Why I Didn’t Get My Doctorate (+ Some Tips for Being at Peace With God’s Will for You)

A lot of my friends with whom I graduated from high school are getting their PhDs right about now. Which made me ask myself–again–the other day, “Why didn’t I get my doctorate?”

The short answer? Because I had kids.

To be more accurate, it was because God had different plans for me than I had for myself. Story of all of our lives, isn’t it?

When I was in graduate school, I was at the beginning of my five-year plan—you know, the new five-year plan I had developed after the previous five-year plan didn’t work out. After graduating with my masters in theology, I would immediately enter a doctoral program, get my PhD (something the overachiever, straight-A, too-concerned-about-what-I-was-doing-and-not-enough-about-who-I-was-becoming student in me had always expected to do), and then teach. Of course, I wanted to get married and have kids, and I suppose that I assumed at the time it would seamlessly happen concurrently…or something.

I met my husband after my first semester in graduate school, was swept off my feet—and unpredictably swept out of state—and now find myself, five years later, looking back at the altogether different five-year plan that God accomplished during that time, which involved getting married, having two beautiful children, writing a book, moving several times, and dabbling in other ministry work in my “free” time (is that what you call spare and fleeting moments as a parent of little ones?). In other words, in the past five years, nowhere was doctoral work to be seen, and it doesn’t appear to be anywhere on the horizon…not as I see it right now, at least.

And I am absolutely at peace and happy with that. 

This peace and happiness is actually quite strange to me, considering I had never pictured myself at home with my kids singing the alphabet for the twenty-sixth time today, while simultaneously wiping drool off my shirt and laughing at my kids trying to poke each other’s cheeks. I thought of a future much more scholarly.

But, more times than I can count, God makes a point of demonstrating to me that His plans are always better than mine. His plans usually allow me to tap into my gifts more appropriately, bring me more joy, have a greater impact on others, produce less stress, and draw me closer to Him. His plans usually make me less selfish and more holy. His plans usually draw my attention away from myself and toward others, most especially toward Him.

Thankfully, in spite of my own (stubborn) free will, I often get diverted from the course of my own plans onto His path for me, and it’s often only in looking back that I can see the fruitfulness of it. I see that through prayer and openness, I sometimes intentionally and other times stumble onto the path of true peace of heart.

That’s where my tips for you come in. If you’re wondering how to find and remain in God’s will for you, try these simple but crucial practices:

  1. Pray. St. Rose of Lima says, “When God is consulted sincerely, He gives a clear answer.”
  2. Be open. Really, actually remain open to what God wants and not just what seems most comfortable or appealing to you at the present moment. It’s amazing how your heart molds to be in joyful conformity with His will when you let it.
  3. Consult logic, your feelings, and your imagination. Don’t just latch onto one of these without the others. They all play a role in peaceful discernment of God’s will.
  4. Seek guidance! Of course, God is the ultimate advice-giver in the process of discernment and finding and living within His will, but seeking counsel from spiritual directors and other wise mentors is not only helpful, but often necessary in the work of uncovering and being at peace with God’s will for you.

You know, I can’t imagine what life would be like right now if my nose was still perpetually in a book and my body in a chair in some classroom for the n-teenth year of my schooling (if you are in that phase of life right now, hoorah! God must have some amazing plans for you on that path). When I was in school, though I love and am always craving to learn, I was a rather anxious person. Now, I have so much more of that deep-down sense of peace and a constant appreciation for the absolute love I have for being in the thick of family life, with more scribbles now hanging on the wall than academic degrees.

Today, make peace with where God has put you right now. Or, if you are on a divergent course, find God’s path for you and start trekking on it, even if it feels scary or unplanned. There you will find His grace to meet you, and, as always, He will exceed all of your expectations.

How to Assess Your Natural Gifts to Avoid “Going Up the Down Escalator”

I have a few crisp memories of my grandparents on my mother’s side. One of them is a replaying, over-a-decade-old mental video of Grandpa trying to walk up the down
escalator, when he realized that Grandma, my sister, and I had—like girls do—changed our mind at the last minute and decided to stay on the upper floor of the mall.

“John!” Grandma ‘yelled’ in her loudest inside voice, which was no louder than my quiet inside voice (which is actually probably louder). “Come back!”

Grandpa saw us at the top of the escalator, and thought he’d attempt the climb.

He made it up a couple of downward escalating stairs before he realized he was pretty much staying in the same spot on the escalator.

Frowning adorably at his defeat, he turned around and let the escalator take him down to the bottom floor, where he turned around and began the upward ascent toward his wife and little laughing granddaughters.

What Grandpa had going against him was momentum. Naturally, his body wanted him to move with the momentum of the escalator, instead of against it. When he tried to move against it, the sum result was: he didn’t really do much moving at all.

~ ~ ~

How often do you find yourself thinking, “I want to be as good at X as so-and-so is!” A friend of mine is a master sewer. She decorates her house with quaint homemade pillows, adorns her nieces and nephews with classy baby clothes, and is so crafty it hurts me to look at all of the curtains I purchased—not made—that hang from my window. I want to be as good at sewing as she is.
But the reality is, when I get a thread in one of my hands and a needle in the other, or a hand on the sewing machine dial and a foot on the pedal, the sum result is a clump of disastrous multi-colored knots. That is, if I get that far. It is more likely that I’d quit after I spent my week’s fortune on the materials, but before I started any actual sewing.

Certain crafts make it clearly evident to me that I am moving against the momentum of my gifts and talents. The secret to being successful at the things you do, to be the best fill-in-the-blank (writer, dancer, listener, counselor, teacher, sewer…) is to move in the direction of the already-evident momentum in your life. I came to the realization some years ago that my momentum has me moving most easily in the direction of writing and speaking. Not only do I have the most success when I move in the direction of my momentum, but I also have the most fun.

God has given you unique gifts and talents, and when you use them and hone the skills that make you the best at whatever those gifts and talents are, you’re happy—no surprise to God, of course. He’s the one who makes the momentum you sense like a big “hint, hint” for you.

How do you know which gifts and talents to pursue? Well, what do you find yourself doing most often? What brings you joy? What do other people tell you that you are especially good at?

Don’t try to be someone else or to be the best sewer when you’re a writer (unless you’re great at both, and then maybe I do wish I were you…). When you get tangled up in all of that, you’ll only frustrate yourself trying to go up a down escalator.

St. Catherine of Siena says that if you are what you should be, you will set the world ablaze. Of course, the ultimate of “what you should be” is a saint, but I think her statement applies to the gifts and talents to. Blessed Mother Teresa was the best caregiver of orphans and the poor, and she set the world ablaze. She moved in the direction of her God-given momentum.

Try it. Find excellence in multiplying the talents God gave you. Go up the up escalator.