When I was ten, I thought I was going to go to Calcutta and be one of Mother Teresa’s nuns. Well, anyway, some kind of a nun. I remember spending one whole library visit looking through the lists of religious orders and seeing which ones sounded the most exciting.
By the time I was in high school, I no longer felt the slightest interest in religious life. I was going to go to Juilliard and be an orchestral flute player. I practiced during study hall and after school, drove half an hour for lessons, and thought I was doing everything I needed to achieve my dream. I wasn’t, but I didn’t know that. And oddly enough, maybe because of the money, or maybe because I was scared of leaving home, I never even requested an application for Juilliard.
The summer after I broke up with my atheist ex, I chaufferred my sister and her boyfriend home from the airport after her overseas summer exchange program. My soul was raw, and I wanted Someone more than anything I had ever wanted in my whole life. Seeing them all lovey-dovey in the backseat made me almost nauseous, not so much with jealousy as with an overpowering sense of something missing.
Enter Christian…and all the years of anxiety that followed. During all that time, what I struggled with most was discerning GOD’S WILL FOR MY LIFE. I thought of it just like that, all caps, some big, ominous concept that if I got it wrong, I would surely be completely miserable for the rest of my life, and do who knew what to my immortal soul. I mean, what if I was wrong? What if THE ONE GOD INTENDED ME TO MARRY was not Christian, but was waiting another year or two in the future? On the other hand, what if I ditched Christian only to discover that he was THE ONE GOD INTENDED ME TO MARRY?
You can make yourself crazy with questions like that, and I almost did. I didn’t know anything about spiritual attack in those days, but God is good and in the long run, I managed to hang on to reason over irrational fear, to get married and start the life that has proved to be so rich and beautiful and filled with unexpected opportunities to grow. I’ve found joy, but not because I’ve ever come to a point of complete certainty of GOD’S WILL FOR MY LIFE. I’ve found joy and acceptance in simply doing the best I can with the knowledge I have.
A few weeks ago I was reading The Theology of the Body in John Paul II: What it Means, Why It Matters, by the late Fr. Richard Hogan when all of a sudden one day I sat up straight, electrified:
“Since every vocation is a gift from God, we cannot simply make up our own. Of course, people try to do this all the time. If called to marriage to a specific person, sometimes people … may doubt that they are actually called to marriage or to marriage with a specific person. …
“Usually, in refusing such a gift from God, a person finds his or her path to heaven more difficult. It is not so much that there is only one way to heaven for each of us–for example, that a particular person is suited only for marriage or, more specifically, that there is only one possible spouse for that person. But it seems that God calls us to the best possible vocation suited to our personalities and talents.” (ToB/Hogan, p. 155)
Did you catch that? There’s a sort of fairy tale mindset that we pursue without even realizing it, that says, “There is only one person in the whole wide world with whom I can be truly and permanently happy.” That’s what it means to find a “soul mate.” I’ve always loved this idea from a romantic perspective, but in reality it’s kind of terrifying. What happens if you choose to park on the left side of the street instead of the right, and don’t end up encountering said Soul Mate at all? Are you then doomed to unhappiness and unfulfillment? On such random, inconsequential things does happiness turn! No, it would be a pretty wretched, impotent God who would set the world up that way.
The whole idea that only one person can make you happy is a terrible twisting of the purpose and potential of love. The reality is so much better than the fairy tale: namely, once you’ve found someone with whom you have commonality and compatibility, you choose, mutually, to give yourselves permanently, exclusively, and completely to each other–and joy and fulfillment results because you stick to it, because you choose to seek out joy and holiness and love in action. Not because it just magically “happens.”
That’s really good news–because if it was all dependent on feelings, what would you do when PMS comes around? Or stress, or attraction to another?
“If there were not more than one possible path for each of us, then a vocation could not be accepted freely. ….Constituted as persons by the creative act of God himself, human persons can only act by their own free choice and in light of their own knowledge. God would never violate his own creative act by compelling human persons to act in a certain way. This is why God tolerates the choice to sin. Therefore, there must be more than one possible path to heaven for each of us, although for each of us there is a best vocation.” (ToB/Hogan, p. 155)
How incredibly liberating.