Reality Beats the Fairy Tale All To Pieces

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Mother Teresa of Calcutta (26.8.1919-5.9.1997)...

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.

Flute closeupBy 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.

A couple of 14-carat gold wedding rings. Pictu...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.

9/4/99

9/4/99

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.

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14 thoughts on “Reality Beats the Fairy Tale All To Pieces

  1. I just had a similar discussion with a young man who is on edge wondering if he is called to the priesthood or marriage/ family medicine or psychiatry- looks like years of walking with Jesus taught us the same thing 🙂

    GREAT title!!!

  2. evanscove

    Excellent points to bring up. For the first 3 years that I was in the Catholic Church, I was, in Catholic lingo, “discerning a vocation” (i.e., looking into the priesthood or religious life). When visiting a Benedictine monastery and, I spoke with the abbot for a while, and he pointed out that in most cases we’re not going to have a dramatic calling experience; rather, it’s usually just a matter of finding what fits us. Simple, but hits the nail on the head!

    Like you, I too considered a religious vocation for a time. During my charismatic evangelical days, I planned to “go into the ministry,” and I was told by plenty of people that I was most definitely called to be a preacher, missionary, etc. Then when I came into the Church I was told by others that I should become a priest, and my pastor even told me he was as sure that I had a vocation as he was sure of his own.

    Yet in the end, however, I realized that all those people had me wrong. What they envisioned what be just perfect for me simply did not fit me at all. I didn’t need God to speak to me out of a burning bush or appear to me in all His splendor like he did to Isaiah or Ezekiel. Rather, as you share in your post, I too came to understand that often our experiences, circumstances, and soul-search will show us all too clearly what roads we should or shouldn’t take in life. (And I’ve also learned all to painfully that it’s unwise to let other people tell you God’s will for your life!)

    And I especially appreciate your remarks about how popular ideas — both in secular society and among Christians — about there being just this one person that we’re destined to joined in marriage with is in fact just puerile, fairy tale nonsense. I remember reading an article by a fellow who oversaw a Catholic youth ministry in which he shared about telling people who worked for the ministry not to fill young people’s heads with the notion that God has foreordained that they marry a particular person. Yes, it sounds romantic and pious, he pointed out, but it just ain’t so! There are plenty of people out there that a single person could be happily married to. And I’m certainly keeping that in mind as I explore the dating scene!

    Anyway, thanks for writing about these issues.

    Evan

  3. Susan

    Thank you. Needed to hear/see this today. I also went back and read the anxiety series, and could identify also with a comment on the conclusion… And realized it was my own. A year and a half later and I am in such a different mental and situational place than I was then. Now my search is rediscovering the directions God’s Will is leading me for my own life.

  4. Cecelia

    I think it is true that in the beginning there is not just one right person for people. And yet I know so many long time couples where the two people just seem so seamlessly, perfectly complete, two halves of a whole, that it does make you think. (Your marriage is one of them.) On the other hand there are couples that even an outsider can see is a rough match.

    I think that while there may not be only one right person at the start, as two people mold and adapt to each other they become that two halves of the whole, such that after a time there is no one else in the world as perfect for them as the one they have chosen. Where that does not happen, when the two people cannot forge that bond and shared identity, i suspect it is harder to keep the marriage intact. If you do not come to feel that your chosen partner in life is your one true love, the best match for you out there, then when the inevitable rough patches happen the temptation to throw in the towel must be that much greater, because a part of you can believe it would be easier or better with someone else.

    • That’s a very great compliment to our marriage, Cecelia. 🙂

      I think everybody wonders at times if this whole life-together thing might be easier with someone else (who doesn’t fill-in-the-blank), but we just have to remember that the quirks are just different, not fewer. But even those who’ve been happily, deeply fulfilled in marriage for decades can find second love once they’re widowed.

    • Nice post. 🙂 I doubt any of us could find 10,000 people we could be happy with…but more than one, I do believe, else nobody would remarry after being widowed. Doesn’t mean I’m on the hunt, though. 🙂 We’re sealed for life, and well broken in. I pray all the time that death does not separate us, that we’ll go down together decades from now.

      I’m beginning to thinkt here’s a second post in all this, as I focused so narrowly on marriage that the more important point got lost…

  5. barbaraschoeneberger

    I think that we shouldn’t get anxious about whether a person is “the one” but rather whether we both can help each other to heaven – a similarity in values and priorities. I do believe that God does put the right person in front of us when we’re ready (sometimes we’re not as ready as we think we are), but it’s only in retrospect that we can see what a huge gift God has given us in that person. Whether there is someone else out there that would have been equally suitable or better is really moot when we’ve committed to someone. Perhaps a good prayer would be, “Lord send me the right person to live the rest of my life with, and give me the grace to recognize him (her).” This signals the willingness to follow His will.

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