An interesting thing that I’ve experienced as wife is moments of sudden intense desire to be a nun or missionary. And I know I’m not alone.
I know there are women out there who have wanted to be a wife and mother their whole lives – the daily grind of this life puts them in their element and they can’t imagine doing anything else. This post isn’t written for those people, although I love them and many are my friends.
This post is for wives and moms like me who maybe never felt drawn to have a large family, or even desired marriage initially. Those who had big plans to become missionaries or join convents or travel indefinitely but fell in love before those things came to be. Those who married young before really understanding what it means to discern God’s will. For those who married before their conversion or before knowing what religious life even was. This post is for those who have ever had the sinking feeling of I think I missed God’s best for me – I suddenly don’t feel fulfilled in this vocation – I think I was supposed to be a nun. The gripping fear you missed a vocation and would somehow be happier in a different state in life.
(First, let me state clearly I’m writing friend to friend, on a personal and heart sharing level. Take what’s useful, leave the rest. Please don’t misinterpret my words or sentiment here and make stupid choices and blame me. I hold myself not liable. In other words – take this with a grain of salt and consult with your spiritual director or trusted priest if you have questions or concerns about what’s going on in your own personal life and vocation. It’s also worth noting I’m speaking in generalities here – some couples are necessarily seeking annulment, for example. I’m not talking about the exceptions or rare cases in this post. I’m speaking to those in valid, healthy marriages who have this fear pop up and don’t know where to go next. I should also say I love my family and husband a ridiculous amount and trust I’m where God has me for a reason – I’m speaking to the fear only, not from a place of depression or regret.)
Okay, grab your coffee! Let’s go.
I want to share a little bit into my life so you can hear where I’m coming from. In college, I had a huge conversion type experience that changed my heart radically. It lead me to give up self-centered, material ways and see Christ in the poor and my calling to never forget that. The verse from Matthew 10:8 became words I lived on: You received without pay, give without pay.
I was able to serve on week-long missions several times in Central America and even take a few months off of college and live in the Caribbean for a while as a missionary. I knew I was called to marriage, but I also felt deeply called to be Christ’s little missionary. At the time, all I wanted was to sell all I had and live with the poor. But what also happened during those same years was meeting and falling in love with Jake. I didn’t feel like either desire contradicted the other and was encouraged and supported in both. I figured that God was calling me to marriage, and that once I had a family we would serve in foreign missions together.
As much as Jake and I have been open to God calling us to missions, we haven’t yet served as missionaries in other lands like I had wanted. We conceived on our honeymoon and after having our first, life became hectic and paying off student loans was our priority before discerning missions more seriously. Life lead us into the military life, two more babies, health problems, and several cross country moves. Things look a lot different than we had anticipated to say the least.
Even though I can look back and at each turn see that I was seeking God’s best and we were seeking to serve how God wanted, when life is hard or boring or both, I’ve had seasons of intense longing for the missions and even religious life. The first time this happened it was jarring. It was so strong I felt trapped – how could I have this calling when I’m married? Could I have missed my actual vocation? Did I selfishly choose this path and now I’m reaping the unhappiness of it? Do I feel this way because I really was supposed to do something else? Have I failed God?
I’ve cried, asked my spiritual director more than ten thousand times if I let God down, cried more, tried to ignore it, convinced myself I’m on the wrong path, and probably went through some type of 12 step process as I struggled with this feeling. It’s a mind trip to say the least. I’ve learned a lot through all of this. I want to share the conclusions I’ve come to after much prayer, discernment, and sitting with this fear that I know is pretty common. Hopefully it’s balm to your confused heart and encouragement to be a joy filled saint no matter where life has you right now.
What I remember when I’m gripped with the fear I was called to something other than where I am…
- The evil one hates faithful marriages. If you’re not contracepting, if you’re faithful to your spouse, if you love your spouse purely even an ounce, if you have a valid sacramental marriage, and especially if you are praying with your spouse, SATAN WANTS TO DESTROY THAT BOND. The marriage covenant is an reflection of the very love of the Most Holy Trinity. The Catechism says “since God created him man and woman, their mutual love becomes an image of the absolute and unfailing love with which God loves man. It is good, very good, in the Creator’s eyes” (CCC 1604). Of course the evil one would want to attack that goodness. And when he can’t get in through licentiousness, infidelity, pornography, and all the myriad of ways that seem obvious, he’s likely going to try to get to us in sneakier ways. For me, one way I’ve identified is getting me more concerned about the past that I cannot change than the present where I have the chance at becoming holy. If my mind is caught up in the what ifs, Satan has a foothold because I’m distracted – I’m not focusing on living out the vocation I’m in fully and faithfully.
- God’s greatest attribute is His mercy. Remember that another really great plan was messed up by humans like you and me – God’s original plan for man. We can look at the Garden to see that we aren’t the first people to ever mess things up big time and need a Savior. And guess what? God made things even better than if Adam and Eve hadn’t messed up royally. In the Exsultet we hear the Fall referred to like this: O truly necessary sin of Adam. (It’s worth praying through the entire Easter Proclamation if you never have (you can read it here).) My point is that if we somehow believe there was another path for us, and just because we are on a different path, that somehow God is going to withdraw grace from our lives and make us perpetually unhappy and lose our chance at heaven, we are mistaken and not thinking with the mind of the Church. What’s necessary is run to Jesus with childlike trust and know that His Mercy can make things even better than if we had gotten it all right on the first try.
- God can’t contradict Himself. I’m not putting limitations on God when I say this – He is all-powerful but also all-good. In that purity, to say He can contradict Himself would be to say that a square can have six sides. It’s silliness. Remember this with your state in life. If you’re married, living a faithful life as a wife and possibly mother, and suddenly feel called to a different vocation, it is likely not God’s voice. Because God will not tell you to do something sinful for some arbitrary, potential good.
- Discern feelings before accepting them as fact. I had youth ministry colleague once say “feelings is the “F” word of our generation”. The reality is a lot of times what we feel is probably skewed by selfishness, pride, self-preservation, fear, and sin. We live in a world that teaches us to “go with your gut” and to “honor your feelings.” God gave us emotions for a reason – but that doesn’t mean we need to base all our decisions on them. This is why we have the Magesterium – it’s our job to form our consciences based on the truths handed down to us, not based solely on our feelings. So if I suddenly feel like I missed my vocation to the religious life six years into marriage, I can discern that 1. God won’t call me to a different vocation when I’m already in an indissoluble marriage and 2. there is probably something else going on making me feel this way and I should get to the bottom of it rather than despair and abandon being faithful to my current vocation.
- Am I running to or from something? This is probably one of the most valuable pieces of wisdom I’ve ever received from my spiritual director. I use this phrase as a discernment tool a lot when I feel the strong urge to do something or change something big. We always want to be running to God and the Cross. If we determine it’s really just something we are trying to run away from, it’s likely not a good.
- A lot of Saints had crappy lives (on the surface). Butler’s Lives of the Saints is my favorite (and super reliable) book on the Saints. I love reading through stories in it, especially of married Saints, and seeing that for most of them things didn’t go as they planned. In fact, a lot of their lives sound down right crappy on the surface. But they were able to make the best of things and achieve sainthood. The thing that mattered was how they loved and served God daily no matter the circumstances.
- Make it a glory story. As a youth minister, I’d encourage teens to share stories about how God moved and worked in their hearts after we went on retreat. At the end they’d yell, “Glory!” and everyone in the bus or room would yell it back. With this fear that springs up, I look at it like a glory story waiting to happen. It’s like going on a hike and intending to get to the summit using the beginner trail and accidentally veering left instead of right, ending up on the advanced trail. What’s the point in picking apart how and where you went wrong? You have two choices – give up or get up. You can still reach the summit even if it’s harder than you thought it would ever be and the glory will be even sweeter having reached the top. So what if being a nun was the easy trail for you? You’re on this path right now – get the summit no matter the cost. Be the patron saint of wrong paths. Just don’t give up. Make it a glory story.
- Find the holy desire and put it in its right place. If I’m feeling really convinced I’d be happier in religious life, I can sit down and sort the good from the bad. The bad is wanting to change where God has me. I can’t go join a convent so I can let that go. The good I can pull from it is a desire to spend more time in deep prayer. That’s good for anyone – my next step is to find how to do that while still being faithful to the duties of my state of life. That might mean giving up my nightly Netflix binge to say a Rosary, meditate with Scripture, and journal. Find the root of the desire that’s good and find a way to fulfill that in your life.
- No heart is ever fully satisfied on earth. The Catechism says The desire for God is written on the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for (CCC 27). Until we are in heaven, we will always long for Him. Sometimes, that’s all this fear boils down to. I just misinterpret that longing.
In the end, what will matter most is how we loved – I’m giving you permission, as a friend that’s been there, to let go of the what ifs. Be fully present to the life you have right now. Begin again today and be consumed with one desire: Jesus. Whatever the original plan was, the life you woke up to today is where the glory can happen. Be convinced of God’s unique and individual love for you, know that He thirsts for you. Satisfy that thirst by serving Him right now, in the vocation you’re in. Meet Him on the road to Calvary when it’s hard and when you get to the top, I can’t wait to hear you yell glory with all the Angels and Saints.
Yesterday is gone, tomorrow has not yet come, we have only today. Let us begin.
-Bl. Mother Teresa