Aiming At Nothing And Hitting It

When I became a minister, my role as a pastoral counselor had special significance for me.  I regarded counseling as a professionally recognized practice.  Everything else about being a pastor—the ceremonies, the praying, the studying of religious books, the time spent with women who were home all day—seemed to be seen as more akin to witchcraft and hucksterism.  Counseling was a claim to respectability.  There were pastors who made names for themselves as therapists of an unspecified kind, and I possessed similar aspirations.

Unfortunately, aspirations are not the same as competence.  I received a variety of psychology and counseling courses during seminary training, but nothing that prepared me to advise someone undergoing an emotional crisis, or an overwhelming temptation, or a desire to hit their mother over the head with a phone, which one of my counselees did after being in my care for a couple months.  Danielle was a rebellious teen; we talked for hours; and I didn’t know how to help her.  I didn’t know the goal.

Should I encourage Danielle to submit to what she didn’t like, or to develop her independence?  Should I have an open-door policy with a bored young person in a rural village, or should I insist on appointments at regular hours?  Should I quote her the Bible, or leave the Bible out?  I wasn’t sure which way to go.

I eventually figured out the answers, after years of flailing and failure, but not in time for Danielle.  Knowing where you’re going has a lot to do with success; it’s why lives go so easily off course.  What you thought you wanted isn’t what you thought.  Decisions made when younger don’t match goals when older.  We spend a lot of our lives aiming at nothing and hitting it.

I’ve lost money, marriages, and careers for that very reason.  No part of life is exempt.  When you don’t know where to aim, that’s where you end up.  Nobody becomes a billionaire or a saint by accident.  For good or bad, they both require single-minded devotion and a clear sense of purpose.  Most people are a little more vague.

What are we looking for from our loved ones?  What are we looking for from our jobs?  What are we looking for from the future?  What are we looking for from God?  Those are all good questions and many people aren’t sure of the answers, just as aimlessness is a common human problem.  Finding the right direction to take is harder than it sounds.

It’s especially difficult in the pursuit of spirituality.  Since spirituality concerns the invisible and impossible, there isn’t an obvious target.  Instead, there’s a bewildering variety of conflicting pronouncements about directions to take.  Many of us never go beyond what we learned growing up.  Many give more thought to their tangible assets.  Many don’t give their spirits serious attention because they aren’t sure of the point.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t one.  There are levels of connection and need, where our soul dwells in our inner room, to be discovered, nourished, and enjoyed.  Unfortunately, needs often go unmet when they go unrecognized.

What are you aiming at?  What is the state of your spirit?  What’s the point of living?  There may not be ultimate answers, but the questions need to be asked on a daily basis.

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About Bucky Dann

I teach religion, sociology, and psychology at Southwestern Community College in the Smoky Mountains. I have worked in the United Methodist ministry and in the substance abuse field. I possess a Masters of Divinity, a Masters of Philosophy, and a PhD in the sociology of knowledge.

3 Responses to “Aiming At Nothing And Hitting It”

  1. Dr. Dann, this recent post was absolutely wonderful. I greatly enjoyed reading it and I agree totally. I try to instill this same sentiment into the young people at my Church and home. “Aiming at nothing and hitting it” is the name of a sermon that I’m hoping you’ll give me permission to entitle. Our culture of youth are enslaved by this notion of YOLO; one rapper named Drake even has a song named by that same acronym. YOLO stands for ‘You Only Live Once’ and it is intimates the sentiment that if you only live once then you should have as much fun as you can because you won’t get a second change. Hence, if you want to try some life threatening adventure, you should because you only live once. I would say that aiming at nothing and hitting it is captured by this kind of sentiment. Thanks for the great posts. Thanks again for the help with the dissertation. Brian Mckenzie

  2. Go ahead and use the phrase. I adapted it from a preacher named Peter Marshall. I hope everything is going well!

  3. Life is confusing all the time! Even when we think that we are living towards a common goal, it’s still confusing. God gave humans one tool that will guide him…freedom of choice. This is where the confusion comes. The thing that I once believed to be my biggest mistake was at the ripe old age of 20. This was an unexpected pregnancy. That mistake has been the greatest joy in my life…my two children. The marriage was a casualty of life’s war, but was it a mistake? I have to answer no. Your mistakes give you the insight that you need to help someone that God will place in your path in the future. I think that we are too hard on ourselves. I personally am my own worst enemy. You Bucky… are where you and God have placed you. Physically and spiritually, you continue to serve him. Re-reading this bog has made me think. This holiday season has been a difficult one, but I have let myself get down. You have posed good thoughts and questions that we all need to repeatedly ask ourselves. What are you aiming at? What is the state of your spirit? What’s the point of living? We don’t always feel that we have a purpose. Life feels stagnant and in a rut a lot of the time. I hate that you had to make what you regret as mistakes to be here. I call your mistakes part of my path.

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