A Time for Questions

I haven’t posted here in a bit. I was sent out for a while to do training, but the training was rather poorly planned, so there was an abundance of downtime. I finished four books and read a great deal of T. S. Eliot’s and Francis Thomson’s poetry.

I wasn’t too far from a major city, and I might have enjoyed seeing something of the city, but it wouldn’t have worked out. I would have had to go into town with the other guys and what they want to do and what I want to do are generally incompatible. I didn’t even want to listen to the stories of their evenings out. I didn’t want to listen to the jokes, or be a part of the general atmosphere. There was a certain irony in the fact that, because I was the last one to show up, my cot was right in the middle of the big open bay we were all living in. All around the bay were grown men, running around naked or flashing each other, telling stories about the strippers they hit on the night before, sharing home-made porn clips and x-rated music videos, and acting out some truly sick fantasies with a naked blow-up doll someone bought to put in the Captain’s sleeping bag as a joke. Right in the very center of the whole mess, there I was, lying on my cot, reading the Divine Office and saying my rosary. And that was my comment on the whole affair.

I sometimes wonder if I shouldn’t attack the vice more aggressively. I have come a long way from my early days in the Army, when I rather Quixotically took on every single challenge to the faith, my morals, and good manners with reckless abandon. I eventually learned not to be drawn out by every windmill that crossed my path, and consequently got along better with the other guys. I limited my protests to simply walking away from any conversation that turned vile, and answering any questions I was asked. Earning respect as a soldier also helped. I am stronger, smarter and faster than most of my peers, I shoot among the best, and I look like I know what I’m talking about, so they are more likely to tolerate my morals.

But what would I do if I really cared about them? I would be exhausting every effort to warn them of the eternal damage they are doing to their souls. It isn’t so much a question of “Am I going to hell for this?” (I get asked this question pretty often.) The fact is, they are busily constructing hell in their own hearts. I know, I’ve done it. One way or another, every sin shapes my heart a little more into a hell that I carry around with me wherever I go, until God comes in and restores me.

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I have been in a questioning mood for some time now, a month, month and a half, something like that. Everyone goes through periods in their life when they question everything. Right now I am questioning every choice I have made, every habit I have formed, every idea I have shaped, all my writing and thinking. There is much that I find to be good. There is much that I find to be wrong-headed, or lazy, or cowardly.

The biggest question I cannot seem to get a handle on is: what do I want to do with my life? At 27 you would think I should have this more or less figured out by now, but I really don’t. I recently read an article in which Peter Kreeft writes about discernment with his characteristic penetrating insight and common sense, and it squares with an idea I am slowly formulating.

It’s a bit comical how Catholics (and in fact, it cuts across all Christian denominations) seem to have made such careers out of “discernment.” It is odd. The concept of “vocation” and “discernment” do not seem to have occupied much of the thought of generations before us. From ages in which young people more or less simply did whatever they had the heart, wits and wherewithal to do, to our present age in which what seems like most of the young people I know spend five to ten years of their late teens and early twenties dithering about between vocational discernment retreats and incessant soul-searching for “God’s will.”

I am beginning to wonder if it is not a tactic of the enemy, in the current phase of the war. I would be interested to see where the concept of “discerning a vocation” came from and how it has evolved over the last 50 years. I suspect it grew out of the need for priests and religious that plagued the Church in the 70’s, 80’s and on through the present day. Certainly the idea of asking God to make His will known and to give us wisdom and courage to follow His will is a worthy goal, but, as Peter Kreeft points out, it can be taken to a ridiculous extreme.

What could be more ironic than hundreds of thousands of Christian young people, so afraid of missing “God’s Will” that they spend the strongest and most energetic years of their lives doing nothing worthwhile except stressing out about their “vocation.”

That is probably what the devil would like to see happen, but fortunately a lot of young adults are more sensible than that. They go out and do things, working in the missions, or in ministries or go to college, and so accomplish good things, but there is a sense of transition to the whole business. I notice a sense of “in the meantime,” or “This will do to be going on with until I find my real vocation.” I am pretty sure I reject the “in the meantime” approach. It has always seemed to me that there is never a moment that doesn’t have its good that can be accomplished, and accomplishing it is my vocation. I used to think the larger decisions flowed out of the smaller decisions, but now I am not so sure.

