Searching and Listening

Searching and Listening

How much time do we spending thinking about all the things we could do if we did not have to work “9 to 5” each day?

I have always been a planner. I enrolled in programs for certifications in areas area that I thought I would like to engage in retirement. I thought I would be spending my time doing certain activities in academics and ministry. Recently, however, a lot of these plans have gone sideways. This sudden change in plans sent my emotions reeling. Part of me felt like I was moving back to the beginning of having to plan for retirement activities all over again. Yet, I still had numerous activities to work on. For some reason, there was still a “hole” in my sense of direction or perhaps, my identity. It became clear to me in spiritual direction that the question that I have been discerning is really why are these remaining activities not “enough” for me?

Yes, “God laughs when he hears our plans.” 

We have all heard this line, but I have to ask, “Why can’t the guy who created time, the universe, gravity, determined the speed of light and gave us chocolate… not use email?” One would think He has access to the internet too. Heaven has a router for other things. I would follow His plans if He would just let me know what the darn plans are. “Find it in discernment.” I am told. “Spending time praying about it”… Why can’t I just get simple email instead of a wake-up call such as cancer or downsizings?  

Some guys work for a perfectly manicured lawn. Others have a wonderful entertainment bar in their basement. Still more love to do woodworking and repairs around the house. I am a plumber in the world of analytical chemistry. I publish papers.  

Analytical chemistry is a combination of spectroscopy, chromatography, electrochemistry and data analysis. In my master’s program, I was taught the need to be competent in all four phases. However, with my doctorate, I was encouraged to specialize in one area. In industry, we need analytical chemists that have a general knowledge to know what application may best solve a problem. We also need specialists to zero in on the solution. Somewhere along the way, management forgot that the generalists are just as important as the specialists in getting things done correctly. I was truly honored when a colleague of mine called me the analytical “Swiss army knife” of the department.

Yet, the downside of being a generalist is having your curiosity peeking in diverging ways. Something always pulls us into another direction. We do not follow a single interstate suggested on Google maps— we take all of them simultaneously! I did spiritual direction training and coursework in bioethics at the same time. Was it desire, planning or my foolishly listening to the Evil One whispering in my ear and egging me on? Women were told in the 90’s that they could “have it all.” You cannot. Something has to give.

Recently, I was asked how my previous vocation prepared me for current vocation. Ding!

God sent his email!

Too often we hear people complaining about Latin Masses, what a bishop is saying or not saying. We worry. We judge when that is not our job. Jesus gave us one job. He told us to “care.” Care about people. Care about His creation. Yet in this dilemma, Greg is again still caring too much about Greg.

I have written before regarding the need for a change in attitude in my professional career. Ignatius reminded me the burn was from ego. Deliverance ministry reminded me that not all whispers in my ear have my best interests in mind. I learned a great lesson at a crucial time in my life.  

But, I forgot to apply this lesson to every aspect of my life.

My future retirement plans had changed. Doors have closed on me. My emotions were awry. Hmm. That is a lot of “me” in the there. Making myself the center point is never good. When the NFL draft came, I was too focused on being the first round pick. I was an “analytical chemist” in ministry. My team needed a quarterback— I could be drafted as a quarterback. My ministry team needed a receiver, I could be dafter as a receiver… I can drive all those interstates in ministry simultaneously. Right?

Then again, is that God’s plan or mine?

My ministry team only needs Jesus. That is the only draft pick on which I should focus. This is why I had the “hole” in my direction. It was not a hole; it was an error in perspective. I was too focused on the wrong draft pick. I was drafting Greg when I should have been focusing on that highly regarded player from Nazareth. Ministry is not about what position I can fill. Ministry is about Jesus. It is His game, not mine.  

My error was not in making plans. My error was in not discerning them beforehand. I was focused on the “ministry of Greg” and not God’s call to ministry. Certainly, we all have desires in direction, but we need to be open to being drafted by a team we were not planning to play for. Perhaps, we are the player who does not get drafted at all. When happens then, what do we do?

“Find it in discernment?”… “Spending time praying about it?”… Absolutely!  

God will always send that email we have been clamoring for. We just have to spend time looking for it. God’s “email” goes out when He hits “send;” not when we decide it needs to go out. Sometimes, God’s “email” comes in the most unexpected places and at unexpected times. God chooses the router. God chooses the server. 

In the noise of our emotions, we may not hear the whisper. (1 Kings 19:12) We will not be caught off guard if we take the time to look for God’s response in discernment or spend time praying about whether we are aligned with Jesus or simply aligned with ourselves.

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Written by
Deacon Gregory Webster