It was just a few minutes after midnight when I heard a knock on my apartment door. I instinctively jumped before rising quietly to peer through the peephole. Thankfully, it was not some menacing stranger I saw, but a bouquet of Gerber daisies and the smiling face of David, the guy I’d been going on dates with for the past month.
“Happy Birthday,” he said, handing me the daisies as I let him in.
I had always loved the idea of remembering a birthday as soon as the clock strikes midnight—it is a gesture bursting with enthusiasm for the person, as if to say, “I cannot wait to celebrate you!” It creates the anticipation of a New Year’s Eve and the fun-loving spontaneity that I always seemed to be craving when I was in my early twenties. So David’s visit meant a lot to me. It was also the first time that a guy had ever given me flowers. I was still making up my mind—did I really like this guy?—and I could feel my heart opening up just a little bit more at his thoughtfulness. His visit was especially meaningful because birthdays away from my home and family always made me a little sad.
One of my roommates waved hello to David, her headphones on and studying. My roommates all agreed that David and I would make the perfect couple. I seemed to be the only person who still needed some convincing.
David and I made small talk while I got a vase, filled it with water, and walked over to my desk to display the flowers. As I arranged them, somehow our conversation turned to the topic of “calling” and life purpose. I don’t remember the details, but at the time I was feeling stressed by the uncertainty of the future. When you are a little kid it’s fun to dream about becoming a ballerina or zoo keeper or major league baseball player, but the adult version of the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” isn’t always so easy to answer. I was wondering, and worrying, about what it was that I should do with my life, and something about David’s gentle spirit and active listening made me want to open up to him about the tensions I was feeling.
He listened, asked questions, and then reminded me of something really profound.
“There’s a quote from Mother Theresa that I think you might like,” he said. “She said that, ‘We are not called to be successful, but faithful.’”
It was a lightbulb moment—one of those moments in which you experience a change in perspective that has life-changing potential. I didn’t need to worry about success, but only about being faithful in each moment. If I focused on my daily responsibilities, and did my best in whatever small tasks were before me, all those little choices would lead me in the right direction. Being “successful” was not something I needed to fret about. Faithfulness was what mattered most.
I wrote the quote on a yellow sticky note and stuck it on the wall by my desk. Little did I know, I’d be keeping that note for years to come.
At the time, I was impressed by David’s outlook on life, the way he had been able to comfort me, and the wisdom he seemed to have. That conversation proved to be one of the first of many more deep conversations. Somewhere along the course of those conversations we fell in love, got married, and started a family. And over the past nine years that quote from Mother Theresa has resurfaced, particularly when we are struggling with uncertainties and big decisions related to our children, our jobs, or our calling.
Recently David and I started reading a book together before we go to bed. (Or, to be more accurate, David reads the book aloud while I listen, collapsed on the bed exhausted since I’m in my third trimester of pregnancy.) The book is about Mother Theresa, and once again we have been reminded that amidst life’s uncertainties and stresses, we are not called to be successful, but to be faithful—to each other, in our daily work, to our children, to God, and to all those around us.
It was the shared discovery of that life lesson that first made me feel really connected to David during our midnight conversation on my 20th birthday. Our conversation helped me to see the strength of his character, how much we had in common, and also that he was the kind of guy who could comfort and challenge me at the same time. It was a little moment that helped me figure out something really big: I wanted to grow old with this guy.
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