In Praise of Being an Unplanned Mess (Because That's Where God Is!)
Do you feel pressure to always know what your next life project is, when in reality you feel adrift and messy? Do you fear making a decision in case it’s the wrong one? Do you struggle to take action and don’t have a definite north star or plan of action to guide you? This post is for you.
When I was discerning religious life, I was always afraid of making the wrong choice. Somehow it seemed that whichever path I chose, it would be intractable. If I went to the convent that was IT. If I started dating someone that was IT. I wished so badly that God would just show me my future already, so I could make the next big step with clarity and finality…but life is messy, and I couldn’t be sure what he wanted. I was only 25, but choosing a course of action felt so hard in case I had to go back on it someday and undo the mistake I had made.
I was recently out for a bagel and coffee with a couple good friends (asiago everything bagel with smoked salmon cream cheese. Smoked salmon is my love language. I digress.) One friend commented on how social pressure today doesn’t let us be free to make mistakes. She changed paths herself several times before getting engaged in her thirties. I instantly connected with her sentiment, because I remember feeling that you have to know where you’re going (in the big sense of the word) or you’re not good enough. As an actor in NYC people used to always ask me “so what’s your next theater project?” The honest answer, that I never felt comfortable saying, was “Oh, I dunno. Most days I feel like kind of a mess. I’m auditioning every day, but no one has hired me yet. I doubt myself a lot. But I’m trying.”
To try and fail or to change paths is not okay…or is it? When we acknowledge that we don’t have it figured out, we give other people permission to acknowledge the same.
Lately I have really enjoyed saying, “When I grow up, I want to be _______ (insert profession or thing)” because that makes it feel safe expressing that, on the inside I still feel like a kid. Despite having arrived at knowing what my vocation is, decisions must be made one after that other and I rarely, if ever, feel qualified to make them. Being married with two kids looks like this: What part of this enormous entire country do we want to settle in? Should I take on more work projects or no? More kids yet? Can we afford a vacation while also saving for a house? Oy, vey. The runaround is nuts.
As your sister in Christ, I encourage you to give yourself permission to be a mess, to own it, and to embrace it. It's okay. Then you can be free to discern what to do JUST today.
I am totally with you in this mess. When you wake up in the morning, you may not know what your next big decision is. That’s okay, because God is shaping you into something more than you are that you cannot see yet. I just came across this quote from Fr. Martin Padovani, a psychologist and priest, who wrote, “Our destiny is not a plan to be handed to us or a passive fatalistic accident, but an active participation in the liturgy of our lives.”
I love that- the “liturgy of our lives.” Do you think of the present moment as a holy liturgy like the mass, one of living for God and acting out his will in right this second, or do you feel like you’re missing the boat most days and just kind of chasing something “out there” that is never quite clear? (I used to tell myself: "just be better." Whatever that means. Talk about a setup for failure!) Or, maybe you go to work or school but inside it feels hollow with no real motivation? If you are having trouble discerning LIFE, then just discern life, right now. God may be leading you moment to moment instead of illuminating the big picture for you right now because he has something for you to learn in the present moment. (Side note: being completely present in the moment feels ahhh-mazing. Instead of checking the clock to count down the moments til my kids’ bedtime, taking them out to play in puddles in the summer rain and ignoring the clock is so much more fun!)
Not knowing the big picture is embarrassing. It’s humbling as heck. But it makes you realize your dependence on God, and that is valuable beyond measure. Stay close to God and you will figure it out.
Just tune into yourself sitting here right now (maybe you’re standing; whatever.) What is God’s will for you right now? Without worrying about what tomorrow holds, what can you do right this second that will fulfill your duties, make another person’s life better, or accomplish that thing you never seem to get around to doing? The answer is usually what will bring you peace right in this moment. You probably know exactly what that is. Do that thing.
This quote rocks my world: “A magnificent building will never rise if we reject the insignificant bricks” ~St. Faustina
(SHE KNOWS ME AHHH WOW)
Next question: What’s holding you back? Is it a vague fear that somehow you’ll fail, so what’s the point in even getting started? I feel that daily (let me emphasize that: DAILY,) yet when I just take action and battle that fear I feel it be replaced by a deeper motivation, a real pull of the heart toward that thing to which I’m called.
All the bricks add up to a magnificent building, slowly. All you need to do today is build one brick.
Take action in the present moment to build that brick, and the mansion will rise. You will figure out your next move. You will be at peace. God will make you more fulfilled than you thought possible. All you need to do is build that one brick today.
The motto of my high school was a quote from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton: “Let his will of the present moment be the FIRST rule of our daily life and work.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. May God bless you in this present moment.
I would love to hear from you: What helped you most? What can I pray for for you? And don't forget, sharing is caring...if this post can help someone you know, I would love for you to pass it on. Life can be tough to figure out, and we who grapple need support!