I was at the lenten program tonight at my church, taking in and reflecting on our current Rector’s story of her spiritual journey. She is retiring soon, so transition is becoming a constant companion for her, and for us. Tonight, she made an important statement in response to the question of what she has been, and may still be, called to do. Her words (as I recall them) were that the experience of being “called” was not a clear and direct voice telling her what she must do. Instead, there were opportunities presented which required her to step up, to take the appropriately titled “leap of faith” in acting on them, and to walk into a new situation in faith, knowing very little about what will actually happen.
Easier said than done, as many of us know.
During the key transitions in my own life, I have reached these points where opportunity seems to knock, and doors open. These are not divine moments of light at the time. More likely, they are moments fraught with both confusion and hope, and sometimes it is only after the fact that we also see these events as the open doors which have a pivotal role in our growth. I think this situation probably rings true for many of us, actually. We are enduring a period of change, something presents itself and then we find ourselves first saying, “what do I do” and only later saying saying “what good luck” or “thank God” or other externalizing yet well intended ways of assuming that the opportunity came seemingly out of nowhere to find us and rescue us from challenging situations. Or, we are still enduring a challenging time, hoping for those moments and wondering if they will ever come.
In 2000, as we celebrated the passing of the millennium, I was at that point. I was impatiently waiting for change that I felt was imminent…or at least, needed to be. I wanted to receive news telling me exactly what was to come, to be reassured of precisely how things would work out. That isn’t necessarily how it happens, though. These were long months of uncertainty while I was living them. Only in retrospect were they the months before a life-changing experience.
In mid-March, I received an acceptance letter to the doctoral program to which I had applied. I had promised myself a no ambivalence situation, so I accepted the offer (filled with fear and anticipation) while I still had absolutely no idea of how I would move from the place I was, to that place I would be going to. But, I had made myself a promise so I moved ahead with it, stubbornly and without telling anyone. I did not think of it as faith. I was not naive. I believed I could just as easily fail miserably. That was a real possibility. But, I stepped through the open door anyhow.
In April, I was scheduled to speak at a national conference and a few days before I left, I was sitting at my desk and it occurred to me that maybe I could check and see if there were conference participants from St. Louis whom I could network with at the conference and get some idea about places to live, etc. I was being planful and resourceful because I am a social worker, and its what I do. I called the conference planners and they gave me the name of someone at an agency in St. Louis who would be at the conference. I did not know the person, or the organization. I picked up the phone and called them anyhow. The conversation went something like this:
“Hi, I was just calling because I heard you were going to be at the conference next week. I am working in New York, but will be moving to St. Louis to go to graduate school. I was wondering if you might have time to talk with me for a few minutes about St. Louis, since I will need to find a place to live…” And the response began with, “Are you, by any chance, looking for a job…” We went on to set up an interview at that conference. I would soon after be hired to replace their staff member…who had just given her notice that same morning I called…in order to take her own leap of faith to go into private practice. I practiced in an area of bereavement support that was highly specialized and deeply meaningful to me, and this position was to do exactly the same work I had been doing, and loving, for the past several years. Within six weeks, I would be living in a new city, taking with me only what earthly belongings could be carefully packed into a minivan. I would have a new job, a new apartment, new colleagues, and a new path unfolding on my life journey. I would simultaneously have to leave and let go of many things I had been clinging to. it was a transition of both grief and hope. It is what happens when you make a choice to walk through the open door.
There are even more details in this story, in retrospect, that make me know beyond the shadow of a doubt that this could not possibly be happening by coincidence. Every time I tell the story and its endless string of serendipity, it seems like a tall tale, or a miracle. It is my real journey, though, as are all our life journeys with their amazing twists and turns, stuck points and open doors. However, open doors are only one part of the equation. The other part of the equation is our willingness and ability to be right here, right now in the present moment, to listen to the inner voice that propels us to action, to take that action, to be willing to walk through the door and take the risk, and to be willing to use our human capacities and strengths to their full potential in the midst of change. Or, as I like to describe it: to show up and be present as our best, authentic self.
These are moments where our humanness touches the divine, and we become aware that we are a part of something larger than we are. We have both free will, and higher purpose.
Our choice to show up, be present, and act are the essential elements in catalyzing serendipity. We have to be willing to say yes, and step forward into the opportunity. Stepping into a door that opens for us is, indeed, an act of faith.