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Thursday, September 04, 2008

Romanticizing Discernment

Today I came across a couple of blogs that discussed the reality of religious life. One of those is one I regularly read, Fr. Phillip Neri OP, Ph.D, another is a blog I can't seem to find again but hope to stumble upon again!

In any case, both discussed discernment, and the idea of entering the priesthood or religious life for the RIGHT REASONS, and not having any illusions about it. Those who sense a call from God and try to enter with romantic ideals will be disappointed. In short; they won't survive, and may even be embittered by the experience!

Having BEEN in that boat a few times, and in fact, having built and driven that boat, and tried to swim it in when it broke down, well, I'm an EXPERT when it comes to such a charge.

Those who know me best know that I wear my heart on my sleeve. It's not something I'm proud of, but it seems to be something built into my very personality, and something I've been fighting ever since I decided back in High School to go into Law Enforcement. And those of you who don't know me but know other people maybe like me - you know that those of us who have such a personality are also hopeless romantics.

Yes. We WANT to see the world through rose-colored glasses, we dream of things of beauty, we believe in "Ever-After", and riding horseback into the sunset with a shotgun across our laps, prepared for everything....but prepared for nothing.

Because the shotguns are only props and the horses came from a dismantled merry-go-round.

The problem is that the world we idealize is complete fantasy, we know it, and if we are also logical people, we fight these day-dreamy tendencies. Even as we follow them and are beat up as a result of them. It seems to always be a harsh lesson.

Although, to be honest, although I'd LIKE to call myself a "Romantic", I'm not sure I have a romantic bone left in my body. I've always wanted to experience a romantic carriage ride along a byway lined with either spring apple blossoms or the bright colors of fall. And I've always dreamed of romantic evenings of fine dining and wine, of long trail rides and watching the sunset amidst the mountains, watching the sun rise over the pounding of the ocean waves. Not alone, but with someone else. Someone special.

But I don't care about those things anymore. They're nice images, sure, but they're superficial. I've seen a Pacific ocean sunrise, and it was gorgeous, but not enough to base my life on. And I've seen a sunset in Sedona, Arizona, and I'll never experience another like it...but it hasn't changed my life. I've never had that romantic carriage ride, but I think I can live and die without it. And fine dining...been there, done that. It's nice, but it doesn't define me. Trail rides...they're just dusty and dirty and fun! THOSE maybe DO define me!

None of that is the point, though. The information I read is not new to me, although it WAS revealing in a sense, for it has appealed to my cynacism. It's made me realize that I'm not a true romantic anymore. My rose-colored glasses were shattered long ago, and I haven't had any good daydreams for a very long time. I'm not sure I even know how to dream anymore.

And therin is the revelation; I have to wonder if my discernment came to a halt or at least has been retarded by the very reality of the life experience that has formed me. I've lost my idealism, and my sense of romanticism. I don't look at religious life as a way to "save" me, or as an ideal, or a perfect lifestyle. In fact, I see it with a kind of dread, of knowing that I'd have to live with OTHER PEOPLE and deal with their issues. I grew up in a small family and by the time we parted, I seriously hated them all.

When I was choosing a college, I considered finding one that I could drive to - at a distance that would inhibit my return. And in college, I purposefully found ways NOT to come home for holidays. God had other plans and saved me from such plans, but my desire to distance myself from my own family was a desire that didn't go away.

When I look at religious life, then, I look at my family, and realize that the same kind of people and issues might well be present there...but multiplied in number. I have no illusions about that. And it's something I've ALWAYS realized. And maybe it terrifies me.

Now, I've been a single woman for a very long time, and I've enjoyed being single, and I have absolutely no interest in dating. I like guys just fine; as friends, as relatives, as superiors, etc. I like the idea of marriage, but I'm not sure I'd ever be marriage material. I think I've been too damaged. And I truly wonder if I've been too damaged not just by what I've survived, but by my own choices, to really find fulfillment in religious life. I wonder if I'm completely unsuited.

Folks, this is a world that doesn't just harbor creates us. It destroys Vocations. And sometimes those who are Called destroy their OWN Vocations through their own volition.

