Three Ways to Respond When Life Goes a Different Direction

When Life Goes a Different Direction - text next to U-turn sign

After Ignatius of Loyola gave his life to God’s service, he imagined that he should go to Jerusalem to pray and do penance, make pilgrimage to the sites of Jesus’ life, and do God’s work among people there. Today still, many Christians feel the pull to walk where Jesus walked. We sense that this region of the world is truly holy ground.

Ignatius made it to Jerusalem, after a lot of time and effort. But he did not stay long. Jerusalem was not safe at the time; some pilgrims had been killed, others taken for ransom. So, less than a month after his arrival, Ignatius returned to Spain. He had been so sure of this call to Jerusalem that he had even snuck off to some of the holy sites without the required guard. When the Franciscan superior in charge of Christian pilgrims threatened to excommunicate Ignatius, the pilgrim relented.

Ignatius’s conversion was the major turning point of his life. But even after his conversion, life took turns he did not expect. His disappointment in Jerusalem likely taught him that discernment could have many layers and that perfectly good goals and desires do not always lead to the obvious outcome.

We have experienced this too, haven’t we? Our good desires—even our sense of calling—led us in one direction, but then something happened we didn’t expect. How can we respond when this happens?

Don’t regret the good desire and intention.

God has created us to desire and to follow our good desires. A changed direction does not mean the desire was wrong. Desire gives us energy to take action. Simply discerning a good desire is an action that moves us toward God’s dream for us. In fact, sometimes we see our desire leading to a certain outcome because that’s the only outcome we can imagine. But maybe God has planted that desire in us for a different outcome than the one we see at the time.

Accept the change in direction.

Ignatius did not want to leave Jerusalem, but when he accepted that outcome, he acted on it. It does no good to keep fighting the inevitable. The job we thought was a perfect fit, falls through. An adult child makes a choice with which we don’t agree. The social justice work we’ve dreamed of keeps getting delayed for reasons outside our control. Can we keep moving in a good direction? Can we resist the temptation to become argumentative and bitter—with people or with God?

Rely on the creativity of the Holy Spirit.

Our mistake is in believing that life can go only one way or that only one choice is the right one. Yet the Holy Spirit works in us to create new opportunities for growth and good work every day. No circumstance is wasted in God’s economy. And, because we live in a world filled with God’s creation and grace, there are multiple paths to good outcomes. We simply cannot see the possibilities from our limited perspective.

Ignatius experienced various changes of direction. All the while, he followed his God-given desire to help others and to love Jesus more and more. Ignatius was known as a man of great joy and gratitude. He was convinced that God’s love poured over every circumstance and change. Thwarted plans no doubt disappointed and frustrated him, but never for long. He trusted God to guide him to the ultimate destination: God’s glory and love.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks Vinita. Led by the Spirit Ignatius kept working, doing good, never giving up the good path of remaining constructive and positive. What an inspiration for the rest of us to keep before our eyes, the Ignatian motto of AMDG.

  2. The Holy Spirit often seems to surprise me in a lot of ways, including the direction my life takes. I make my careful plans and, wham, something new and unthought of falls out instead. Not always; discernment is essential and this sort of decision making is the norm. Creative work can be like that: one day a poem that you thought you were writing opens into something new and better and you simply didn’t see it coming. Delightful.

  3. Thank you Vinita- this is very helpful and timely for me! I will keep returning to this and appreciate your wisdom

  4. Thank you – discussing relying on the Creativity of the Holy Spirit when life offers us nothing but “plan B” is an excellent suggestion. I never thought of interacting with the Holy Spirit in that genre. Great reflection.

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