By Stacey Dodge
Quite possibly one of the most frustrating things that can happen is being forced to start over after already putting in so much work. It’s easy to lose faith, to lose steam, and to lose motivation. In these times though, the key is to just blindly trust God. To trust that there’s something greater in this lesson of starting over again than what you can see right in front of you. In fact, most of the time the blessings gained and lessons learned aren’t even visible until after you’ve had some sort of set back causing you to start over again. I’m convinced life in general is a series of events that require a lot of trust in God and a little bit of trial and error. And thank goodness we have a very merciful Father always waiting for you, and a loving Mother ready to guide us despite the setbacks.
For me, starting over happened numerous times when it came to dating and discerning my vocation. After years of being in and out of various relationships, it became clear that I just wasn’t on the page God wanted me to be on in terms of what I was looking for in a future potential spouse. With the guidance of a spiritual director, I did an eight month dating fast. During this time I prayed a lot, forced myself to stop seeing every guy I met as a possible date, and really tried to run toward the sacraments without any distractions....a very different lifestyle than the one I was choosing prior. This dating fast was like clicking the refresh button on vocational discernment. It allowed God to show me that personal fulfillment doesn’t come from who I date or the attention I get from guys, or anybody for that matter, but rather, I am perfectly fulfilled by the Father and the sacraments.
At the end of my dating fast I was accepted to go on a FOCUS mission trip to Togo, Africa through which I met a guy also going on the mission. For some reason I just knew that I was supposed to meet him. He was a godly man, striving to grow in virtue. He was quiet like St. Joseph, and when he did speak it was meaningful and intentional. He also had a really great sense of humor. Meeting him was one of those rare experiences where God just kind of hits you over the head with a clear sign. These signs are called signal graces and our Blessed Mother promises them to us when we pray the rosary. There was a strict no dating policy on the mission trip that may or may not have been rather difficult for us to observe, but fast forward a month later when we got back to the U.S., he approached me about ten minutes after our plane landed and stated the obvious, “clearly we’re attracted to each other”, which had me beaming from ear to ear, but then he went on to say “ but we’re attracted to each other in a way that suggests we should pray about this more. So let’s not talk for a couple weeks and use the time to pray about what God wants us to do with this mutual attraction.”.....Not exactly what I wanted to hear. I wanted to be asked out on a date on the spot! But I realized that this attraction to him was so different than what I had experienced in the past that I was willing to give it back to God and pray about it so that He could reveal to me more clearly what He had in store.
Over the next couple of weeks I convinced myself that this guy had forgotten all about me and that I should just move on and start over once again. But on that last day of those two weeks he called me up and asked me out. Dating him was unlike any other relationship I had experienced. Our goal was Heaven and we strived to make sure that every action we took as a couple was something that brought us closer to God.
It became clear to me just how selfish my relationships had been in the past. Unlike my past relationships, this one wasn’t just about what I wanted. Instead, it was about how I could serve this other person and do what was best for their soul as well as my own and I knew he had the same approach. It was no longer about what I wanted. It was about what God wanted.
About four months into dating I knew I loved him and that I was going to marry him. He, on the other hand, had a completely different and opposite epiphany. He pulled me aside for a conversation that I thought was going to be a confession of his love for me. Nope. He told me he wanted to re-discern the priesthood. Once again, not what I was hoping to hear. He wasn’t exactly breaking up with me, but he definitely wasn’t confessing his love for me.
Over the next day or so I remember feeling a combination of anger and sadness. Mostly anger because I thought I had entered into the relationship with the confidence of knowing he had already discerned the priesthood and decided it wasn’t for him. But I couldn’t hold that against him. God reveals His plan for your life on His own time…not ours. So instead of throwing a fit, I decided to pray a Novena for him to have clarity. I knew I had to support him in his discernment, regardless if it was what I wanted or not. I didn’t tell him I was praying a novena for him. I was afraid it wouldn’t be as genuine of a prayer if I told him (That’s not necessarily true for everyone but that’s just what I felt was right at the time). We went from talking everyday to just a text or two every few days. But, I kid you not, on the ninth day of my novena he casually called me up, and as if hadn’t just dropped a bomb on me 9 days prior, to say “I decided that I don’t need to re-discern the priesthood. I received some clarity that that’s not the vocation I’m called to and that I’m supposed to continue dating you instead.” He certainly did not realize at the time the magnitude of those words. Those words told me that God was listening. Those words told me that if I blindly trust God and become unattached to my own plans then He will give me what my heart truly desires.
We didn’t technically begin again or start a relationship over. We more so picked up where we left off. But it was with a refreshing new clarity that felt like we had started over. It was with a clarity and trust in God that as long as we truly put our relationship in His hands, He will take care of us. Fast forward once again, this time 8 years later, and I am grateful for a marriage of six years to the man who drives me closer to Christ on a daily basis and the three beautiful children (and hopefully more!) that remind me how God’s plan is greater than my own and that we can begin again each day regardless of the setbacks.