Over the past few weeks, three of my friends from graduate school have announced plans to enter religious life.
None of these announcements were entirely shocking, given what I knew of each person and their journey thus far. But each decision brought its own elements of surprise. And to have three such announcements in such a short span of time was remarkable, to say the least. Few choices are more counter-cultural in our day and age.
One night over dinner, F and I talked about one friend’s decision to enter a religious community. As we marveled at parts of her choice and scratched our heads at others, I set down my fork (ever the signal of a grand proclamation to come) and declared as only a devil’s advocate could, “It’s just so PERMANENT! I mean, how does she know this is the right decision, the place she’s meant to be? How can she make this kind of commitment, for the REST OF HER LIFE?”
F smirked and lowered his gaze to my belly. “So you’re asking how she can make a lifelong commitment, without completely understanding what she’s getting into? Don’t you think it’s a little late for you to be asking that?”
I love when he calls me out.
Since then I’ve been thinking a lot about the commitments we are called to as part of our vocations. Some are permanent; others are for a season. We hope that the Big Ones – marriage, parenting, religious life – last for a lifetime. But we all know the messy reality of human beings proves that not to be true. So knowing that we could fly or fall, how do we take the leap at all?
Hope. Faith. Trust. Guts. Sheer stubbornness and determination.
Ultimately we all have to decide which voices we will listen to. Our own? God’s? The multitude around us? Every decision to make a lifelong commitment – to marry, to raise a child, to enter religious life – is inevitably faced by nay-sayers.
“Fifty percent of marriages end in divorce,” the cynic reminds the young couple eager to walk down the aisle.
“Celibacy is impossible and outdated,” the doubters challenge the seminarian.
“You’ll be responsible for that little brat for 18 years, you know,” the bitter joke to the pregnant. “And you’ll never sleep again.”
And yet no lifelong commitment can be lived out perfectly, since it is lived by imperfect people. The best we can hope to do is live faithfully as the person God created us to be.
Sad, then, that we sometimes tear each other down rather than build each other up. My vocation is strengthened – not diminished – by you living out yours as well. No one’s is holier or worthier; each is simply particular to the gifts we have been given, to the community to which we have been called.
Certainly we all have doubts – about our own vocations as well as others. Few things worse than sitting (or standing up) at a wedding where you’re not convinced the couple will make it. But once all the wise counsel has been given and the decision has been made, we owe it to each other to support each other as best we can, in the ways and the places we have chosen to answer the call.
Every great pastor was once a naive seminarian. Every wise grandmother was once a clueless new mother. Every CEO was once an awkward new hire.
And perhaps there’s something necessary about our naivete at the outset of answering our vocational calls. I may have no clue what I’m getting myself into with baby #2. And my dear friend who’s becoming a sister may have no idea what awaits her in community life.
But we need our hopes (and perhaps our ignorance) in order to take a leap of faith, trusting that a God who is bigger than our doubts and fears will have greater things in store for us than we can imagine on our own. If we knew everything that awaits us down these paths, we’d probably never say yes. But we’d miss the growth and joy and wisdom that far outweigh the struggles we’ll face.
So we say “I do.” We take the job. We take the new baby in our arms. We don the veil. And we hope each morning, even the dark and gloomy ones, that our response to the call can be as faithful as the One who called us.
Crazy? Sure. But hasn’t every decision that turned out to be good – to have another child, to enter religious life, to move halfway across the world to serve those in need – required at least a little bit of crazy?