God writes straight with crooked lines
We know that all things work for good for those who love God.
In the late 1990s, a number of forces collided in my life. On the one hand, I had experienced a spiritual conversion—a reversion to the practice of my faith. On the other hand, I continued my relentless pursuit of the prize of a partnership in a large “Big Law” law firm. We recently had been blessed with our son, yet I was working more than ever. Something had to give, and in hindsight, what gave out was me.
My conversion in 1995 and awakening to the spiritual life had been given a boost in 1997 when I went on a silent retreat with a small Catholic religious community in the Midwest. It was during that retreat that I first encountered the living God in prayer. God was real! And He wanted to talk to me! I returned home with a great desire to continue this encounter with God every day.
The increasing amount of prayer and focus on God, however, began to cause conflict in my spirit about my priorities in life. Up until that time, my number one priority had been my career. I had aggressively pursued success in law school, followed by a judicial clerkship and an associate position with a “Big Law” firm. At the firm, I diligently applied myself to developing myself as an attorney. I pursued every opportunity to learn more about becoming a trial lawyer. As the years progressed, and the case load increased, I found myself traveling week after week. When I was in town, I would come home for dinner every evening and then return to the office until late into the night.
After my retreat, I began to actively discern whether I should continue the path to partnership or not. The group of attorneys that I worked with moved to a different “Big Law” firm at the end of 1998. Even though I had been working and billing well over 2,000 hours a year at the prior firm, the goal had only been 1,800 hours. At the new firm, the goal was 2,000 hours and my heart was not in it. As the months passed, it became clear to me (and my mentor) that I was not on track to bill 2,000 hours in 1999. One day, my mentor walked into my office and told me, “all you have to do in bill 2,000 hours and you will make it. You will achieve what you have been working for.” I was not sure that sounded very good.
I looked around the firm and saw that all of the young partners worked more hours than I did. From what I could tell, they never saw their families. I had seen the toll of divorce and substance abuse in lawyers at other firms throughout my life as well. My son had been born in 1997, and I wanted to be a part of his life. 2,000 hours seemed like an impossible hurdle for me to overcome, and I was not even sure I wanted to try.
The stress of work had also led me to despise living in Northern Virginia. We bought our first home, a townhouse, around the time our son was born that was located about 12 miles from work. Unfortunately, my office was in Tyson’s Corner—possibly the worst traffic in Northern Virginia in the 90s! The commute was terrible up and down Route 7. I would often look out the conference room window at work around 7pm to see if the traffic was moving. If the brake lights on cars were sitting still, I would return to my desk and work for another hour. My increasing hatred of this lifestyle began exerting an undue influence on the discernment process.
My spiritual enthusiasm and immaturity also impacted the discernment process. We were intrigued with moving to where I had gone on retreat and participating in the life of this Catholic religious community. They were initially eager for us to come and participate. As the critical year of discernment progressed, obstacles started to arise. The community was less enthusiastic about us joining them. Housing was going to be a problem. Friends and family voiced concerns we were making a mistake. And we were running out of time.
Having made the decision to leave the firm and set out on my own, and believing that God wanted me to do that, the question became—where? I had taken the bar exam in my home state of Minnesota after law school and was licensed to practice law there. My parents still lived in Minnesota and were active in the legal community. In what seemed like a very short period of time the destination shifted to Minnesota.
In late 1999, I submitted my resignation from the law firm and announced my intention to leave Virginia, move to Minnesota and start my own law firm. The Welter Law Firm opened in Minnesota January 1, 2000.
I will share the story of how this came to pass at a later date, but the punch line is this: after two years in Minnesota, we ended up right back in Northern Virginia. And after the initial transition period in a small one bedroom apartment, we found ourselves renting our old townhouse from the person we had sold it to. I found myself standing in my living room, exactly where I had left three years before. All I could do was laugh.
There are many reasons why I could have beaten myself up for how I handled this entire process. I could have viewed the two years without success in starting a law firm in Minnesota as a failure and waste of time. I could have blamed myself for having allowed my burnout to so significantly influence the decision to leave the area, only to return. We sold our house and could not afford to buy one when we returned—we missed out on the largest surge in housing prices in Northern Virginia up to that point during the two years we moved away. In the end, however, I was able to turn to a foundational truth of our faith in Jesus Christ and find peace:
We know that all things work for good for those who love God.1
If I had not moved to Minnesota, I would not have been able to spend two years with my father while he was diagnosed with colon cancer and underwent chemotherapy.
If I had not moved to Minnesota, my son would not have had the chance to spend such quality time with his grandfather.
If I had not moved to Minnesota, I would not have had the opportunity to devote so much time to studying my faith.
If I had not moved to Minnesota, I would have not had the opportunity to meet faith-filled people like my friend Bob and participate in the Jesus Heals Ministry with him.
If I had not moved to Minnesota, I would not have met Archbishop Harry Flynn, who became a spiritual father to me.
If I had not moved to Minnesota, Archbishop Flynn would not have introduced me to Pope (now Saint) John Paul II.
I could go on.
There is an old saying that God writes straight with crooked lines. So many times our lives seem to be a mess. We wrestle over decisions, and then second-guess them. We encounter obstacles and challenges that appear to be mostly of our own making. The temptation to blame ourselves and become discouraged is always lurking around the corner. Yet in all of these things, if we put our love of God in first place, it will all work out for our good.
Jesus was once asked which commandment in the law was the greatest. He replied:
“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment.”2
You cannot go wrong by loving God. Tell Him today in prayer how much you love Him. Strive to love Jesus by following the Ten Commandments.3 Whoever loves Jesus will be loved by God the Father.4 What greater thing is there in life than to be loved by God?
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