It is impossible to say precisely what I mean. I don’t have an answer for the riddle I am proposing myself. I rather think that vocation is a cooperation between the individual and God. God gives us the gifts and talents that He has given us and says, “Abide in me and bear fruit that will last.” The precise method He leaves up to us, apart from the occasional special, extraordinary call. Mother Teresa, for instance, had a definite calling. Who knows, perhaps she was able to hear it simply because she had opened herself enough to hear it, and everyone would hear their own call just as clearly if we would only make ourselves as available as she did. Or more likely not, I think. It would seem more in keeping with God’s “style” to leave most people in a little bit of uncertainty. “Abide in me and bear fruit that will last,” seems to be all most people are given. Since we are given everything we need, I am forced to conclude that most people don’t need any more than that.

In the end the only thing I am sure of is that I want to be a Saint. I want to be completely turned over to God, completely abandoned to Him. I think that is the goal of everyone’s life, whether they know it or not. The exact shape that it takes is less important.

8 Comments

  1. Marianna- “surely, Jesus didn't agonize over whether He was supposed to be a carpenter or not…” this made me laugh out loud!! It's true though- we should be thankful to have options.

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  2. Firstly, it's sad to hear that so many of the young fellows in uniform are perfect heathens underneath their clean exterior. I mean, I knew they weren't angels to begin with, but hearing about such depravity makes me decide to pray even more for our military in general.

    Secondly, this is a timely and interesting subject for me to read about… I'm “one of those” who spend a lot of time trying to discern God's will for my life and what I'm supposed to be doing with it. (I mean, if I had a family it would be spelled out for me, as a woman, in scripture, but it's a little different when you're single) Especially lately. I think it can be something we overspiritualize… surely, Jesus didn't agonize over whether He was supposed to be a carpenter or not… He just did it, and was no doubt the best because He did it for the Father. I think another deeper issue, though, is motive. I remember when I got out of high school agonizing over what to do, and waiting for a while. Finally, I decided to just get my real estate license and follow in my dad and older sister's footsteps. I've always questioned that decision, though… did I do it because I got tired of waiting? Might something else have opened up if I had waited just a bit longer? Would I be where I am now, trying to conduct a career change, if I had waited longer to hear from the Lord? Or maybe I just did the right thing and was/am overspiritualing it, as you say. But, I do question my motives back then, regardless of whether it was the right decision or wrong one… I do think I got impatient and jumped ahead a bit. So, it was a motive factor, more than my trying to make a honest and good decision.

    Lately, when I'm making decisions, I look the the parable of the stewards from Matthew… the Master gave them a certain amount of money (or in our case, talent/ability), and then left them to multiply it for his best. He didn't micromanage it, but did demand an account at his return. But, yet, the balance to that is constantly praying through things and waiting on the Lord with every decision… and if it doesn't go against scripture or wise counsel, or your own “gut feeling”, than it's pretty safe and you can trust the Lord to shut the door (He certainly will).

    Anyway, that's a ramble for you… I've just been thinking about all of this too, lately, so it's good to hear someone else's thoughts on it.

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  3. The Hound of Heaven is a wonderful religious poem! Second to it I think is “High Flight.” And, yes, Hopkins has interesting timing, my favourites are “God's Grandeur” and “The Windhover”. Just to clarify, I was not really in a conumdrum… just pondering the situation and the issue of sacrifice. Of course inability is a large issue, and you would be one who knows that and is experienced in that area. Which, as you said, is a large one. Thanks for your reply.
    God bless,
    Frances

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  4. You are right, of course, and I didn't mean that everyone is dithering. I waxed a touch hyperbolic in that post. Thank you for the balance. 🙂

    Also, you are quite right about people not being ready. The question is how much we should learn in preparation and how much we should learn by doing. After all, there comes a time when you simply have to jump in the water and either sink or swim.

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  5. I was reading “The hound of Heaven.” I have some Gerard Manley Hopkins as well. Great poet with strange timing. Eliot would have to be miy favorite, but “Hound of Heaven” stands alone among poems as (I think) the greatest religious poem of all time.

    In regards to your conundrum about the possibility of having to sacrifice your life in a shooting, the issue is rarely one of unwillingness, so much as inability. There is a kind of mental paralysis that affects most people on their first exposure to human violence. A good portion of military training is devoted to disabling that paralysis. Not easy to do. Some people cannot do it, and then they have to deal with some extreme PTSD, survivor's guilt. Too involved a topic to get into in a comment.

    Discernment for me is an attempt to learn the shape of love. I want to Love God. That is non-negotiable. He has given me a lot of gifts and desires, but the instructions, so to speak, are not especially detailed. It should be possible to look upon it as more of a game than a curse.

