“You belong here.” John managed to squeeze this short affirmation in between several other statements so I almost didn’t notice it. He’s an older priest in the community I recently joined; a kind, compassionate man who recently celebrated 70 years as a Jesuit. I was just sitting on the couch in our community library, killing time by flipping through a magazine when he said it. Only after John left did the phrase grab my attention. And as it did, a peace settled over me, a peace which I’ve come to recognize as a sign of God at work.
It’s a kind phrase, “you belong here.” An affirmation that anyone would be fortunate to hear. But to me, it meant something deeper. It was an answer to my prayers – God was affirming that I was in the right place through this kind, wise Jesuit. Nothing that I was doing at that moment made me feel that I was where I belong. I had just moved to a new community to continue graduate studies after a long period of philosophy studies that left me feeling like I had taken a wrong turn somewhere. And only that week, two opportunities I had been excited to pursue fell through unexpectedly. In short, I was feeling stuck and I was wondering if I was where I needed to be. I had been asking God to show me that I was where I was supposed to be or tell me it was time to move on. And I think that’s just what God did.
That’s because I’d been experiencing what many know as “imposter syndrome.” It’s the feeling a person has of being less capable than others perceive them to be and worrying you’ll be found out to be a fraud. I often feel like an imposter—surrounded by Jesuits who are presidents of universities, published academics, artists with work featured in places tourists dream of visiting, former governors, and famous authors.
And so, when I heard these words, “you belong here,” it was impossible not to hear them as an answer to my prayer. Transition can be difficult. Finding myself in a new community and a new city, it can be challenging to not feel out of my element, or like I have little to offer. I feel like I constantly need support from others, especially members of the community, to accomplish even the simplest task.
On top of this transition, I feel like a lot of my time over the last couple years has been spent waiting. I’ve been waiting for meaningful work, waiting for the pandemic to end, waiting for responses to emails and phone calls, waiting for acceptance of applications to study in graduate school, waiting to feel like I have something to offer. More than once, opportunities that I have gotten excited to pursue have vanished, just as they are about to begin. This waiting has left me wondering if I’m wasting my time as a Jesuit or if I’m being invited to another opportunity in life outside the Society of Jesus. And, I have been asking God to show me that I belong here.
And so, the phrase “you belong here” was more than a kind word. It was an answer to prayer, and it came from a man who has spent more than twice my life in this least society and who, moments before, I had interrupted in the chapel with a load of flowers for a later mass. He continued quietly in prayer, seemingly unperturbed by the interruption. Upon further reflection, it was this moment that made me wonder if there wasn’t a connection between John’s prayer and his words to me. God works in those of us who are malleable to the spirit.
I firmly believe that God is at work in the world today and communicates with us, supporting us when we most need it. And I have often heard the voice of God in my own life, just never as it happens in movies: beam of light, deep baritone from the sky. What I mean to say isn’t that I hear voices and I attribute them to God. Instead, what I mean, is that God is actively at work in my life and often communicates with me through the people around me.
The people I interact with on a daily basis are often evidence of God at work in my life, but only if I remember to pay attention. Invitations from God to a particular action come from requests for help from people. Support from God can come from a friend’s seemingly random message. And encouragement from God that I am where I need to be can come from a holy man making a passing comment to me in the community library.
Ignatius encourages Jesuits to pray the examen twice daily. The examen is a prayer that helps us review God at work in our life. If I am honest with myself, I often skip my examen. At the end of the day, one of the last things I want to do is spend some time in prayer. My evening examen often turns into a few things I am grateful for before I roll into bed, thinking about what I have to do tomorrow. But, I have found that over time this reflective practice, even though I do it poorly, has become integral to my life helping me to see where God passes by.
In the Hebrew scriptures of the Bible, Moses asks to see God. God grants Moses his wish but warns him that no one can see God and live. Instead, Moses sees God’s back, after God passes by. Life is a little like this. Rarely do I see God in the moment. It is usually after, when I’m reflecting on my day, that I see where God has passed, leaving little clues as to what opportunities I’m being invited to and pointing me in the right direction.
And, it is thanks to my examen, even my mediocre ones, that I was able to catch God in my life when John told me, “you belong here.” This was an affirmation from a Jesuit who has certainly seen many men come and go from the Society of Jesus in his 70 years in it, and it was what I needed to hear as I sat on that couch. As I spent a few moments reflecting on what I had just heard, it was hard to not see the back of God strolling off into the distance, leaving me with a feeling of peace and hope that I was, in fact, exactly where I needed to be.