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Rea Nolan Martin Headshot

Are You 'Exactly Where You Are Meant to Be?'

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There is a prayer* (see note) that endlessly travels the web. 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 in some cases, even harmful. Why? Because what we say, especially in prayer, matters deeply. Thoughts are the seeds of words; words the seeds of 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 doing what it takes to climb out of the hole I (may or not have) dug." In such a case, I have risen above victim-consciousness and assumed responsibility for my life. 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, I am 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? In this economy, probably not. In that case, I am meant to be receptive to the compassion of my friends and family, or really -- anyone who's willing to help. No one is meant to live without shelter or in a chronic state of fear and anxiety. We are meant to seek solutions -- and with personal accountability and the compassion of others, we are meant to lift ourselves 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 (if things are good) we are blessed by a loving God, or (if things are bad) we deserve whatever cruelty is being served up. As a sweeping statement that line is no more than another rung in a system that 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." In that case we can hang out and wait for someone else, maybe God, to perform the miracle that will rescue them. Worst of all, if this prayer is passed onto us in our despair, we are left in that 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 or our circumstances have put ourselves there and those places 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. (I'll spare you the suspense: it takes us down.) The karmic wheel accounts for cause and effect (some say over lifetimes) -- 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 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 peace, acceptance, compassion, and love for our 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 not a companion. It's reset button. Get help.

*Note: The internet "chain" prayer claims to be a novena, but it is not. The word "novena" is derived from the word "novem," which is the Latin word for "nine." A novena is a very specific ritual of prayer said for nine straight days, prayed to a specific saint, generally 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. They are not the same person. Mother Teresa has not yet been declared a saint by her church, 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.