Do you remember Kermit the Frog and Fozzie Bear making their way to Hollywood in The Muppet Movie?
Kermit: Hey, Fozzie, I want you to turn left when you get to a fork in the road.
Fozzie: Yessir, turn left at the fork in the road. [A giant fork appears in the road]
Kermit: I don’t believe that!
Would that navigating the many forks in the road trip of our lives be with such clear signs and dear companions! And yet, as I took a look in the rear view mirror I realized that often enough many of the turns I took in my own journey were indeed pointed out by others who helped share the navigation.
For example, the time my high school guidance counselor helped me determine my college degree program:
Scene: Denver South High School Counseling Office
Mrs. Knoeber: [at desk with open file] Looking at your grades you are really doing well in chemistry. Have you thought about chemical engineering programs?
Jenene: [cheeks blushing] No, not really.
This conversation led to a satisfying engineering and product development career for the Procter and Gamble Company in Cincinnati, OH. While this and other “no, not really” moments during my teen and young adult years often led to a genuine “yes” with appreciation for the suggestions pointed out by trusted people, usually I had an alternative “if it doesn’t work out” route in mind. Another conversation 20+ years later took me down new road:
Scene: Chatting in Christ the King Church choir loft after rehearsal.
Jenene: Yeah, thanks, things are okay. I still enjoy product development, but starting to feel like I have energy to add something new. Maybe grad school?
Diane: [waving Sunday’s bulletin] Have you thought about the lay ministry program at the Athenaeum?
Jenene: [eyeing the bulletin] No, not really.
This conversation led to completing a Masters Degree in Religion, and connecting to Charis Ministries, a fledgling Ignatian retreat ministry for people in their 20s and 30s. I was content to offer volunteer service with a sense that perhaps I would devote more energy to lay ministry after eventually retiring from P&G. Little did I know where taking this educational fork in the road would lead. Fast-forward 5 more years:
Scene: National Catholic Young Adult Ministry Association conference, Albuquerque, NM
Mary Anne: Thanks for taking off from work to do this retreat presentation with me. [Fingering her wine glass] Have you thought about Charis’ Associate Director opening?
Jenene: [fork pauses midair, returns to plate] No, not really.
Although my reaction to this unexpected question was again “no, not really”, when this fork in my professional road approached, gifts that I’d received through helping develop retreats for Charis shaped what happened next. Instead of forging ahead, formulating a backup plan to accompany my instinct to say “yes” to an attractive proposition, I realized this time I needed to discern, that is, bring God into a prayerful conversation about my choices in the larger context of my life, exploring our mutual desires, so that yes could mean yes, wholeheartedly (cf. Mt 5:37).
The morning after my conversation with Mary Anne as the sun creeped over the Sangre de Cristo mountains, the Spirit nudged me to reach out to Mother Mary in prayer. While walking in prayer together, she helped me recognize Mary Anne’s invitation wasn’t coming out of the blue. I was already six months into a process undertaken with a group of wise women to renew a vision, clarifying personal and professional goals. By the end of the walk I was excited about exploring the idea of a career change and had some ideas about how to proceed.
At home after the conference, I turned to my spiritual director and a community of trusted friends with gifts for discernment. They asked thoughtful questions to help clarify movements in prayer and my desires, both before interviewing and after being offered the job. When I said yes, it was with my whole heart. I didn’t know exactly where this fork would lead, but God continued offering abundant signs to confirm we were on this new ministry road together.
Over time discernment has become a habit supported by a variety of practices that help navigate important life choices. These include praying with the Examen, paying attention to affective responses during encounters throughout my day; engaging family and friends about important decisions; having spiritual conversations with my long standing prayer group; reviewing interior movements with my spiritual director; and taking time away for retreats that provide an opportunity to go deeper.
To these spiritual exercises, during the Year of Our Lord 2020 when abiding by stay-at-home orders and physical distance requirements challenged my endurance, I experienced a growing awareness of my dependence on the Eucharist. Whether participating with others in real-time through spiritual communion, or recently returning to receive Holy Communion in real-space, I recognized just how important Jesus’ real presence is to navigating life’s winding road.
Whether Jesus is taking a turn in the driver’s seat or I am, we are in the Studebaker together deciding (and yes, occasionally arguing about) which route to take. Communion renews my sense of his constant closeness. I pray as I say amen, yes, so be it, lead me, guide me in better choices, small and large, each day.
As we round the bend toward reopening the world, I recall Kermit and Fozzie reaching another fork in the road when the joke is reprised in shorthand with a wink and nod:
Kermit: [navigating in the Studebaker] Bear left.
Fozzie: Right, frog!
Moving right along out of the pandemic I don’t know where 2021 will take us, but I’ve learned through a lifetime of friendship with Jesus to trust and share the navigation with him and with other dear companions who help point out signs along the way.
- Check out Reimagining the Examen App based on the work of Mark Thibodeaux, S.J. for adaptations helpful to different moods and circumstances.
- Pray with the First Principle and Foundation
- In a longer read, consider the article Cooperation as Union, Fr. Richard Baumann, S.J., on graces of the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus. While the Constitutions primarily address internal aspects of Jesuit life and ministries, Fr. Baumann’s insights also helped shape my understand of discernment (cf. pp. 13-16). In the Preamble (Const. 134) St. Ignatius “makes an assertion of utmost importance… : the gentle arrangement of Divine Providence requires cooperation from His creatures.” Fr. Baumann notes, “everything that fulfils its created purpose in cooperation with God’s design and grace redounds to the glory of God.”
Photo from “The Muppet Movie” Fork in the Road | Muppet Wiki | Fandom