Today was the final session of the five-session series on Discerning My Place in the World that I offered this fall at the University of St. Thomas. Having looked in our prior sessions at various considerations relevant in discerning our vocation and making decisions in a prayerful way, free from disordered attachments, I decided to end the series by considering the question: What happens when things don’t go the way I thought they would? By that I mean either that I engaged in a process of discernment that led me to think X (whatever X is) would be the best for me and either (a) I get X and it turns out it is not the right place for me or (b) I don’t to do X.
The reality is that any combination of external and internal factors may contribute to things not going the way we thought they would. Perhaps I’m not as good as something as I thought I’d be. Or the job I discerned was the best for me just doesn’t bring me the joy I expected. In either of those two cases it may be that there was something faulty about my discernment. The truth is that I can discern carefully, but still make the decision that is not the best one. Sometimes we miss something.
Even if there is no fault in my discernment process, things happen that are out of our control. A company that thought a job was available decides not to hire after you decided you would accept their offer. I get every signal from the people interviewing me that the job is mine, but then someone else comes along that an employer thinks would be a better fit than I would be. A spouse unexpectedly needs to move and so I can’t stay in a position I wanted to be in. An illness means I can’t perform something I thought I could.
In my talk, I addressed three of the things one might grapple with in such a situation: disappointment and dejection, loss of confidence, and envy. Although I typically record my talks during programs like this, I didn’t record this one because I wanted it to be more participatory, inviting the participants to share about their own experiences. We had a good discussion that harkened back to the opening session of the series about the need to keep clear the distinction between ends and means and to remember that it is God’s plan we are about, not our own.
I am grateful to those who participated in this program. For those interested who were not able to be with us, you can scroll back for the podcasts and prayer material for the earlier sessions of the series.