I am not the only person I know who feels that the path forward is not very clear. Where am I? Where am I going? How much time to I need to spend on where I have been? Is looking backward keeping me from looking forward? How much of that must I do before I can discern a path forward? When will I know when I'm ready to go forward?

I recall that Anne Lamott describes an important part of her journey as if she were stepping on lilypads, one at a time. Only one step seems clear, and so she would take it, and then, sometimes soon and sometimes not so soon, the next lilypad would come into view. I like this idea. One doesn't have to know the whole path, just when the next step feels right. To recognize a lilypad from a frog or turtle or other thing in the water when it's lilypads I'm looking for.

But this is not The American Way. Not even for churches. We want to engage in strategic planning, come up with five year plans. Nominating committees want one to describe where one expects to be in two, five, ten years. Would a nominating committee be impressed with the lilypad method of strategic planning? I'm thinking not so much.

I frequently find myself trying to think too far out into the future, trying to map things out, trying to just do some planning. When I am lucky, something (or someone) pulls me back. Often it is a friend or colleague who does the pulling, although sometimes it comes from inside. One thing at a time, one step is what is needed, not a map of the whole journey, I'm reminded. The way forward is by being faithful, by listening for where God is calling me, not by following a plan. Even a well-designed one. Because of course we all know the joke: If you want to make God laugh, tell Her your plans.


Unknown said…
I don't get what you are saying on this one. How do you know if your steps are in the right direction if you have not contemplated the direction you are taking? I think I have the opposite problem sometimes in under-planning and just taking what step seems most convenient at the time. Only later do I realize I wasn't heading in a constructive direction and I have to backtrack and feel I have wasted precious time.
Sarah, I agree that contemplating the direction is key, particularly in questions of vocation and call. Looking backwards is sometimes part of that contemplation, as is asking the question Where am I going? So my post is not about the general direction (i.e., I know I am called to parish ministry as a priest; but now that I am not in a parish, what next?) My experience is that God nudges me to take particular steps much more than handing me a full-blown plan with steps outlined. I'm the one who wants to plan five years out, and I'm much more likely to overlook what I am supposed to be doing right now because of it. So I take one step (remember that time I went to seminary for one semester rather than deciding I wanted to be a priest?), then wait to see where the next step appears. If I am in this mindset, as Anne Lamott illustrates, then I will recognize the correct next step rather than simply trying to force it.

It is also true that false starts are part of our journeys. We learn from them; sometimes we have to make those false starts, testing things out for ourselves. That can be frustrating, but I suspect like most things there's a silver cloud to be found in it.