I often wonder if I'm one of those people.

One thing I think I can honestly say...I haven't romanticized religious life. I've gone in the opposite direction. My problem is trying NOT to see it as a whole, but just to focus on what's directly in front of me. My tendency is to look at all the disillusionment, and all the problems, and all the reality, and be overwhelmed by it such that I walk away. What I need to do is to just live in the present and take the next step. My biggest wall is the disillusionment I have in almost everything.

And right there, I think that's where the Cross comes in. I see this as my personal Cross. I can't put it down, but maybe I can come to understand it and feel the wood and the splinters and even identify the species of tree from which it was made. That knowledge doesn't change the fact that it weighs me down and that the ultimate goal is Calvary. I can call it whatever I want and philosophize about it, but the important thing is the here and now, and taking the next bloody step. I have to remember Whose face is before me, in Whose steps I follow.

It's not about what I think or believe or expect. It's about the next thing. When Jesus was crucified, although He saw His entire Passion even BEFORE his conception, He lived His Passion in every moment. He did not allow himself to pontificate about each and every thing before it happened. He sweated blood in the Garden, but knew that redemption was not found in philosophy, but in action. In His blood.

No, as much as I wear my heart on my sleeve, I don't think I'm a romantic anymore. I wish I could be, but I can't. I face things expecting the worst, and have found such a position to be safe, but maybe too much so that it has paralyzed me because I've been exsanguinated by too much reality.

It's hard to know that one may very well return to a situation worse from that which one has already escaped. It's hard to realize that the family that God has called one to may very well be one that embodies the worst of one's own family, and that this can't be known at only a glance. And it's hard to know that one must give up EVERYTHING in order to jump into such a fire.

People may wonder why I've agonized so much over my Vocation, whatever it truly is; I suggest that wondering is in vain. I know I've been damaged, but I've denied it for a long time, wanting to be "normal". Yet I've spoken with Sisters who lament the reality of our culture today. Unfortunately, I am not an anomaly. I'm just an old anomoly.

Romance is a wonderful thing. But for some of us, it's just a shattered ideal, long lost in a world of disillusionment. The hearts on our sleeves are bleeding out and we don't even know where to find the doctors who could save us.



Lillian Marie said...

I'm finally taking a few minutes to 'catch up' on what I missed this week.

You'll have special prayers coming next week while I'm at the Convent - especially for your Spiritual Director.

Unknown said...

similar story. single man, love women, however there are too many examples of divorce in the family that make me reluctant to date let alone consider marriage. But I'm OK with that.

I too struggle with the romantic notion of religious life. I love the time I have spent in monasteries praying and working with the moks. But I can't seem to make the commitment.

I look for the good in people and am crushed when they disappoint.

ditto your concluding paragraph.

Anonymous said...

What I'm wondering is why all these people of a certain age are always telling us not to expect... anything. My parents flatly told me not to enter their profession; but they were happy in it, even if they didn't make any money.

I gave up all my romantic dreams. So now I don't have a profession, I don't have a crazy job that will never make money, _yet_ I don't make money in my sensible job, either.

My mother always warned me not to become a sister, because they'd make me scrub floors upside down and so forth. Yet here I am, single, and I have to scrub my own floors.

What is the improvement, here? If I was going to waste my life, couldn't I have wasted it by trying some of my cool dreams?

The really frustrating part is that my parents are always saying now that they expected me not to pay attention to this stuff, and to go ahead and do what I wanted anyway. Like, when they told me not to fight back against the other kids in school, they expected me to fight back anyway.

Why did they bother telling me this stuff if they didn't want me to obey? Why wouldn't I have listened? They were my parents! And now they tell me they were lying to me, or exaggerating for effect???

The fact of the matter is that the older generation got their fun and interesting life, just like they got their catechism; and have largely responded by doing their best to make sure we never get to do or make or know anything. And this applies as much to religious as anybody else of that generation.

And if that sounds bitter, it is.

Melody K said...

