I remember so clearly how the chapel looked back then. It was kinda tiny – a little sliver of a thing parked between two bigger parts of the high school campus. One of the long sides of the narrow rectangular room bordered the library where the Campus Ministry office was housed. The other long side was an accordion wall that bordered the cafeteria and folded up when we needed to expand the space for a school mass.
That particular afternoon, the accordion wall was flattened out and locked and the lights in the chapel were out. I walked in the door blinking from the bright Louisiana sun and sat down in the darkness letting the narrow room hug me tight like an old friend. In my two years teaching at the school, I had visited this small space many times alongside colleagues and students to set up or orchestrate one Campus Ministry event or another, but that afternoon was the first time I can remember coming to it alone to just be with God. Ok, not just be… truth is, I walked in with an agenda. I had an urgent question to ask, and I knew I could not leave that chapel without an answer. So as my eyes adjusted to the dark, I whispered into the quiet space: “So, God, do I stay or do I go?”
I had a habit of visiting darkened chapels for answers to questions like this back in those days. There was something about being alone in the dark with God so visibly present before me. I would sit or kneel with my hands empty and outstretched, allowing my brain and heart to still so I could finally hear what God had to say.
That particular day I was asking God about the contract I clutched tightly in my hand. It was an invitation to serve a third year at the school. I had been teaching math and assisting in Campus Ministry, but the contract was offering me a unique opportunity to dedicate all my time to Campus Ministry. Signing it meant I would get to live and breathe ministry without any other obligations vying for my time. Signing it meant that I would get to see my first class of students graduate. I would get to help them through their senior year with all its ups and downs and see what incredible things they brought to life both inside and outside of the classroom.
Not signing it meant I had no idea where I was going next. Not signing it meant I was letting go of the only job offer I had at the time. It also meant I had to say goodbye to my students right after I had just pumped them up with excitement about what the next year in ministry would have to offer. But not signing it also meant that I was paying attention to the desolation I was feeling when I imagined staying. I really didn’t understand the desolation at the time. First of all, I had never heard of the word desolation. Secondly, the feelings I was having just didn’t make sense. Afterall, I loved the school. I had friends in Baton Rouge. I felt connected to the place. Still, everytime I imagined signing the contract, I felt anxiety, trepidation, and unexplained sadness leaking in.
This was before I knew anything about St. Ignatius, consolation or desolation, paying attention to the movements in my heart. So, I didn’t know that I was feeling desolate. I just knew that I wasn’t putting pen to paper for some reason, and I needed God to tell me once and for all if I should stay or go. I needed God to tell me if I should lay down something that I loved. I loved ministry. I had no confirmation that I would ever be able to work in ministry again if I laid this contract down and that scared me. I wish I had known about Ignatian Discernment then, maybe it wouldn’t have taken me weeks to decide. Maybe I would have understood what my heart was feeling. Maybe I wouldn’t have waited beyond the absolute last possible moment to figure out what to do with the contract I held (it was a couple weeks late at that point).
But I didn’t. Back then I didn’t have the tools for discernment I have today. So, I went to a chapel, and I sat in the dark, and I waited for God’s grace to answer my question.
After I left the chapel that day, I walked into my principal’s office and laid down the unsigned contract on his desk. I wasn’t exactly sure what propelled me to do that at that precise moment, but when I had walked out of the chapel into the Louisiana sunshine, I just knew I had to do it right then. I walked to the Campus Ministry office next and told the Director I was not coming back. That wasn’t easy. It’s really hard to put into words what I felt when I left school at the end of that day though. It was something akin to an internal peace. Mind you, I still had no job prospects. I didn’t know what I was going to do in a month when my current contract was up, but that visit to the chapel, that time with God had made me realize that I had to lay something down to leave room to eventually pick something even better up.
This year I start my twentieth year of teaching and my eleventh year as the Director of Campus Ministry at a Jesuit school. It took seven years after I laid that contract down to fully pick back up ministry… but I got there because God knew what God was doing.
Maybe you think the story ends there. I mean, after all I’m back doing what I love. I’ve been back for a while now. I’ve been given the incredible gift of not only laying something down but picking it back up again (even if it took FOREVER). But the truth is, that day was not the only day I had to lay something down for God. I have had to lay something down every single year of those twenty. Sometimes they are things I get to pick back up again because when I first held them, it just wasn’t time for them yet. However, sometimes they are things I will never touch again because they were meant to be only a fleeting part of my story. That’s okay because I realize now that no one thing is the essence of this epic story God wants to tell with my life.
What is God asking you to lay down? Will you do it even if it means you may never pick it up again? Just imagine what it may free you to pick up instead!
- Check out The Magis: An Ignatian Antidote for Burnout for what my desolation turned out to be about at that time.
- Leaping Into Puddles
- Nine Reasons to Embrace Ignatian Discernment
- Check out our NEW resource pages! This page is full of resources on discernment.
Photo by Priscilla du Preez on Unsplash