I spent yesterday with an old friend. It was wonderful to catch up and hear how a major decision she’d made has influenced her life. Eleven years ago, she dropped out of college and joined the Navy. She’d been on full scholarship to the college that her brother, her sister, and both of her parents had attended, so her decision had been a surprise. Now, more than a decade later, she has no regrets. Her time in the Navy has given her vision, wisdom, and strength she didn’t know she had. The decision she made when she was only twenty years old is one that has blessed her and continues to encourage her growth and development, growing into the person she believes God wants her to be.
That’s what I’d like out of every decision I make — that I continue to grow into the person God wants me to be. There are decisions that don’t seem to affect this one way or another, but a major life change — like a job or career or education change — is entirely different. These decisions reflect our deepest desires and will affect our lives for years to come.
Decisions are hard. I’ve made plenty of questionable ones in my life, ones that took the Holy Spirit’s power to transform them into something strong and true, because at the time I was not able to act with wisdom or discernment. I was young. I lacked the tools to make good decisions. But times have changed. Years of growth and transformation and participation in the Spirit’s power in my life have made a difference, and I’m grateful.
This past year I made a big decision. I moved my family (me, two teen-age boys, and a dog) cross-country to take a new job as a parish priest in downtown Richmond, Virginia. There are lots of possibilities in taking a new job — possibilities for growth, joy, and fulfillment — but there are also risks. Things could have gone wrong— really, really wrong. And as I’m the sole provider for my children, I had to be careful and to be wiser than I really am.
As I look back now, I see some steps that I think were crucial to making a good decision:
- I began thinking about making a change. In fact, I started thinking about making a change four years before I actually did. There was the fact that I wasn’t unhappy in the job itself. I was an assistant parish priest and teacher in the church school and loved the people I worked with and the work I did. But I was too far from family and friends and sensed there was other work for me to do. But my children were in a delightful classical school where they were happy and safe and this consistency was one of the hallmarks of our lives. It wasn’t a perfect school; we didn’t always see eye-to-eye ideologically or even theologically, but it was a school filled with people who loved my children and who my children loved. It was stable and to leave that school would have been a loss in all of our lives. It made sense to stay but to still be preparing for a move. I knew that my life was filled with God’s goodness even as I felt ready for a change.
- I prayed for wisdom. I put my desire to move before God. I prayed that God would help me to make wise decisions even as I often felt impatient.
- At the same time that I prayed for change, however, I also fully participated in the situation before me. I dug in. I loved people. I developed new relationships and fed old ones. I continued to begin new projects in the community where I was planted.
- I talked with friends. Not just any friends, but the friends who gave wise counsel and who were full of grace, the ones who told me the truth when I was dating a guy whose values almost matched with mine, but not quite. I shared with them my desire for a new job and a new environment. They shared my burden with me; they listened, they counseled, they looked for new positions for me, and they prayed.
- I set parameters and searched for a new position. I dreamed about new places, new challenges, new restaurants to try in new cities, and being near old friends.
- And then I waited. I thought a lot about what it was going to be like when my teenage children left home after high school. I would really need familiarity and community, because I would be lonely. Even though a part of me was eager for any change, another part of me understood the virtue of waiting patiently, and giving myself time to adjust to big new changes. Don’t make a major life change for a year after a traumatic loss — mine being two children graduating the same year from high school, leaving their mother sad, alone, and possibly bereft in a strange town.
- And then, when the opportunity presented itself, I jumped — My friend (one of those I wanted to live near) texted me one day and let me know about a position that she’d heard of. Three days later I had a conversation about the position and three weeks later I was on my way for an official interview. It was a position that called for my gifts and my talents and as it became clear, one that I wanted as much as they wanted me.
- Then I did my due diligence. I asked as many questions as I could, I talked to the folks who held my position previously, and I got as much information about the man who would later become my boss, the community, my coworkers, and the city where I might live. As I was not unhappy in my current position, I knew I could continue working there indefinitely, so I wasn’t desperate. That felt good. I talked to my family and friends extensively. I prayed. I thought a lot. I talked to my children. Then, I took a risk and accepted the position.
It’s now been some months since I accepted and began the work. I wish that I had the history with my new colleagues and congregation that I had with my former colleagues and congregants who I loved and loved me, and then I remember that relationships take time to build and I need to be patient.
I’m having to forge a new way, a new identity, and having to adapt to a new culture, one unfamiliar and often strange to me. And yet, I’m glad I’m living in this challenge. I love my new position. I know that I have the gifts to make this position work, if not forever, at least for now. I’m really glad I waited as long as I did; patience has been and continues to be my friend. This position is one of great possibility and promise, and in it, I am trusting I am becoming the person God intended me to be, willing to participate in the possibility and the promise for the future.