Let’s say you’ve just started some sort of new venture in life. Since I’m in the first year of starting out as a freelance writer, I tend to see things through that particular prism, but it can be anything. Maybe it’s another type of business. Maybe it’s looking to move into a new home. Or maybe, given that you’re on CatholicMatch, it’s starting anew on the prospects of finding a spouse.
You’re a practicing Catholic who takes the spiritual life seriously, so building your venture on a foundation of prayer isn’t something you scoff it. So you do whatever devotional practice you’re most committed to — you spend time in adoration, you offer it up to the Blessed Mother or St. Joseph and perhaps you do a novena of some kind. Then, as if by coincidence, everything seems to piece together. Maybe the workings of divine providence were the kind of shocking miracle you’re comfortable even telling your secular-oriented friends or maybe it was a case of things quietly coming together, but in a way that — seen with the eyes of faith — you were convinced that the hand of God was on it.
And then it didn’t work out.
That isn’t supposed to be where this story ends. Because all actions of God end up in fabulous success, don’t they? After all, “by their fruits we shall know them,” the Gospel teaches us and could a disappointing outcome really come from God.
I’m thinking back to February, and I was in the midst of doing a novena to St. Joseph’s regarding my work. My sports website is off to a good start generating traffic, but turning traffic into revenue takes time, and I was looking to ease the pressure a bit. I had started on a freelance project with another company early in the year, and as the novena came to an end, the opportunities for additional work appeared. Based on my calculations, it had the potential to solve the problem I had brought in prayer.
And then it didn’t work out.
I went through a process of running myself into the ground on a daily basis and as the revenue reports from this particular project came in, it was running considerably behind what I had reasonably expected to begin with.
Like, behind by about a factor of 10.
So what was the deal? Had St. Joseph misled me? Not likely. (Actually it’s unthinkable.) Had I misread the answer to my prayer?
We’re supposed to be cautious about guidance we believe is from directly from God. It’s certainly possible, but sitting here five months later, I think the hand of God was present in more or less the way I understood it at the time.
What I believe instead was that this disappointment was an essential first step in being led down the path I ultimately wanted — financial stability as I pursued my own project. St. Teresa of Avila, a patron saint of writers, describes the process in her spiritual classic Interior Castle. Teresa speaks of the life of the soul, of course, but since all of God’s dealings with us ultimately pertain to our salvation, I think we can reasonably apply the logic to temporal affairs. St. Teresa posits that the spiritual journey is akin to entering a castle with seven mansions and each mansion brings you closer to the center where the King is. What’s noteworthy about the book is that the saint firmly believes that right at the beginning of each castle lie serpents, vipers and other foulness that one must pass through.
Therefore, based on the teachings of a woman who has been named a Doctor of the Church, it’s not only possible but necessary for God to lead us through the snares of disappointments to move us to the next mansion. It’s entirely reasonable that the answer to a prayer can be shedding light on what St. Teresa calls “the serpents at the foot of the mansion” by first leading us through them and then exposing them from what they are as we ultimately move through them.
The challenge then becomes what to do after we’ve become aware of why we suffered disappointment in answer to a prayer and have made it through safely to the center of the mansion. St. Teresa writes of the importance of mental healing — our thought patterns have to catch up to where our soul is. But ultimately, this is a process I’m still working through.
What I do believe is that it’s important not to move rashly. In my case, the problem might not have been the business relationship I was in but the level of importance I ascribed to it. If this is the case, it’s imperative not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Or perhaps the venture itself is the entire problem and ties will have to be cut. Even in this one relatively minor case in my own professional life, I don’t have the answers. As St. Paul teaches, we see “through a glass darkly” and have to take things one step at a time.
The one thing I believe we must hold to is that just because an opportunity that seems to be of God doesn’t work out or ends in disappointment is no reason to deny its divine origin. The spiritual life — and the Catholic Church understands that to encompass the totality of our existence, including business affairs — is marked by what seem to be failures in man’s eyes. But seen with the eyes of faith, it’s just a necessary passing through to meet the King at the center of the castle.