As I entered the campus of the Catholic University of America for the 2021 GIVEN forum, I was filled with excitement. The place was buzzing with conversation as young women picked up their name tags and room keys, disorientedly but joyfully familiarizing themselves with what would be their home for the next five days. And I could feel from that joy that I was entering into something truly beautiful, something possibly, hopefully, transformative.

It had been a difficult year. I was in the third year of my PhD, and things weren’t going well. I wasn’t making progress in my thesis work, and I was tired and defeated. I was thinking about leaving, but I had no idea where I would go or what I would do. I was feeling lost, alone, and extremely uncertain about what I was supposed to do with my life. But, partnered with that lack of clarity was a real and true desire to do something that mattered. I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to have impact, to tackle a big, important problem and provide a meaningful solution.

I knew I wanted to do all of those things. But the problem was, I didn’t know what it was or how to do it.

During the forum, the Lord began to heal the hurt and disappointment I was feeling over my life. He revived my sense of identity, helping me see that perfectionism and unrealistic self-expectations were holding me back from living truly free. I left that week feeling invigorated and inspired, knowing that while I still didn’t really know exactly what He wanted me to do, He loved me and had given me the gifts and tools I needed in order to find it and to live it out.

I came home and immediately set to work developing my Action Plan. Initially I thought I was going to do something in women’s reproductive health. I had written a research proposal on reproductive illnesses, and had suffered with it myself, and I knew this was an area that needed attention. So, I reached out to others working in this area to see where I wanted to go. I brainstormed with them about where there was a need, and how I could possibly help to fill it. I wrote and rewrote dozens of ideas, trying to find the perfect one. But, after all that work, something still didn’t feel right. I felt too rushed. My ideas seemed forced. It felt like I was trying too hard to put myself in this space, and I didn’t have and peace.

After talking to my GIVEN mentor about what I was experiencing, we decided that it was time to slow my pace, to put down my dreams and big ideas and see where God was really speaking. Over the next few months, I set my Action Plan aside. I prayed, I lived life, and I took stock of where I was and talked about it with her. And during that time of slowing down, the questions and uncertainty that had been driving my frantic search came into the light. I still didn’t know what to do about my PhD. I didn’t know what to do when I finished my degree. I wasn’t even sure if I was going to finish at all. I had been trying so hard to make a project that mattered because deep down I didn’t know if I mattered. I wanted to escape my feelings of insecurity and failure by pouring myself into something that made me feel capable.

But the truth was, I would not be free to follow big dreams until I let God heal the hurt that was driving me and replace it with His peace.

With that, the gaze of my Action Plan shifted away from problems that were large and outside of myself, to quieter, deeper questions already going on inside my own heart. What did it look like to talk to God about my future? Where should I even begin? And how did I know that He even had a plan for my future, or cared deeply about my career? I had never wrestled with these questions before, and I wanted an organized way to go about praying through the answers. I also had friends who were contemplating their own careers and lives post-PhD, so I wanted to do something that would help them, too. I decided to write a series of reflections focusing on these central questions of calling, mission, and discernment, and as a group we met and talked about each one in turn. This wasn’t the big, flashy Action Plan I had been preparing at first, but in the end it led me and each of my friends to a deeper appreciation of Who God was, how He made us, and what specifically He made us for. I now have a much deeper sense of clarity and peace over God’s will for my life. I feel more confident that He has made me capable and wants me to succeed. And, I’ve come to appreciate that He has made me unique, with good things to share and a voice to share it with.

This Action Plan may have only touched the lives of a few people, but I know that, in the end, this was the one I needed to do.

As you navigate your own mentorship year, I invite you to pay attention what’s in your heart, whether there is peace and tranquility, or fear and insecurity. Listen to the burning questions that are filling up that space, the hurts, and the desires that have yet to be realized. Because it is here, in this place, that God wants to meet you and tell you His plans for you.

So take your time, slow down, and listen. What does God want to say to you?

Kathryn Brewer, GIVEN ’21

Kathryn Brewer is currently a PhD candidate in biochemistry at Vanderbilt University. When she’s not in the lab, she can usually be found baking a batch of sourdough bread, singing with her church choir, or catching up with her sweet friends over a cup of coffee. She also writes a blog on the intersection of mental health and the spiritual life, which can be found here.