Vocation, vocation, vocation

This is the second of four posts in The Singleness Series. Stay tuned for more, every Friday in November!


So, are you working on your Single Awareness blog this week? my coworker asked.

Yes, yes I am. Here we are, championing the cause for Single Awareness. I’m going to make ribbons. I’m thinking pink and blue. You interested? (Just kidding. He didn’t really mean to say that. There will be no ribbons.)

So, it’s not Single Awareness Week, but it is National Vocation Awareness Week! Gotta love that happy coincidence. I figured I would be remiss not to address the religious life in The Singleness Series.

Back in the day, my sophomore year in college, there was this guy. He was a brooding, mysterious, aloof senior. Dreamy. My secret crush lasted for months. Once in a while, he’d lock eyes with me across the room for two whole seconds and I’d get just enough hope to sustain my hidden desire. Any day now, he’ll ask me out, I thought to myself. But, that day wasn’t coming and wasn’t coming, and I finally asked to meet with a priest friend of mine, fed up with all my fruitless waiting. I explained to him my plight, and he chuckled at my mock desperation.

Well, Emma, you can ask God to remove the attraction, if it is His will to, he replied. But if not, just keep suffering through it, and offer it up.

Fine, I thought. Not exactly the answer I was hoping for, but I guess it’ll do. (I don’t know what I was expecting…that he’d talk to this dreamboat for me?)

So, pray I did. I did ask God to remove the attraction, painful bother that it was, and He answered. Almost immediately. And replaced that attraction with—get this—an inclination to the religious life. No, no, no! I did NOT sign up for this. Give me back that unrequited love nonsense, and I’ll happily suffer through it for the rest of my life. Anything to avoid being a sister. Yikes.

Soon my prayer became, Fine, Lord, You can call me to discern religious life, but only if You call me out of the convent before it’s too late. You know, Maria von Trapp style. Or like my real live friends who were in a convent and seminary before they discerned out and are now happily married to each other with the cutest baby. I’ll allow that.

I think back to that season and remember what discomfort I felt. I’d already named my five future children. That mysterious, dreamy senior was just one in a long line of crushes throughout my teenage years. I had my 10-year plan wrapped up very nicely, perfectly enclosed by a white picket fence, thank you very much.

But Jesus kept knocking.

He was gentle but persistent, kind but firm. He slowly warmed my hardened heart and opened me up to the possibility of life as His bride. And eventually, my prayer became, Yes, Lord, I am going to be a sister for sure. How could I possibly marry a mere sinful, mortal man when I have You as an option? No way. Far too beneath me.

(Just call me Pendulum.)

Once my overenthusiasm and pridefulness waned, I began to see the deep beauty of both marriage and religious life, and the fact that they weren’t so different as I had originally thought. And over the course of the last few years, I’ve done my best to consider the reality of both, not the false expectations I may have—romanticized and dreaded alike. Here are a few things I’ve been learning:

There’s a loss in the choice.

In all those years I dreamed of getting married one day, I never once considered the religious life, not even as a remote possibility. But once my heart was opened and I grew to see the joy of a religious call, I felt drawn to both vocations in different ways. Here’s the thing: if I’m called to marriage, it will mean a loss of the possibility of being a religious sister. And if I’m called to life in a convent, it will bring a concrete foregoing of the joys of earthly marriage. Of course. But do I realize the loss?

Amateur discerner that I am, I have the sense that anyone entering a vocation should have seriously considered the other. Imagine joining your husband-to-be at the altar and hearing, “Darling, I do love you, and I am excited to spend the rest of my life with you, but gosh, I really wish I had considered the priesthood.” To freely and joyfully make a choice, we must recognize that there are multiple viable, even attractive, options. There may be a sadness in the loss, but I trust that it will be far outweighed by the joy of the gain.

I am called to be a mother.

Women, we are made to be mothers. Men, you are made to be fathers. This is an unequivocal call from God. But it wasn’t until contemplating religious life that I realized that this identity of mine would be affirmed, many times over, no matter what. In my very nature as a woman, I have a unique capacity to bear and welcome and celebrate life. But I don’t have to give birth for that to be true. My motherhood is not lying dormant, waiting for a baby of my own, to be fulfilled.

In fact, I have already realized this role of mother in many ways in my own life, having been a mentor to many young women in the walk of faith. I remember my call to motherhood when I greet a hesitant newcomer, when my sensitive heart is stirred by another’s suffering, when I rejoice in a mentee’s spiritual growth. We are called to a certain spiritual motherhood and fatherhood, and that is cause for rejoicing! That longing we have is no mistake, and it can be fulfilled in many surprising, delightful ways.

Suffering and fulfillment await.

Before taking time to discern religious life, I thought of marriage through the lens of every fairy tale, Disney movie, and rom com I’d seen. I looked forward to the day when I, too, could ride off into the sunset with my perfect match, immersed in lifelong bliss, free from ever feeling lonely or disappointed or misunderstood again. Now, I’m no expert, but I’d venture a guess that any married person would laugh in my face at that summation of the vocation.

No, marriage is not all blissful. In the same way, I’m sure, religious life is no walk in the park. And neither are these vocations solely filled with pain and crosses and death to self. If anyone wishes to come after me, Jesus said, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. There it is. Anyone, He says. Wife, mother, sister, nun. But, lest we forget, He also told us: A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly. Those words are meant for you. They’re meant for you today, and when you approach an altar to give your life away, and when you lie on your deathbed. Not one of us is exempt from the suffering or the abundance.

We’re destined for life with the One who created us, both here and in our heavenly home. It’s taken me some time, and some spiritual kicking and screaming, but I think I’ve finally given Him permission to be the true author of my earthly life.

Have you?





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