by Marcia Otting
In the 2016 film “Lion” there is a scene where a young boy, Saroo, is looking for his brother, Guddu. Over and over he calls “Guddu?! Guddu?!” his voice echoes through the train station and the countryside. He has lost his mentor and his friend, the one who anchored him in their travels through a chaotic world.
For the first time in my half-century-plus life I am faced with the same prospect: feeling quite lost. My life before me is a blank slate: no one telling me the next step, facing a world of possibilities for where to live and what to do. My answer to “What do you do for work?” that defined me for nearly three decades no longer applies.
In 2016, I choose to retire from a long career in the technology industry, characterized the last three years by management with shifting goals and an uber-political workplace where alliances ran deep. Through the years I had been recognized with accolades, awards, patents, even while silently noting how often I was the only woman in the room. A close friend had said to me years ago that my job “took a lot out of me”. At the time, I dismissed his comment as a mis-understanding of my introverted personality: I more often wanted to recharge at home, alone, than be with our group of friends. Now I see he was on target: My work was more soul-sucking than I could have ever perceived, yet without it, there was a void I could not ignore. Suddenly I was no longer needed and I felt pangs of ennui as I saw the organization seamlessly move on without me.
The year following retirement, I took a detour into the world of Christian non-profit work. I grew immensely in understanding that the issues facing marginalized communities are much more complex than any political soundbite could ever capture. During that year, my belief that working in an office with believers would be dysfunction-free also came crashing to the ground. My own desire to be appreciated and recognized coupled with a “we don’t do that here” intransigence, as well as some of the same alliances I had seen in the corporate world made for a toxic environment. When my initial one-year commitment was over, I decided to leave.
More recently, due to some medical testing, I was forced into a re-telling of a near-death disaster from many years ago that resulted from some very bad counsel and a series of ill-conceived procedures. I hung up the phone and wept (again), wondering what the purpose was in all of that.
I am not only squarely in the “What do I want to be when I grow up?” camp, but also questioning deeply the tracks that I have been on. My own personal train station echoes back to me the questions and the what-ifs.
What were the lessons and am I really growing? I look back and see accomplishment and success in my work, as well as too many years of deep dissatisfaction. I wonder if I hadn’t been so drained by my job that I could have found the space to date and marry. My brief foray into ministry was not a good fit for a variety of reasons, not the least of which were my high expectations and inability to submit to imperfect leadership. Valuable lessons, indeed, that again raised doubts about who I am and what I am meant for. I don’t want to spend the second half of my life continually questioning the events of the first.
Through it all I am aware that I am immensely blessed. I had a long career with the same company and I had the privilege of making my own choice to leave. I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on the hope that is within me and how I’ve changed. My faith looks very different now than the fresh optimism of the 19-year-old college student. Writing this poem became a turning point to a deeper acceptance of singleness. I am more confident and grounded in the goodness and sovereignty of the Lord who rescued me from myself. I have seen glimpses of that more recently while volunteering at a local crisis pregnancy center. Talking to these women about their unplanned pregnancies has awakened my compassion, as well as confirming that God’s plans and purposes are more often than not, beyond what we can imagine.
The emptiness of the path ahead is as stark as the darkness of the train station where Saroo, tired of calling out to his brother, finally falls asleep on a bench. I don’t have all the answers for what’s ahead, but still know that He is my anchor. In the words of our pastor this morning, “In the mystery of His providence, He will work wonders.” I’m praying for those wonders as I fall asleep tonight.
Marcia Otting holds a BS in Computer Engineering from Northwestern University, where her faith in Jesus Christ became real to her. She has co-authored over 15 US patents related to wireless technology. Marcia speaks some French, loves traveling, hiking in the mountains and knitting. She lives in Vernon Hills, IL.