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Listening to the Gentle Nudge to Leap Into Service

Read this reflective narrative about listening to God.

When Meghan finished college, she dove into a well-paying and dynamic position at a tech company. But she couldn’t shake a feeling of restlessness. This is the story of how she followed that restlessness, and where it led her. 

Sitting on the edge of my bed, I could send an email with my right hand and fry an egg with my left. My apartment was so small, I could reach my office and my kitchen without moving.

I had recently moved into a studio apartment in Denver that probably could have fit in the walk-in closet of my previous living space. One of the hidden treasures of my new accommodations was the tambourine music offered at all hours by the man living in the alley next to my building.

My first job out of college put me on track for a successful career at an innovative and thriving tech company. When I decided to leave that position to pursue a year of service through AmeriCorps, I jumped into a great big pile of unknowns.

I left a life of comfort to work in a small, struggling nonprofit in a city where I had never set foot. I left behind dear friends and my sister, who had also been my roommate. I left behind the solace of the daily routines I had established, my favorite running routes, and some excellent bagel joints.

While I didn’t absolutely love my job, my life was happy and full. Yet I couldn’t seem to shake a feeling of restlessness. I felt like I was on a path that was comfortable, but one where I wasn’t fully using my gifts for something bigger than myself.

I prayed for direction a lot during that time. I asked God to reveal what He wanted me to be doing with my life. “Just let me know, God,” I’d plead, “and I’ll be there!”

While I was waiting for a “lightning bolt” moment — one where a clear roadmap of my next few years would appear and I could confidently take a next step — I had the opportunity to join a fellow restless soul and good friend on a hike across Spain via the Camino de Santiago. The Camino is a route that pilgrims have traveled for centuries to visit the remains of one of Jesus’s apostles, St. James.

When I told my parents that I was quitting my job and making plans to hike the Camino and travel around Europe, I could practically hear their eyebrows rising over the phone (looking back, Mom and Dad, those eyebrow raises were totally justified). While hiking, usually between 15-20 miles a day, I had a lot of time to think. Thoughts turned into prayers, and I found myself continuing to ask God to show me what my next steps should be.

At one point during the hike — I forget where or how many miles into the day I was — I finally had my “lightning bolt” moment. My big, life-altering moment was this: I wasn’t going to have a lightning bolt moment. Really, God? That’s it?

This simple realization — that God often works more quietly than we’d like — was huge for me. It gave me the confidence to listen to the gentle pulls and desires I could feel in my heart. I began to look inward, rather than waiting for God to deliver instructions that would direct me to a destination five and 10 years down the road.

I felt solace in the idea that as long as I was taking steps toward where I felt gently nudged — maybe by the excitement I felt when researching a new city or by the sense of peace I felt when picturing myself in a new role — I was going to be okay. God would continue to walk beside me, even if my path meandered a bit.

During my senior year of college, I had felt torn between pursuing service after graduation and beginning a career. My dwindling bank account was a pretty big tie-breaker. A couple years out of college, though, I had built some savings, and I realized that many people I admired had given of their time and talents after graduation, whether through the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE), the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, the Peace Corps, or other organizations.

Those people I admired certainly didn’t take an easy route. My sister, a third-grade teacher with ACE, shared the hardships that came with teaching in an impoverished area of Birmingham, Alabama. My high school friend wrote letters from Burkina Faso in West Africa, detailing her adventures in teaching chemistry as a Peace Corps volunteer. I followed other classmates’ and friends’ experiences via blogs and social media, where they shared the challenges of immersing themselves in different cultures and communities, usually living in poverty themselves. Despite the challenges that all of these people encountered, they all seemed to experience a great deal of joy in contributing their talents somewhere they were really needed.

When I thought about pursuing a similar path, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace and excitement about embarking on a new, slightly uncomfortable adventure. It seemed as if God was telling me, “There’s never been a better time! No one is depending on you, you’ve been given the privilege of a wonderful education, and you have the support of a family that loves you unconditionally.”

One of my favorite sayings is attributed to American author John Burroughs: “Leap, and the net will appear.” Listening to that nudge I felt to leap into a year of service led me to a position volunteering for a resource center that assisted families with a variety of needs, from food insecurity to parenting skills. It led me to an 80 percent pay cut, a lot of fried-egg-sandwich dinners, and that closet-sized apartment.

But the net that appeared came in the form of a year that was challenging, eye-opening, and joy-filled — one that held a great deal of learning and spiritual growth. I am so glad I leapt.    

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