Belonging: A Chapel of No

March 27, 2022

It was “No.” As clear as day.  I had prayed for an answer, and I heard the “No”.  I wanted it to be yes… so, so, so badly. I was devastated. I remember the place, the people, the moment in that chapel. Even more so, I can recall the feeling that God had led me to a dead-end in the road. God had put desires in my heart, a longing to serve, and then constructed a solid wall around that call. There was no viable outlet to live out my calling. I felt angry, let down, and very alone.  If this is “no”… what could “yes” possibly be? 

My image of discernment at this mid-twenties stage of my life was Ignatius at the fork in the road “Show me the path, Lord.” I tell God what my two (or maybe three) ideas are and then God will tell me which of my brilliant ideas is the greater good. I moved through the steps of prayerful decision making, completed all the homework, and waited for my divinely inspired answer. But the answers were no, no, and more no. Why would God lead me down a road to nowhere? What could that mean? 

God, did you forget me? Did you mess up and put someone else’s calling inside of me? I can’t hear one more “no.” Dead ends… brick walls…locked doors. 

But I was not at a fork in the road, a brick wall, or a locked door at all. I was still on a journey forward. I slowly began to accept that God did not make a mistake with me.  Although the “no” responses were screaming in my ears, they were also nudging me forward towards a whispering “yes,” one that I could barely make out. 

I wanted my calling to be a perfectly formed puzzle, one where all the pieces fit together nicely and make the beautiful picture that was on the box. But what happens when I start to put together the pieces and what takes shape is something totally new and unexpected? How do I handle these extra pieces that don’t seem to fit anywhere, and frankly don’t really go with the overall scene I am trying to make? 

I began to see that God’s dream for me is only partially lived out at any moment in time. The pieces of the puzzle taking form right now may still shift. It isn’t just that I am growing, but that the ways I am living out my calling in life (or vocation) change over time as new realities present themselves and new gifts are allowed to emerge. My identity still includes the desires that were not meant to be (a teacher, a ballerina, a doctoral student). Who I am also includes the dreams that have yet to come to fruition, even those that may never happen in my lifetime. Those extra pieces of myself that don’t seem to fit anywhere also have value, and are holy and true as well.

When I experience this restlessness, this sense that I don’t really belong in my own life, it is often because God has slowly been handing me extra pieces of my life puzzle.  Sometimes these clues don’t make sense yet, or can feel like a distraction. They can raise doubts or heighten existing insecurities. My instinct is to cram them into position, or throw them away as being useless. 

What if God is asking me to hold these pieces of myself in reverence? The “chapel full of no” is not just a place where every discernment feels like a wall closing in on me, blocking off an option forward. That chapel of no is actually a safe place to imagine all the possibilities God has placed within my heart. What if God is waiting there for me, ready to transform all the “no” responses into a deeper “yes” that had been brewing all along?

Go Deeper:

  • Check out more from the “When the Road Forks” Series to see how many of the Into the Deep writers have prayed through these types of moments. 
  • Read more on finding this sense of belonging in Becky Eldredge’s The Inner Chapel.
  • Consider Gretchen Crowder’s Three Steps Forward Approach to handling a difficult discernment.

Photo by Gregory Hayes on unsplash.com 

 

Jen has a bachelor's degree from Loyola Marymount University is in History with minors in Secondary Education and Philosophy. She then went on to receive a Masters in Pastoral Theology with a specialization in Spiritual Direction. She has created formation materials, discernment tools, and small group processes that are being used around the country in Vietnamese, Korean, Spanish, and English. Along with Fr. Tri Dinh, S.J., she co-founded Christus Ministries. Jen continues to write and research for Christus Ministries, particularly around best practices in young family faith development. Jen works for the Sisters of Notre Dame in California as the Associate Director of Mission Advancement. Jen, Jason, and their three children live in Southern California.

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