I had always longed to find and fulfill my unique niche. Life, to me, has been an adventure of discovering my role and my talents and putting them to good use. This search has opened amazing and wonderful doors. It’s also led to some closed doors that were difficult to move beyond. Soaring satisfaction with my life was sometimes interrupted by earth-shattering disappointment when opportunities I felt should be mine didn’t appear when and where I expected or wanted them.
I have learned that we each really do have a niche, a role, an indispensable place, a particular mission in time and eternity. From a time sense, I mean that no one can replace any one of us in the individual and unique path of yielding to progress and divine good that we can call human experience. From an eternal perspective, not one single idea of God can be pushed, pulled or knocked off his unique and essential course as the reflection of the Almighty God.
I learned a few things about filling my niche when I applied to be a teacher of Christian Science. The Manual of The Mother Church – a document that provides for the offices and roles that support and sustain the healing practice of Christian Science worldwide – invites those who are qualified through their faithful healing practice to apply for what is called the Normal class. This class is an intensive training session that takes place once every three years for a select number out of many qualified applicants. Early on in my practice, I felt God was calling me to the teaching work, so I applied.
I still remember walking out to our chicken house where my husband (my chief supporter/defender) was doing chores. I had the most tender and lovingly written rejection letter tumbling out of my hand. He thought someone had died when he first saw me. I was a blubbering, crying, inconsolable mess.
I thought there had to be some mistake. So in the remaining months preceding the class, I waited for a second missive to appear in the mail saying that an error had been discovered and that indeed I was welcome to come. That appeal never came.
Over the next couple of years other wonderful doors did open for me. I threw all my energy into study of the Bible and the textbook that develops ones healing practice, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy. I found an outlet for my longing to teach through accepting an appointment as a Sunday School teacher for a big and active class of youngsters in my church. Requests for me to share inspiration from my study with a local nursing home in my community opened the way to an invitation to become a lecturer of Christian Science.
When it came around again to application time for the Normal class, I felt the mental prod to apply. I just knew that for this class it would be my turn. Again, after the lengthy and thorough application process, I received a letter indicating “not this time.”
If I thought the first “no” was rough, the second one felt worse. Without realizing it, my second application had become to me something of a litmus test for the approval of others. “Now am I good enough?” was a latent, undermining question poisoning my thought.
I was angry at those who had worked with me so painstakingly during the application process. Why did they make me feel so appreciated and valued, when the plan was to deny me what I wanted to do?
I was angry at myself. Who did I think I was to ask to teach? Why did I put myself through all this again, knowing the risks and how hard it was for me to be rejected?
To come out of the deep depression that settled on me following this disappointment, I had to dump the anger. It didn’t happen all at once, but through persistently continuing with the good habits I had already developed of praying for me daily to be kept from sin; of growing my understanding of the true nature of God and man through my regular study of the Bible and Science and Health; of serving in church in the roles that were offered to me; of developing further my practice of Christian healing for others; the anger and disappointment were replaced by spiritual growth.
Out of the ashes of the second disappointment came a new opportunity – to address the annual meeting of an Association of Pupils of a Christian Science teacher who had passed on. I loved the opportunity to teach that came through this invitation. It confirmed everything I longed to do. It was fun - and hard work. And after this first invitation was fulfilled, others quickly followed. My calendar began filling with annual opportunities to work with Pupil’s Associations for many years to come.
My husband passed on suddenly two months before the start date. Around the same time, I received the same letter. I was disappointed to not be invited, but I was so occupied with dealing with the emotions of my husband’s passing, as well as the life-details that demanded my attention, that one more shock over not being invited to Normal class seemed that – just one more shock.
Three years later my outlook was much more humble than it had been before. I applied for the Normal class, but fulfilling my role as a single mom of a teenage daughter was a higher priority. While I still felt called to teach, the urgency and push I had felt before were no longer there. So although I was disappointed to not be in the class that year – yes, the answer was again a no – I wasn’t terribly knocked over by the news.
I felt something new and good was in store for me. I had hoped it was teaching, but I was no longer using the application process as a test of my worth. I knew I was loved and valued by God and by others. I loved and valued myself. I was now open to new opportunities in whatever form they should be presented. I felt God’s guidance and protection as I moved forward with my life.
When it came time again to apply for the class, I honestly didn’t feel called by God to do it. I was willing to teach - the desire was still apparent - but I didn’t see how it would be possible. If I became a teacher in France, my language skills weren’t up where they would need to be. So for the first time in 12 years, I didn’t apply. Then after three more years, I felt the call, did apply, and was accepted into the Normal class.
Today, the whole long story seems a bit dream-like. I have memories of the disappointment and of feelings of being blocked, but the angst has been completely replaced with an overview perspective of steady development and progress that really define those years. I could never have foreseen at the time of the first, second, third and fourth applications – and especially not during the one that I skipped – that my niche for fulfilling the deep desire to teach would include a foreign country and another language. I am not the same teacher I might have been otherwise. And now I wouldn’t have it any other way.
A great lesson for me has been to understand that our true niche isn’t a destination. It’s our place in infinity. We aren’t en route to that place. It is included in our very identity as the present and operational reflection of God. Everything developing in me to be doing what I now do was always mine, always with me, in me. Intuition discerned the capacity to teach. Deep desire and the nurturing of my spirituality through prayer and study erased all traces of disappointment and the personal ambition it pointed to, and opened the way to the revelation, one by one, of the divine qualities of patience, persistence, focus, unflagging faith, spiritual energy, renewal, resilience, self-worth, confidence, obedience, and humility that are inherent in every child of God, and essential to the expression of each one’s unique role in the universe.
But looking beyond the human to the divine and present fact of our place in eternity, she continued, “Christian Science is at length learned to be no miserable piece of ideal legerdemain, by which we poor mortals expect to live and die, but a deep-drawn breath fresh from God, by whom and in whom man lives, moves, and has deathless being” (First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany).