Wednesday, April 20, 2005
A young novice, while discerning his vocation in life, found himself taking leave at a monastery. After a few months, the novice became despondent as there appeared no signs in his life that would provide him clearer direction. He was told by the monastery monks, "Don't despair. Have faith and way will open for you."
A few more months went by and the novice became more agitated by the lack of signs and the vague advice of the monks. The novice chose to seek counsel from the elder monk at the monastery. The novice shared with the elder monk, "I pray and meditate and reflect and wait... and wait... And still there are no answers or signs. The way may open for others but it hasn't opened for me."
The elder monk sat for a moment and thought. He finally replied, "In all my seventy-plus years of life, way has never opened in front of me... But a lot of way has closed behind me, and that's had the same guiding effect."
I have heard this anecdote told in various versions with various characters, but the end message remains true.
We are a society that is forward-looking. We are always looking for that next big break, that one lucky lottery ticket, that door of opportunity to swing open for us. Perhaps it's ancient remnant DNA-coding that causes us to always look forward; so as to avoid being wildlife's next great meal. Whatever the reason, we remain fixated on the "way opening for us."
And where do we find ourselves (and we've all found ourselves there) when that big break never emerges, that lucky ticket never materializes and that door of opportunity remains bolted and locked? We sometimes senselessly keep looking forward, hoping that something will happen and we'll be spared...
But as the elder monk so clearly articulates, "...way has never opened in front of me... But a lot of way has closed behind me, and that's had the same guiding effect." We can all attest to these situations, can't we? Jobs that have ended, relationships that have dissolved, moves that were made, losses experienced... the list goes on and on of doors slamming behind us, as soon as we walk through its invisible threshold. All the while, we continue to unconsciously look ahead for that golden opportunity as the door slams behind us and moves us slowly forward down our path in Life.
Allow me to share a personal example...
When my wife Di and I found out that we would be welcoming three lives into this world at once, we knew we had some very serious decisions to make. How would we care for their well-being? What would be best for them? Daycare? At-home nanny? Parenting from home? As excited as we were for what would lie ahead for our lives, we had to decide and decide quickly.
Primarily from a financial standpoint, it was inevitably decided that I would step out of my active career to care for these three little lives and my older son Leo from our home. That was one and one-half years ago already. In early September 2003, I resigned from my university position and the door slams behind me. Emily, Hannah and Nicholas arrive in late September 2003 and another door slams behind me. In many ways, this change in our family meant I couldn't - at least for the next several years - go back to what I had spent my life working toward.
Is this a sob story? By no means. I'm ecstatic where I find myself these days. Had it not been for the closing of that present career door behind me, I would not have been able to coach my son Leo's tee-ball team this past summer. I would not be able to attend my son Leo's weekly karate lessons. I would not be able to watch, on a day-by-day basis, as my three newest children dynamically grow and change. I would not have found the time to publish my first book. I would not be able to sit on the Board of Directors of a Children's Museum. And I would not have been selected to serve as Vice President/President of a school Parent-Teacher Organization. These doors of opportunities may very well have been opened before me, regardless of my stepping out of my career... but I would not (had I stayed in my former university position) have been able to cross those thresholds that stood before me. As it is, I find myself directed in my life these days from the gentle process of "a lot of way closing behind me." And my guess is that if you were to stop and reflect on your last few years, you might find a similar journey.
During a discussion over human free will years ago, I remember my father telling me that "we are all given free will to use as we see fit. But regardless of what we choose, God is still going to use us for a higher and grander collective purpose." So while we anxiously wait, looking for the doors to open in front of us, the Grand Designer may simply and gently be pushing us from behind, closing doors as we go. Either way, we're moving...
So, keep moving. Keep looking forward for the opportunities. But also take a moment to look back as doors and ways are closed. It may be these "closings" that will give you greater clarity and perspective of your present journey than you ever imagined.
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