I looked out over the now-empty lot, some bricks and wood laying in the dirt as the only tangible indications that there had once been a structure there. “There’s an article or blog post here,” I thought to myself.
I worked for a wonderful Catholic college for six years before moving to work at the local diocese. For most of my years at the college, my office was in a portable building where many of the liberal arts faculty members also had their offices. A natural little community sprung up over the coffee pot (we had the best brew on campus) or through late-afternoon philosophical discussions. One of the hardest parts about leaving the college for my new job was leaving the community I had found in that portable building.
Happily, the college is growing and recently broke ground for their first residential hall, which required the movement of the structure we called St. Joseph’s. (The philosophy faculty refused to call it a building, given that it was portable and at one point had wheels.) When I visited campus last week and saw the building had been moved, the empty lot tugged at my heart. I knew it was going to happen, and I knew it was for the best, but it still hit me harder than I had expected.
“If we were attached to a trailer, we would never get a dorm,” I told myself. And then I found myself overwhelmed with the deeper implications of that seemingly comical statement.
How often am I afraid to let go of the familiar to step into unknown, even if that unknown has the possibility of greatness? Many of us hate change to begin with, and if the territory we’re stepping into is unfamiliar, it can be awfully tempting to just stay put. It was hard for me to walk away from the familiar comfort of the St. Joseph community when I left my job, and perhaps it would have been easy to stay put. I don’t think many would blame me for staying where my friends were. But I felt called to stretch myself and serve God in a different way. Did I know what awaited me in the new job? No. But I knew He’d be there. And so I stepped forward.
Is it scary for this small Catholic college to overturn present circumstances, break ground for new buildings, and move into a completely new phase of its history? Of course. But if we are completely attached to the past, we can never receive the gifts God has for us in the future.
I’m reminded of a story my sister told years ago to begin her valedictory address at her high school graduation. Perhaps it is a familiar tale, but I hadn’t heard it before and I haven’t heard it since. A Cretan farmer lived his life on the land, proud of his heritage and in love with his beautiful farm. When his life drew to an end, he clutched the soil of Crete in his hand, the proof his hard work and the love he had for the land of his fathers. When he reached the pearly gates, St. Peter reached for his hand, but the farmer refused to let go of the soil.
“You need to take my hand,” St. Peter told the farmer, ready to lead him into heaven.
The farmer shook his head, clutching the soil of Crete. “Let me bring the soil I love with me,” he insisted. St. Peter sadly shook his head. He needed to drop the soil if he was going to come into heaven.
The farmer was stubbornly refusing when he suddenly slipped. As Peter reached to keep him from falling, the farmer grabbed Peter’s hand and the soil fell from his grasp.
Dejected and heartbroken, now with empty hands, the farmer slowly followed Peter towards the gates. Peter swung open the gates, and there, spread out before the farmer’s eyes, was Crete.
Hopefully, for his sake, heaven was even better than Crete… But you get the point. If we aren’t willing to let go of the familiar, we will never be prepared to accept the next gift God has for us. To what do we cling? What are we unwilling to let go of? If you hate change as much as I do, sometimes we are reluctant to give something up even when we know the alternative is better! I like constancy, I get used to the way things are, and I don’t want anyone messing with my security.
As comforting as constancy is, we weren’t made for comfort. We were made for greatness. As tempting as maintaining the status quo might be, it’s never been the way to become a saint. Holiness requires change, whether it’s stepping forward in faith with a vocational decision or letting go of sinful habits.
Will it be messy? Of course. As I looked over the cinder blocks that once held up the St. Joseph building, I knew I was looking at a manifestation of the way God works in our lives. Sometimes the process feels a little disheveled and confusing. Maybe at times you even feel abandoned or barren. But he’s always making way for something better, even if it feels painful at the time.
Where in my life are my attachments getting in the way of God’s plan? Our task is to look at our lives and realize what soil God is asking us to drop and what structures he’s calling us to move to make a space in our lives for what he wants to do for us. His plan is always better than ours. But we have to be willing to let him work.