This is Day 7 of Jen’s 7 Posts in 7 Days Challenge.
Part 1 of this story is here: My Journey to God (Part I) – From Darkness to Light
The summer of my 26th year had been a long and hard struggle. It began when my mom uttered the alarming words, “God may be calling you to the religious life.” My heart sank. As a renewed Catholic who just experienced a reversion to the faith, I had great admiration for nuns but did not want to be one myself. But the idea intensified when I prayed. I couldn’t shake the feeling that God might be calling me to surrender myself in this special way…as a nun. I tried to suppress these thoughts and ignore God, but I knew what life was like when I tried to ignore God. I realized that I needed to spend some time alone with God to get closer to Him and to re-evaluate where my life was going.
I stopped publishing “handmaid” and stepped away from the normal routine of my life. I explained to my friends (mostly non-Catholics) that they wouldn’t be seeing or hearing from me for awhile because I was thinking about the religious life. The reactions ranged from teary-eyed encouragement to gasps of horror at the realization that I was Catholic. The former gave their support and the latter turned their backs because they saw Catholicism more akin to a cult than Christianity. However, this “confession” of mine opened doors for people who were curious about Catholicism because they knew nothing about it or had a skewed version of it.
Meanwhile, I was still praying for discernment regarding a religious vocation. I spend almost a year living my own desert experience. I went without “fun”, without TV, radio, phone conversations, and the like. I had quit my job and was working for my parents who were thanking God that I was trying to discern God’s will. (Their motto is to give God and His Church the first shot as your spouse.) My brother Rob was going through a similar discernment process and had entered the seminary to discern a vocation.
I still had mixed feelings about the whole thing – one day I’d have romantic notions of me working as a missionary or penning spiritual diaries and then the next day I’d be filled with dread wondering, what the heck am I thinking? I decided to give it a try by “living the life” of a religious. I found out about a summer long retreat for women discerning a religious vocation that was run by a group of lay consecrated women. I prayed about it and signed up. I hate to admit that my mind was already stubbornly made up that I was not called but I figured once the retreat was over, I could return home with a clean conscience saying I had “tried”.
Life with the consecrated was not what I expected. It was a time of active missionary work and deep prayer – I think it was the prayer that got to me. I wasn’t one of those who loved to spend countless hours praying before the tabernacle. I didn’t like the quiet and being still. It made me think too much. I would struggle with my thoughts. I wondered if I could give up certain things to became a nun, particularly in the guy department. All my life there was always a guy I liked or a guy I was pursuing. The chase was like a drug. As a nun, there would be no more chasing. Could I live life as a celibate? And could I completely accept God’s will in the tiniest detail – go where I was told and do what I was told without question? I didn’t know.
However, praying in common with the others girls and especially spending time alone with Our Lord in the tabernacle melted my cynical and selfish heart. I realized how much God had given me. I thought about what kind of dark life I had been living before and how he rescued me. I slowly began to love the religious life and saw the beauty that outweighed the sacrifice. I wanted to embrace it wholeheartedly. I knelt in the chapel and begged God to forgive me for being so selfish and self-centered and for looking on a religious vocation with disdain, rather than with joy to be chosen as a bride of Christ. I surrendered my whole being and gave to God my life to do with as He willed.
Later I opened up my heart to my confessor and spiritual director, revealing all that I was going through. I knew that they were the tools God would use to guide me. I thought I was ready to join the novitiate of the consecrated women but surprisingly, they felt it was not certain that I had a vocation. I was to go back into the world for one more year and if at the end of the year I still felt called, then I was to return. I walked back to the chapel and sobbed. I couldn’t believe it. First I wanted nothing to do with living the life of a nun but God called me. Then I wanted nothing more than to live that kind of life and God said no.
I couldn’t help but feel betrayed until I slowly began to realize just what happened to me during those summer weeks. There had been a definite change in my spiritual life; it gained depth that had not been there previously. I thought about all the classes on spirituality I had taken – particularly the class on the Sacrament of Marriage. I was intrigued to learn how a wife and husband are called to sanctity within their vocation, just as a religious. Therefore a single woman called to marriage should be looking for a spouse that would help her reach heaven. I marveled at the idea! Looking back now, it’s rather funny that God had to put me on the path of a consecrated soul in order to show me the kind of man I should be seeking if I was called to married life. I guess God uses what it takes to teach us our lessons.
I realized the summer retreat was all a part of God’s divine plan and in the long run it would serve its purpose. My heart was filled with peace and joy, knowing that God was in control and that I had finally learned to let go and let God. My life no longer revolved around finding a man. For now, God was the only one I was supposed to pursue. As for the future, I would just have to wait to see what God had in store for me.
Many, many months later (I remember the day well) I was in church praying before Our Lord. It had been nearly a year since I tried the religious life and after a lot of prayer and spiritual direction I finally knew with certainty that God was calling me to be a wife and mother. I believe God had been testing me. By embracing the religious life with love, I had surrendered my life to God and only then could He reveal the true direction of my vocation.
I would love to say that shortly after figuring out my vocation I succeeded in the monumental task of finding a holy spouse that cared deeply about the same things I did and who saw our future marriage as our path to heaven. The reality is that it would take another looong two years. Although I was truly trying to accept God’s will and timing, it was an acute struggle to feel called to a vocation so strongly, yet not be able to “participate” in that vocation without the right partner. I had to learn how to stay focused on growing more mature and spiritually rooted, as well as trying to be patient, trusting that God would answer my prayers in His time. Like the lilies of the field, God was taking care of me.
Months went by and a friend gave me a novena* (see below) to Blessed Anna Marie Taigi, a holy Catholic wife and mother, that her sister prayed with the specific intention of finding the right husband. After the novena she soon met her future husband on the internet in a Catholic chatroom. I had already been praying to St. Anne, my patron saint, but I thought extra prayers to another holy Anne couldn’t hurt and decided to make the novena. The following week I attended my young adults’ meetings with renewed vigor – I was ready for Mr. Right to walk in the door any minute. By the end of the meeting I sighed and resigned, “Okay, okay, Lord. It’s obvious that it’s not time yet. I’ll be patient!” And again, I waited….
Part 3: Journey to God (Part 3): Our How-We-Met/Engagement Story
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PPS – Here is the novena to Bl. Anna Maria Taigi that I prayed.
O Blessed Anna Marie Taigi, by that humble submission with which you believed in and adored the august mystery of the One True God in Three Persons, obtain for me from the Most Holy Trinity the favor which I confidently implore…(fill in your petition**.)
Glory be the Father… (three times)
O Blessed Anna Marie Taigi, by the great love and tender pity with which you honored the mysteries in the life of Jesus, obtain for me from Him the favor which I earnestly implore… (fill in your petition.)
Glory be the Father… (three times)
O Blessed Anna Marie Taigi, through your filial devotion to the Blessed Virgin, obtain for me from Her the favor which I humbly implore… (fill in your petition.)
Glory be the Father… (three times) Amen.
You can fill in your own petition. For an example, I said the following:
Petition 1 – That I may find the man God has chosen to be my spouse.
Petition 2- That he and I will both grow in the virtues needed to be a holy spouse and parent.
Petition 3 – That I may know God’s will and follow it with love and patience.