A Conversation with WWU Alum, Urijah Saenz, About His Life’s Twists and Turns
I recently sat down with Urijah Saenz, a former Walla Walla University student who has discovered a theme of unexpected turns in his life, and I learned something valuable from his story: he has not only stayed in tune with God’s trajectory for him, but he’s been willing to take blind leaps of faith to follow it. When God nudged Saenz, he followed, even when it didn’t make sense just yet.
I’m learning in my own life that knowing God’s exact plan is almost impossible because His ideas are so complex. God is not boring; the stories He’s written for us have twists and turns and intrigue and disappointment. The only way to watch it pan out is to hold on tightly to God and take each leap of faith He whispers in our ears.
The good news is that if you believe in the God of the Bible, you believe in a God who has a plan for you. A specific, nuanced one with beautiful intent. Jeremiah 29:11 gives us a direct promise from God of this: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”
“It’s okay not to know what you want right now. It’s okay not to know anything yet! It’s completely fine,” Saenz says.  I found, though, that his seeming lack of deliberation was actually a very deliberate choice to allow God to lead. Of the two, this is really the much more difficult and vulnerable option.
Saenz came to WWU as a theology major with a minor in social welfare, but he listened to God’s still small voice pushing him toward a social work major. A few years later, he found himself working as a youth pastor in Bend, Oregon. He feels now that the skills he learned studying social work have been much more valuable to his current situation than studying theology would have been.
In the Bible, God called both Samuel and Jonah with a strong, clear voice. Samuel listened, and Jonah, at first, did not. Things worked out wonderfully for Samuel and could have been much better for Jonah. The main differences that I notice between the two stories are that Jonah seems to be overcome with a sense of pride from being God’s prophet for so long, and Samuel has enough humility to ask Eli what to do about the voice that had been calling him.
Saenz found council in others while he was learning to follow God’s voice, too. “I had a group of friends that challenged me at Walla Walla—they weren’t afraid to call me out on the things that I was doing wrong, or they saw that I needed correcting in,” he says. God can use the people around us to push us in the right direction like he used Eli in Samuel’s story—so be open to what others have to say. Saenz goes on, “Your friends matter. The education is great, but the community is for a lifetime.” 
Another piece of advice that Saenz gave me is that having too much of a set-in-stone plan can hinder you from seeing where God intends to take you. “Sometimes, our own ideas cloud God’s plan for our life, so always keep that door open for God to speak to you and lead you somewhere that maybe is different from what you’d expect,” he says. “Maybe you’ve had this idea that you’re going to be a certain thing your whole life. Just be open to God radically changing your life.”  Leaning into the vulnerability of allowing God to draw up the blueprint instead of doing so myself is, in the end, a better idea than studiously putting my own plans into action.
Saenz concluded our Zoom call by saying to me, “I have a feeling that soon, God’s going to lead you down another path.” I want to extend the same sentiment to any of you: keep an eye out, because what God has in store might be surprising. 
References Zoom interview with Urijah Saenz, 4/16/21.  Ibid.  Ibid.  Ibid.