If it's any comfort to you, married-with-children seem to go through existential angst in their 30's, too. I look at some old journals from that time in my life, and something which was a recurrent theme was, "I don't feel in control of my own life." And I obsessed about it. I finally came to accept that I wasn't in control, and it's okay. Not saying that's what you're going through; but maybe there's something about those years that lends itself to a feeling of unsettledness.
And yes, Anonymous, I hear what you are saying. We have tried not to force our children into a mold. But I suppose in some ways we have.

Adoro said...

Anon ~ I hear what you're saying, and my Mom did a lot to dissuade me from a lot of dreams I had, and push me towards what she thought I should be doing. And as it turns out...she was right.

Maybe I didn't do a good job of it in this post, but I can't blame my own illusionment on my parents or their generation. I DID go and follow my dreams, and one of the reasons I'm so disillusioned IS because of that. I did stuff I never should have done, pursued things out of rebellion as opposed to true talent, or dare I say it...interest! That's what I refer to when I said I towed that tattered boat all on my own.

But our culture of sexual permissiveness...nay..encouragement and slack morals, divorce, etc., for that I DO blame society. I don't blame my own parents for getting divorced. They chose that evil to prevent us from suffering a far worse evil. I can't complain about that, and Mom was right to protect us that way. But I grew up saying, "I'm fine, I have no effects from this."

Well, Theology of the Body has taught me differently. And I think we owe it to ourselves to admit that we've been damaged, and that way we can get over it and move on. So, yeah, I'm damaged, some is not my fault and some is from my own free choices, and I have to take responsiblity.

The other half of that is moving on. Being bitter doesn't help. I clearly have my own bitter moments, but even those are passing, and writing about it helps. Especially considering that I know I'm not alone in my thoughts and experiences. (see Kevin's comment above).

Life is a grand thing, and we all have suffering to bear. This is mine, and yours, too. But life isn't over. If we're here, it's because God is holding us in existance, loves us, and has something for us to do. We can't, ultimately, despair.

Thanks for your are helping me to form a follow-up post!

God bless, Anon, and know that I prayed for you at Mass this evening!

Fr. V said...

Interesting that every commercial that I am watching tonight romanticises people living by themselves. Every last one of them.

Adoro said...

Fr. V. ~ Nothing romantic about it. It can be nice, sure. And I like living alone. I like being single. But it's not glamorous or romantic. Not one bit. And it's not natural and I know it.

I think we all know it, whether we admit it or not.

Anonymous said...

Any vocation is a call. That is the absolute bottom line. Cultural influences, family influences, personal choice are all secondary. The bottom line: to what life does God call? And then there is the call-within-the-call. God knows where HE wants you, where you were created to be. If marriage, he knows with what spouse you are meant to glorify him. If religious vocation, what community. There is no perfect community. There is no perfect spouse (except Jesus, of course). That is why listening for HIS voice is essential and non-negotiable. (Preaching to the choir, I realize!) Prayers, Adoro.

jamie said...

Sorry to jump in on this topic late, but is Single Life not a vocation to which some are called?! ...and no less perfect than marriage or religious, as it is intended by our Creator. I'll admit, I never could imagine being single any more than I could imagine a calling to be a sister for myself, but one good Father explained single life in his homily at our parish as a calling which affords someone many things not the least of which is time and energy to devote to God's will, helping others to get to heaven. Time and energy that may otherwise be spent raising a family, or leading a parish, etc. He explained it in such a beautiful way to take away the stereotypes or feelings of failures. Perhaps Adoro you are exactly where you're meant to be. When I pray for vocations...I do so for all...priests, married and singles. All of us called by name, God's will be done. May you find peace in your vocation.

Anonymous said...

Marriage is a vocation that requires two. It seems to me that if the culture kills that vocation for “someone”, there is necessarily a “someone else” who cannot realize their vocation. Just using imaginary statistics, if 75% of men ignore the call and only 50% of women do, then there are a lot of vocations that cannot be actualized. It sure feel that way for this single person.

Melody K said...

Jamie, yeah, I agree. Single life is a vocation. I have been blessed by the lives of many single people; I am thinking in particularly of two aunts who spent their working lives in educational fields. They were always there to encourage their nieces and nephews. That was nice that your priest affirmed the single vocation. There are some priests who say it isn't a vocation; I think they are mistaken.