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  6. The topic of vocations is something I have been reflecting on quite a bit. I do think people can get hung up on “God's will” to the point of paralysis, but I don't think that's what everyone is doing when they say they are “discerning.” One does not, of course, simply decide to be a priest or religious sister. It's a calling, and so discernment serves an important function. You have to listen to what God is telling you, and sometimes it takes a while to be honest with yourself and filter through your own hidden agendas. Sometimes I think God just wants us to wait on Him though. As long as we are loving Him, we are living our vocation in its most basic sense. And, especially today, many people are so selfish and have so many issues to work out. I don't think they would make very good husbands/wives/priests/religious until they work some things out. They may need to go through some healing before they are able to give themselves fully to anyone. Self mastery is so important and yet so sorely lacking in people today.

    My personal philosophy of discernment is to throw oneself into the Lord's arms with reckless abandon. He will let you know if He wants you to be a priest or sister/nun, but you have to be open enough to offer yourself. But it seems a lot of people are too cowardly and run away from the Lord. It's a shame, but it's also kind of beautiful to see how the Lord pursues us–the “hound of heaven.”

    But then I know many people who are in love with God, who are completely open to a vocation to priesthood/religious life, who offer themselves to God, but they know with interior certainty that God has not called them to this vocation. They are also open to dating and have many friends of the opposite sex, but they have just never met anyone they love and respect enough to marry. I don't think it makes sense to marry just anybody, simply for the sake of having a vocation. God made Adam wait through the creation of all of the other animals before he was at last given a suitable partner.

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  7. Continuation:
    Regarding the second part of your post… I love your conclusion: basically, you want to be a saint!!! I try to tell that to all the children I am blessed to teach… we were created to know, love, and serve God joyfully, in short… to become saints!!!

    You are totally right about the riddle you have written, however, the question of “Where does God want me?” I am the in the same boat (there are many of us, as you said), though the female version of that question. I was talking to a friend and she was commenting that many young people are in a state of ‘perpetual’ discernment. I agree with Peter Kreeft, it is a bit ridiculous right now… there is an important element to asking God to make known his will, but we cannot try to outthink God. Although I am not sure either where the ‘discernment’ concept came from, I know that it has not been around for that long… my parents did not have to deal with it and I am sure that yours did not either.

    I am a prime example of trying to outthink God, and you are probably right… it is probably a distraction of the devil. Also, there are so many very well-meaning people out there offering advice to help any ‘poor single young person’ discern, and I think that also adds to the problem. I had one Mother Superior, who is a wonderful woman, tell me that because God has not sent me the right man…. Therefore I am meant to be a nun (basically I am not taking the hint). That really shook me, and I have been focusing a lot on trying to figure out Gods will (out think God) since then… and, to be honest, it has not been a great way to approach life. I was never worried about it in university; I just figured that if God wanted me somewhere he would give me a desire, etc… It says in Scripture: “The Lord fulfills the desires of all who fear Him.” (Ps. 145) I just have to see that where He has me right now is where He wants me right now. I admire the fact that you have rejected the “in the meantime’ approach, I have a bit of that and your post is a good reminder of living for God, every moment, and seeing every moment as a gift of his.

    Another reminder is the terrible tragedy that happened on Friday, the shooting at the school… and it really made me think and pray for all those involved. That could have happened in any of the schools that I teach at, one of the teachers was my age and she gave up her life to protect those children. Am I living in a way that I could lay down my life for another, that I would not hesitate to protect those in my care? That is basically the vocation of all, to become a saint, to always be prepared to meet Our Lord, to sacrifice. I know that as a soldier you have to deal with that daily, teachers don’t usually have to, but it really brings the vocational discernment from ‘me’ to “God” I am living this day for your glory, please use me in whatever situation you bring me into today.
    God bless, and have a blessed third week of Advent.
    Frances

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  8. Thank you for the great post! Sounds like it was an ‘interesting’ training session… reading four books is pretty impressive (and I thought that I was one of few speed readers in the world). Which Francis Thompson poems did you read? He is one of my favourite poets, though I enjoy Gerard Manley Hopkins as well.

    I am responding since you brought up several questions in your post that I have been pondering in the last few weeks/months as well. What you said about spending time with your fellow soldiers and not fighting every battle is something that happens in every walk of life. I am a teacher, substitute, and you will often get conversations that are, in short, very uncomfortable. Many are not practicing their faith, and yet they are responsible for teaching children the faith. My Dad, who is a religion teacher, often reminds me to pick my battles… which I am getting better at. I think that ‘not saying something’ is not always a sign of not caring, for I am sure that you would be the first to speak if the occasion demands. I like you method of walking away, that is often a good idea that I would do well to remember. There is a quote from one of the saints (sorry, I forgot which one) which is fitting, for it says:
    “To be a witness does not consist of engaging in propaganda, or even in stirring things up, but in being a living mystery. It means to live one’s life in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist.”

    (Continued, I wrote too much for one reply… sorry, but I was on a roll: Frances)

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