There is a prayer (*see note) that circulates the web which I’ve received countless times. It contains the line “May you trust that you are exactly where you are meant to be.” Depending on your life, situation, or the day you’re having when you run across this line, it may lift your spirits or crush them. Personally, I feel that the idea expressed in this line is mostly empty, deceiving and even harmful in some cases. Why? Because as I’ve said in other posts, what we say, especially in prayer, matters deeply. Thoughts turn to words; words to action.
For those of us who are digging out of a negative situation over which we are finally exerting some control, the line, “…you are exactly where you are meant to be,” might be true and validate our efforts. In other words, “I am where I am meant to be because I am finally doing what it takes to climb out of the hole I dug for myself to begin with.” In such a case, I have risen above victim-consciousness and assumed responsibility for my past actions. I am accountable.
But am I exactly where I’m meant to be if I’m begging or stealing from others because I’m miserably addicted to the prescription drugs that once saved me from excruciating pain? No. Of course not. In that case where I’m meant to be is rehab. Am I exactly where I’m meant to be if I’m currently unemployed and facing hunger and homelessness? I would say in this economy, most likely not. In that case, I am meant to be receptive to the compassion of my friends and family. No one is meant to live in chronic fear and anxiety. We are meant to seek solutions and through God’s help, personal accountability and the compassion of others, lift ourselves and others out of misery and hopelessness. Misery and hopelessness are nobody’s intended fate. If you are miserable and hopeless, you are not where you are meant to be.
The idea that at any given point in our lives we are exactly where we are meant to be assumes that we are in control of all influences. It also assumes that we have seized control of the influences over which we do have control. In the case of the latter, I am in total agreement. In other words, if you are an addict and you are attending an NA meeting, you are exactly where you are meant to be. If you are an addict and living on the streets, you are not.
As a sweeping statement, that line is no more than another rung in the caste system. It lets the rest of us off the hook. When we see someone suffering, we can dismiss it because “…they are exactly where they are meant to be.” If we are miserable ourselves and lack the courage to seize control, we can dismiss it because “…we are exactly where we are meant to be.” In that case we can hang out and wait for someone else, maybe God, to perform the miracle that will rescue us. Worst of all, if through no fault of our own, we are in terrible pain or suffering from an excruciating loss, and this prayer is passed onto us, we are left in despair because the only conclusion we can draw is that, if this is true, we are meaningless to God and worse, God and the ones through whom God works, are masochists who have left us to suffer.
Are any of us “meant to be” in prison, ICU, or rehab? Not unless we have put ourselves there and they are the wombs of our rebirth. Otherwise, no. We “are meant to be” personally accountable, highly compassionate, joyful children of our Creator. This notion that we are other than that depicts us as victims on a never-ending karmic wheel. We may as well just stay put and see where it takes us. It will take us nowhere. The karmic wheel accounts for cause and effect (over lifetimes, if you’re a believer in that.) Stop the cause and you stop the effect. Personal accountability, not only for ourselves but in compassion for those who need us, puts us on a different course. Personal accountability makes us worthy instruments of God. When we are personally accountable for ourselves, we can do God’s work.
You are exactly where you are meant to be if you are filled with a deep-seated peace, acceptance, compassion, and love for your fellow humans. If you are in pain that cannot be resolved and for which you have reached no acceptance—if you are lonely, unsettled, depressed, anxious, jealous, enraged, filled with hate or resentment—you are not where you are meant to be. Pain is a reset button. Don’t trust it. Get help.
*Note: The prayer claims to be a novena, which it is not. The word “novena” is derived from the word “novem,” which is the Latin word for “nine.” A novena is very specific ritual of prayer said for nine straight days, prayed to a specific saint, invoked for a specific intention. This internet prayer is most often attributed to St. Therese, the Little Flower, also known as the Saint of Little Ways. Saint Therese was born in Lisieux, France in 1873 and died 24 years later in 1897. In spite of the fact that this “novena” is attributed to St. Therese, however, it is generally accompanied by images of Mother Teresa, who was born in Macedonia in 1910 and died in 1997. Mother Teresa has not yet been declared a saint, so she is not “Saint Teresa,” although she will no doubt be canonized one day. But the bigger truth is that neither of these women authored that prayer. I don’t know who did.