Approaching the Labyrinth

And we’re back! Between travelling across the country, working as chaplains, taking summer classes, and spending time with family and friends, we have all been very busy! But while the bloggers at Saying Grace have enjoyed our July off, we are excited to be back and writing. We have so much to share!

This summer, I went through the intense process of doing CPE – Clinical Pastoral Education. (For more about CPE and Maggie’s experience, check out her post here). While most of this consists of working as a chaplain/spiritual care giver at an institution, there is also a large part of interpersonal work that happens in group sessions. Its a lot like therapy. A lot. In a good way though…I guess?

One of the major themes that I kept coming up against in CPE was trying to name and claim professional success. My undergrad was at a business school where we were taught competition and drive. Couple that with my type-A personality and seven years in Corporate America, and the “professional life plans” I had created are borderline disturbing. I had so many plans for Corporate Kelley – she was going to be a VP at 45 and retire by 52. Maybe they weren’t realistic, but there was a definite measuring stick for success.

God had bigger plans for me though and while I have accepted a different life, my ideas of success have not. I still find myself struggling to quantify my work. How do I know when I’m successful? What am I working towards? How am I measuring to my goals? Do I even have goals?

I was taught that when walking a labyrinth you should have an open mind, listening for God to give guidance. As you walk through, imagine yourself shedding layers, going deeper into yourself. After walking a labyrinth you should come out changed. Skeptic that I am, I didn’t have high expectations for any kind of lasting effect.

As I approached the labyrinth today, I had a lot on my mind. I decided to pray for healing as I stepped in. Within about nine steps, I realized that was not what God was calling on me to wrestle with in the labyrinth. No, as usual, God had bigger plans. I spent the next 45 minutes slowly walking, grappling with letting go of my past self that is so focused on finding success.

This summer, I helped facilitate a grief group at the prison where I did my chaplaincy work (don’t worry, I plan to post on both of these things later). What struck me the most was how widely we can grieve. Sure, we can grieve for our lost loved ones, for jobs we used to have, and for relationships we have severed. But it had never occurred to me that we can grieve our lost goals, our old selves, and our lost, imagined future.

As much as I had heard these sentiments, I never allowed them to be applied to my own life. I didn’t need to grieve my life – I was there to help others grieve! But as I worked through it in the labyrinth today, I was struck by the overlapping narratives between the loss of Corporate Kelley and the grieving process I found myself immersed in this summer. It was undeniable – I was grieving.

I’ve decided I’m very much in the third stage: bargaining. While I’ve gone through the denial and anger, I constantly find myself trying to balance and bargain between both lives. I still spend time in both worlds (I have my seminary life and my corporate life) and they’ve conflicted in some beautiful and terrifying ways. Right now, I’m comfortable with the bargaining. But I have to recognize that I can’t allow an overlap of my Corporate Kelley goals with my new, Seminary Kelley work. Not only is that unattainable for me, it is also damaging my sense of confidence and ability.

As I walked out of the labyrinth today, I was filled with a sense of what I initially thought was relief. I felt confident in my path, knowing that while I don’t have it all figured out just yet, God does. What I associated with relief, I now believe was grace. Grace that I’m going to make mistakes. Grace for those moments when I second guess myself. But most importantly, grace that while I don’t know what success looks like yet, that doesn’t mean I’m not on the right path. And sometimes, a little grace is all a girl can ask for.

Have you ever walked a labyrinth? Any learnings or tips for other readers? Be sure to comment below!

2 comments on “Approaching the Labyrinth

  1. This is so lovely. As someone who has also undergone major transitions in my life, I had never thought about those transitions in terms of grief. It gives me a new frame with which to understand my experiences. I also really appreciate the image of the labyrinth bringing us deeper and deeper into ourselves. I’ve walked labyrinths before but never totally “got” it. Now I feel like I want to go find one and spend a good 45 minutes there. 🙂

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