A few months ago, during adoration after the Holy Thursday service at St. Andrew’s Church in Verona, Wisconsin, I found myself kneeling before a statue of the Virgin Mary and reciting a prayer asking to be made ready to do God’s work. I had no idea why I was saying that prayer, apart from the fact that it was taped to the donation box in front of me. But I figured it was as good as any other prayer I could have said in that moment. So I went with it. Maybe it would come in handy. Maybe I was praying for something I didn’t even know I needed.
A few days later I had a Skype interview with the director of the Bishop Hodges Pastoral Center in Huttonsville, West Virginia. I had sent him an application for a year-long missionary position at the center and I guess I was a strong contender for the position. Sure enough, I was offered the position, and I accepted. At the conclusion of the interview, I logged out of Skype and I collapsed onto my bedroom floor, overjoyed that I finally, FINALLY had the opportunity to put my college degree to work but terrified at the thought of having my life shaken up in such a huge way. I had never been to West Virginia. I’d never lived in a rural setting for more than a week. And I had certainly never done youth ministry before. Was I equipped to work with young people? Was my heart in the right place to share God with others? Was I ready to live in community when I was so used to living on my own? Could I survive living in a place where the nearest big city is three hours away?
After letting those questions stew in my head for a few days, I remembered that prayer I said at St. Andrew’s. It appeared that I hadn’t said that prayer for nothing: I was getting ready to start a new adventure, to do God’s work. It was the first time in a long time that I felt like God was actually answering my prayers, so I found comfort in that. But I was still scared out of my mind for what He had in store for me. I wanted to know why on earth He would call me to West Virginia to do youth ministry when I felt so ill-prepared for it.
I’ve now been in West Virginia for almost three months and I have little better idea of what I’m doing here or why God brought me here than I did when I arrived. I love the work I’m doing and it brings me so much more joy than the work I was doing before ever did. I’ve met some amazing people in these few months. But if you were to ask me why I’m here I would probably still answer with “I don’t know.”
And I wish I did know. I wish I knew what God was thinking when He decided to call me here. I wish I knew why I had to wait until a year after I graduated from college to do work related to my degree. I like understanding things. I like when things make sense and when I have clarity and closure. I like being able to see where little things fit into the bigger picture. And this, being here, doing the work I’m doing, well, this makes no sense. A few months ago I was sitting in an office entering data into a computer and answering phones, wanting more than an office job but not sure if I was capable of much more than that. Now I’m leading teens up a mountain on camping trips, sending seventh graders down a zip line, and leading music at mass. This wasn’t supposed to happen. But it did. I’m grateful for it. But it still doesn’t make sense.
I always believed that following God’s call was a neat and orderly thing, something that progresses easily and sensibly and fits neatly together like Russian nesting dolls. But I’ve learned this summer that it’s not always comfortable. It’s not always tidy. It’s easy to get complacent. And sometimes your soul needs to be shaken and your life needs to be turned on its head to figure out who you are and what you can do and what fills you with true joy. Sometimes you need to be plucked from your little office cubicle in urban Wisconsin and dropped into the mountains of rural West Virginia in order to hear God say, “darling, you are capable of mighty things; let me show you.”
I have no doubt in my mind that God wants me here. He’s shown me so much already. The prayer I recited after Holy Thursday service at St. Andrew’s wasn’t in vain. But His reasons and His plans are still hidden from me. I don’t know if this job will change anything. For all I know I’ll conclude my year and head back to the Midwest pursuing the same office nine-to-five’s that I worked before coming here. But I’ve only been here for three months; I’ve still got nine months to discover what else God is telling me and to see if it leads me to continue pursuing ministry. Perhaps I’ll be able to distill His reasoning for bringing me here eventually. Or perhaps it will remain a mystery. Perhaps it’s something I’m not meant to know. And maybe I shouldn’t be trying to figure out the “why” in the first place. Maybe I’m not meant to make sense of it. Maybe this whole experience will be a test in putting aside my need to understand and just taking things as they come.
So for now I’ll continue to marvel at the wonderful ways that God breaks into our lives and shows us what we are capable of. I’ll thank Him for leading me to a place that has brought me more peace and joy than any other place I’ve been since finishing college. Not questioning it. Not wondering how it will all turn out in the end, once I’m packing up my things and heading home next May. But trusting that God knows what He’s doing and that He’ll show me, in His own time, His plan for my life, whether my time in West Virginia is related to it or not.
And if it’s not, that doesn’t mean I can’t be grateful for my time here and take as much as possible from it.