A few weeks ago I announced to my supervisors that I wanted to stay in West Virginia for a second year.
Really, I had known for many weeks prior that I would be staying. I knew because whenever I thought of the future of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and the Bishop Hodges Pastoral Center, I got excited about it as if I would continue to be part of it. I knew because I felt like I just couldn’t say goodbye to a place where I had made so many memories and planted so many roots. I knew, in some wordless and assured way, that God wasn’t ready to let me leave West Virginia.
But for the longest time, even though I was so sure of where God wanted me, I couldn’t bring myself to formally say “yes” to a second year. And I didn’t understand why. I never felt like a second year was just a fall-back plan, in case no other opportunities came up. I never felt like I was waiting for God to drop something else into my lap. I had thought and prayed good and hard about it and knew that I needed to stay. But the thought of making my “yes” official was always met with anxiety. I thought that maybe I was just waiting for the perfect time to break the news, but no time seemed right. Even when I did tell my supervisors that I wanted to stay, something felt wrong. My voice cracked with hesitation. I wasn’t excited to tell them.
It took some digging for me to understand the roots of my fear: I was getting caught up in a litany of “should’s.” I should wait a little longer to see if another opportunity comes along. I should seek another job because I probably have the experience I need for other jobs I’d want. I should find a job that pays more than a small monthly stipend, because I’m in my mid-twenties and I need to start thinking about working full-time and living on my own and things like that.
You see, I worry too much what other people think. And I know that most people probably aren’t looking down their noses at me and thinking that I need to do more or better or different. But the slightest possibility that they are makes me anxious. I think that I need to have my life together. I need to be on-par with everyone else my age, my peers from high school and college. So those “should’s” get into my head and under my skin and make me second-guess myself. I wonder if I’m enough. If I’m doing the right thing. If other people are proud of me or if they’re wondering when I’ll get a “real” job.
I struggle still to remember that life journeys aren’t one-size-fits-all. What fits one person perfectly is too tight or too long on another. Because humans are different. We think and learn in different ways and our hearts are broken by different things and our passions are stirred in different ways. So that means that we take different paths and travel at different paces.
Sometimes that means walking an untrodden path. And we might see other people on another path, reaching their destination faster than us. And we want to join them. Even if we’ve been down that path ourselves and found that it just didn’t work, we wonder if we’re going the right way, if we gave up on that other path too quickly or didn’t try hard enough to hike it.
We want to be right. We don’t want to risk a dead-end. We fear we’re being short-sighted.
But there might also be something beautiful around the next bend.