Having wrestled anxiety for most of my young adult life, I don’t often go plumbing the depths of my psyche too much anymore. I may be emotionally and psychologically healthy these days, but I’m far from immune to causing myself anguish. Doubt is an inevitable part of the human experience. We doubt God, we doubt those who lead us, those we love, and of course, ourselves. The decisions we’ve made, especially the big ones, sometimes lead us to places that don’t look like what we envisioned, and we start thinking if we’d chosen another path, things might be easier.
This happens to me most often when I’m ticked off at the world, i.e. husband and kids, although the net can certainly be cast wider. But they are my vocation, and so when family life seems really hard, a niggling thought will sometimes come to mind, wondering if I heard the call wrong. I have always been drawn to silence and stillness. Why didn’t I ever consider religious life? A life of prayer, of contemplation, without the familial demands that wear me down, the unceasing noise that shreds my inner peace, the constant busyness that makes it almost impossible to dip into the well of the Spirit. Wouldn’t I be a better disciple if my life was devoted to solitude and prayer?
I learned long ago not to waste time or emotional energy pursuing these thoughts. I’ve realized that they are a) usually related to cyclical crankiness, b) based on an idealized version of religious that is no more realistic than the idealized vision of family life I am comparing mine to, and c) only half the story. After all, the very richness of the life I record on these “pages” is counter-argument enough.
This weekend I finally finished reading Thomas Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain. Right at the end, he said this:
“You have got me walking up and down all day under those trees, saying to me over and over again: ‘Solitude, solitude.’ And you have turned around and thrown the whole world in my lap. You have told me, ‘Leave all things and follow me,’ and then You have tied half of New York to my foot like a ball and chain. You have got me kneeling behind that pillar with my mind making a noise like a bank. Is that contemplation?”
Look at that: a contemplative monk, questioning his vocation because–gasp–it’s not contemplative enough. Because he’s got distractions. Because his mind is rattling like a piggy bank. (Oh, that is so me.)
When I first read this quote from Richard Hogan: “Usually, in refusing such a gift from God, a person finds his or her path to heaven more difficult. … it seems that God calls us to the best possible vocation suited to our personalities and talents…”, I interpreted it to mean that I will be a better disciple if I am in a situation that challenges my weaknesses least. But I’m beginning to think that the very soul stretching required by my vocation is what makes me a better disciple. After all, if we’re never challenged, how in the world can we grow? If patience, pride and self-centeredness are my weaknesses (and believe me, they are), then family life, in which patience is tried every moment of every day and self-centeredness is forced by virtue of necessity to give way to self-emptying–family life seems ideally suited to make me a better disciple.
In other words, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence…until you get there and realize what you’ve left behind.