Once, while reading Thomas Merton on the subject of vocation (No Man Is an Island), I came across this stunning passage:
Our vocation is not a sphinx’s riddle, which we must solve in one guess or else perish. Some people find, in the end, that they have made many wrong guesses and that their paradoxical vocation is to go through life guessing wrong. It takes them a long time to find out that they are happier that way.
What a generous and liberating thought!
Having spent so many years hearing teaching that warned Christians not to “miss God’s will” for our lives, usually accompanied by some vague but dire warning of the consequences, how I wish this grace-filled perspective had broken through to people bearing the heavy burden laid on them.
I never really bought into that theology and joined the frantic search for “God’s will.”
However, I have often mulled over my doubts in retrospect.
Why did I not listen to those who advised me about a different course of education?
Why did I not see the value of learning about different religious traditions when I was younger so that I might have been ordained to serve in a denomination early in my ministry?
Why did I not pursue chaplaincy earlier in life?
We all have the opportunity to look back and see various roads not taken. We sometimes dwell on them and nurse regrets. This is foolish. We did not know then what we know now. We did not necessarily have the capacity to choose differently, given our maturity and circumstances at the time. Of course there were moments when we might have have gone in other directions. But it is likely that we see even those occasions more clearly now.
It is also foolish to spend our time rehearsing the ways we might have missed because it keeps us from tracing the strange, labyrinthine path we actually took and what that has meant for us and others.
In the end, perhaps it is better that we sat around the table with our friends working on the puzzle than that we were skilled enough to put it all together.
To go through life guessing wrong.
To be happier that way.
And to see it as a gift from God.
Thank you, Brother Merton.
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