessed to have work. Beyond work commitments, we all want to see our children learning extra-curricular skills like sports and music. And our communities and churches rely on our volunteering. So we are all exhausted. An annual two-week vacation (laptops at the ready) is not enough.

God knew that. He told us that. He said we need a day every week to rest, get refreshed, and have time with our families and friends and time to know Him better. It’s one of the 10 Commandments and yet we seem to think it isn’t an important one. He asks us to keep holy the Lord’s Day reminding us, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” Mark 2:27

Without rest, where is our balance? If your neighbor or good friend were sick and needed some help, would you have the time? Where is the time to be creative, to nourish ourselves, to play, and to pray? How can we grow in faith, or for that matter, closer to our loved ones without time to visit and share our experiences?

We need to incorporate respite into our lives. We need to retreat into the mountains or out to the desert to pray, like Jesus did. Nature and relaxation refresh our souls. But our spirits also require time every day in order to get our priorities straight. We need to live with a sense of mindfulness, not chaos, focused on what we are doing. The whole pattern of our day needs to center on God as an integral part of our lives. We NEED daily prayer.

What can we do today to simplify our lives and rededicate them to what is important? We’ll need to be brave enough to say, “No,” when careful consideration tells us that “no” is the right answer. Let’s finish the commitments we’ve made that are important but be very careful before making new ones. Unimportant commitments we can let go of right away. Does the yard really need more flowers or does the organization I belong to really need one more activity? Does the club reduce already scarce time with my family? Do my children really need to participate in sports they don’t like? How much TV is too much?

We could, if we were very brave, go further. Is this house more space than we really use? Do we need this many cars? What would happen if I cut back on my hours at work? Or the work I bring home from work? Can we change our lifestyle?

The path to Simplicity will be different for each of us but it will surely shorten the road to Joy.

Blessings on your week and on your reassessment of your lifestyle.

Betty Arrigotti



            We can’t experience complete joy if we feel either betrayed or guilty. In both cases, healing won’t be complete until we forgive and are forgiven. The two are connected.

In the New Testament we find:


  • Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions. Mark 11:25-26, Matthew 6:14-15
  • Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. Ephesians 4:32
  • And the Our Father: Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. Matthew 6:12


            Why does Jesus tell us to forgive? Is it to add another burden to our struggle? No, He wants us to be happy and we cannot be fully at peace when we are angry with someone and feeling a grudge. Does our grudge hurt the person we hold it against? Perhaps, but sometimes they aren’t even aware of it. Instead we are the ones burdened by the negativity. If we nurture the hurt and lick our wounds, the negativity grows and embitters us.

Forgiving seems to be a prerequisite to being forgiven. Our lack of forgiveness keeps us from receiving God’s forgiveness. Not because God wants us to go first and won’t “play” until we follow His rules, but because our negativity blocks the bounty of graces He longs to pour onto us. Bitterness cannot occupy the soul at the same time as God’s grace.

If we truly accept and appreciate and believe God forgives us, our spirits are so filled, so en-lightened, that we have no need of grudges. Bitterness simply won’t fit, won’t coexist with our cleansed spirit.

How can we, while knowing how good God is to forgive our mistakes and even our deliberate wrongdoing, not offer the same to others?

We are human and it’s hard to forgive people who have hurt us, even when they sincerely apologize. But isn’t it much harder to forgive people who aren’t sorry, who either don’t believe they’ve done anything wrong, feel completely justified in what they did, or simply don’t care? I really struggle with that. Why should I forgive when they don’t ask me for forgiveness or even show any sorrow?

Because not forgiving hurts me. Negativity finds its foothold and hangs on. God doesn’t want us to be slaves to our feelings so He asks us to let go. I don’t believe He means we should trust the other person as if the injury never happened. We are still allowed to protect ourselves, if need be, by being cautious around that person and maintaining boundaries that keep us from falling victim again. But we must refuse to let the person have the power over us of destroying our peace and our journey toward Joy.

How can we forgive others?

  • Decide to forgive and then refuse to dwell on the injury when it comes to mind. 
  • Be mindful of our own weaknesses and mistakes and God’s mercy. Ask Him to give us the grace to forgive.
  • Consider the other’s challenges that affected the behavior. Was his childhood difficult? Did she have a hard day? Maybe he is struggling to do the best he can.
  • Pray for the offender. Ask for God to heal her. Put the trouble in God’s hands and then let go.
  • Actively seek out and focus on the offender’s strengths and goodness.


How can we forgive ourselves?

When God forgives us we need to forgive ourselves and let go of our guilt. We should still remember our wrongdoing and let that memory protect us as we work to avoid the temptation or the decisions that brought us to our sin. But if we don’t let go of the shame, it shows we don’t truly believe God forgave us.

Jesus knew our nature and so provided us with a very concrete experience of forgiveness, saying to his apostles: “If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.” John 20:23, Matthew 16:19, 18:18

Those words became the Sacrament of Reconciliation, celebrated in churches around the world all year but in a special way during Lent. Parishes sponsor Reconciliation Services that bring a communal element to the process of examining our lives to become aware of our faults, confessing them to one who represents God, and hearing from that representative that we are forgiven.

Bringing the spiritual into a ceremony can help us realize how very real the spiritual is. God gives us the opportunity to concretely experience His forgiveness and mercy. The priest-representative is solid, his words of forgiveness are audible, and our sense of being a member of His community is reinforced.

I’ve always dreaded “going to confession.” Human nature makes us reluctant to admit to another that we’ve been wrong. However, I can tell you I look forward to the lightness of Spirit I always feel after receiving God’s absolution—His cleansing forgiveness—through the priest.

Go to a Reconciliation Service during Lent if your church offers one. If not, and you have trouble letting go of shame or guilt, I urge you to speak to a representative of your faith community who can help you truly accept that God is a forgiving Father, just like the prodigal (extravagantly wasteful) son’s father in Jesus’ parable, who rushes out to meet the errant son with open arms when he returns home.

God’s arms are open and waiting for you.

Prayers and blessings on your week,

Betty Arrigotti

“The idea of forgiveness is clearly an essential element of Jesus’ spirituality. […] Forgiveness of others’ injuries stamps our spirituality as genuine and authentic. Not to be forgiving reduces our spirituality to a merely human imitation of the real thing.” Girzone, Joseph (1995). Never Alone: A Personal Way to God. Doubleday Image. p94.


“It might seem nearly impossible to forgive your family for some of the things they did while you were growing up. But if you make it your goal to forgive them as God has forgiven you, and if you actively pursue loving them the way Christ loves you, then you will not only have set your own heart free, but you will have showcased a little picture of heaven on earth. If you learn to forgive, you will have learned the greatest defense strategy against divorce.” Ludy, Eric & Leslie (2009). When God Writes Your Love Story. Multnomah Books, p192.

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