When the Road Forks: A Difficult Consolation

June 6, 2021

“When it is time to leave, you will know, and it will be OK.”

The Holy Spirit has a way of placing words on my heart during prayer.  

I had been struggling with my position in campus ministry for longer than I care to admit. During my annual summer retreat, the question of whether or not to stay at my job took up nearly every moment of prayer. It was a long and sometimes painful discernment. I had made a lot of mistakes that year, and other people on staff had witnessed my frustration, including my boss. It was no secret that I might return from retreat that summer with a resignation letter in hand. 

I was conflicted about this choice until the very last day of the retreat. I asked God, literally begged God, to make the next step abundantly clear. Not fully knowing what the future held, I sensed the Holy Spirit whisper these words, “When it is time to leave, you will know, and it will be OK.” My whole body softened, and I let out a deep exhale. With those words, God made it obvious that I needed to stay in my current role. Perhaps it was not exactly what I wanted, but the internal struggle I’d been having throughout the retreat quickly subsided. As I pondered the words that welled up in my heart, I grew in assurance that staying was the right decision for now, until the next steps became clear.  

As I look back, it was a time of difficult consolation. Does that sound like a bit of a contradiction? Consolation is usually described as happy feelings, contentment, and peace. But emotions are not the only indicators of consolation. We experience consolation when our hearts are turned toward God, when we are growing in faith, trust, and love. Consolation isn’t always easy, though. Spiritual growth, like a physical growth spurt, comes with its own set of growing pains. This was both difficult and a consolation. 

My conversations with God in prayer affirmed that this was the right choice, but I also knew the work ahead would bring its own set of challenges. The road had forked along the same path from where I had come, and it sent me down a thorny road. God was inviting me to learn some difficult but necessary lessons in a familiar place. Staying meant learning to forgive, learning new ways of self-care for a more balanced life, and applying new ways of listening for the Holy Spirit. I sought out a mentor, reconciled with a colleague, and befriended other campus colleagues for professional development. Those words, “when it’s time to leave, you will know” gave me the courage to hold on, despite the uncertainty.  

Nearly three years later, I had that gnawing sense that change was on the horizon once more. We had been asked to cut our budgets (again), and I found myself increasingly disappointed with programs that did not turn out the way I had hoped. It felt like things were ending, instead of flowing with new possibilities. One of my colleagues quipped, “It’s just a phase, we’ve all been there. Next year will be better, hang in there!” 

Then one night, I went out to dinner with a friend. He listened intently as I confided in him about my struggles. With a firm voice and compassionate eyes, he said, “Beth, you are no longer thriving there. You need to be done!” He spoke a deep truth that I was previously unwilling to admit. My work in campus ministry was finished. I knew it. 

Sometimes God speaks most clearly through the words of another person. As clear as the Holy Spirit spoke those fortuitous words to me in prayer, “When it is time to leave, you will know, and it will be OK.” At that very moment, when my friend observed my growing discontent, I felt something in me break free. I watched my heart fall to the floor and break into a thousand pieces. My work in campus ministry was finished, and it was time to leave. 

The days that followed were surreal. I did not tell anyone about this cannonball that had dropped into my lap, and I thought it would be best to test my own discernment. It was graduation week on campus. I attended a final concert, farewell parties, and our annual commencement liturgy. At every event there should have been cause for celebration, and instead, I found myself feigning excitement. With each passing day, it became increasingly clear, I did not belong there anymore. 

One week later, I learned that my position was being eliminated due to budget cuts. Strangely enough, receiving that proverbial “pink slip” was not the cannonball moment. Rather, it was the definitive fork in the road pointing in a new direction. 

I doubt that anyone enjoys being laid off.  It is remarkable though, that I could lose my job, a ministry that I put my whole heart into, and experience a clear sense of consolation. After the immediate shock wore off, I experienced a tremendous amount of inner peace, and I had no regrets about how my job ended. Yes, there were plenty of tears and obstacles ahead, but more than anything, I felt an overwhelming sense of trust. This new road, leading into the unknown, was exactly where God intended me to be.

Going Deeper: 

  • Read more about moments of difficult consolation: There is Such a State as Difficult Consolation
  • Mother Teresa is a great example of someone who responded to God’s call and lived a life of deep faith, without the positive emotions that we often equate with consolation.  Read more here: Mother Teresa: A Saint Who Conquered Darkness
  • William Barry, SJ often spoke about consolation. If you missed the live roundtable discussion about his life, you can watch the replay here
  • In just one week – we are kicking off another community journey through the Overwhelmed No More online retreat. If you are wondering how to continue to discover God’s vision for your life in the midst of all the busyness and change as we return to ‘normal’” I want you to know you are not alone. I am inviting you, as a community, to journey with our team to truly discover and live God’s vision for our lives – a vision where we are overwhelmed no moreWe’ll begin this community journey on June 14th, and finish on July 23rd. The weekly content is self-paced, so it can fit easily into your schedule. I hope you can join us! You can learn more about this online retreat and enroll here.

 Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash.com 

Beth Knobbe is an author, speaker, and ministry professional based in Chicago, Illinois. She earned a Master of Divinity Degree from Catholic Theological Union and serves as a Community Engagement Manager with Catholic Relief Services, engaging Catholics in living their faith in solidarity with the poor around the world. Beth is an avid traveler and is passionate about her vocation to the single life. Beth is the author of Party of One: Living Single with Faith, Purpose, and Passion (2011) and Finding My Voice: A Young Woman’s Perspective (2009). Her personal blog can be found at www.bethknobbe.com.

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