By Christina Ferguson
Several months ago, my husband and I discerned moving to a home that better accommodated our growing family. I prayed that we would make the decision that would bring us and our family closer to God and for the clarity to know what the outcome would look like.
My prayer isn’t always about such big decisions. Usually, I pray that this season of life balancing parenthood and a profession unfolds according to God’s will. That all the pieces that seem chaotic on good days and disparate and nonsensical on bad days — Zoom calls, potty training, story ideas scribbled onto napkins — somehow come together in one beautiful vision.
When I sit in the Examen, tired and looking for encouragement, I bring these pieces of my day to God. I ask him how they fit together and where they will take me. I search for a view of my destination, complete with directional markers, so that I can be assured that the toil, uncertainty and chaos along the way is worth it.
I approached our discernment of our next home in a similar way. As the days and weeks went on, my frustration in prayer grew. I was waiting for a grand aha moment, some immediately clear signal of where God wanted our family next. I bargained with him, promising that if we could see the big picture, we would happily follow where he led. The aha moment, however, never came.
My bargains soon turned to pleas. One morning as I stepped outside for a walk, they grew particularly desperate. “What am I supposed to do in this uncertainty?” I asked. “Why won’t you tell us where to go?”
In moments of unknowns, I often reflect on the imagery of a red carpet. There is something deeply alluring about it; I crave the certainty of that plush, scarlet pathway. There is such definition to it: a clear start, a tangible end and not too many surprises in between.
I often find myself looking and asking God for my very own red carpet. I long to understand God’s big, grand vision for my life and see a clear, defined path to get there. This, I reason, is what will give me the courage St. Ignatius so frequently taught on: the courage to act on God’s will, to follow the path he has laid out. Because at the end, I know that a fabulous destination awaits.
That morning was no different. I was impatiently asking God for a full view of what lay ahead. I was only three doors down when he responded. “I have told you.” His voice was the clearest I had ever heard in prayer. And it was tinged with the same frustration I was bringing to him. “Why aren’t you listening?” he asked.
I have told you.
I played those words over in my head. Again the image of that red carpet flashed before my eyes. Only this time, instead of it being fully stretched out in front of me as I had been hoping, God was just ahead of me, unrolling it inches before my feet. I understood in that moment that he was purposely not revealing where the pathway led. Instead, he was giving me just enough clarity, and just enough room, to take a next step. In this instance, the next step was to try to sell our current home and to trust that while doing so, clarity on where we would go next would come.
This was a risk, an immensely privileged one at that, but also an opportunity for blind trust, for St. Ignatius-type courage — something that comes along far too infrequently in my predictable stream of Outlook appointments, deadlines and bedtime routines.
I realize the final destination may never come into view. If I am lucky, I get glimpses, hints and next steps. I discern another direction to go in my writing or the right childcare arrangement for my son. But how it all comes together in one grand celebration — and the path to get there — remains hidden from sight.
I think that is how God wants it. I don’t think I’m meant to see where that red carpet is going. I suspect the path that I want to be fully laid out is one that I’m only going to see in the rearview mirror, that only in hindsight will it all make sense. Where the accumulation of my next steps leads is provided on a need-to-know basis, and God has made the executive decision that I don’t yet need to know.
By holding out for the big picture as we discerned a move, I was ignoring a key way in which God was already telling me to act. And this is where I frequently stumble in discernment. Whether I am seeking clarity of vocation, accommodation or something else entirely, I forget that sometimes only pieces and fragments will be sent to me at a time. In my stubbornness, weakness and cowardice, I often refuse to walk unless that full, flawless red carpet is underfoot. But by doing so, I risk missing the next steps that God has already asked me to take. And this, I think, is not oversight, but his own ingenious design. Withholding the destination in his response to my prayer may just be the only way God knows he can get me to where he wants me. Step by step.
Christina Ferguson is a nonprofit and corporate senior manager, writer, and mother. Currently serving at Graham-Pelton, Christina has worked with Leadership Roundtable, Georgetown University, Catholic Relief Services, and Ashoka: Innovators for the Public. She holds a Master’s Degree in Public Policy from Georgetown University and a Bachelor’s of Science in Finance from Villanova University.