As I mentioned above, marrying Jesus is a lot different than marrying a human being. For one thing, Jesus can’t die and leave me. He already did that. I just heard about a friend’s friend who died at age 34 leaving a wife, three kids, and a baby on the way. He was a strong Catholic and has made a huge ripple with the witness of his holy death. This is devastating, and frightening too, but somehow there’s a depth of hope and love in it that I can’t even fathom. When I see this, love looks worth it. And I know for a fact that most mature religious have experienced the feeling that Jesus has died and abandoned them, perhaps through the dark night of the soul. They go on living trusting that He is there, but not feeling his presence. There are many similarities in this.
But whoa, before all of that, there’s dating. This should be the fun and anxiety-free part. Rather, for so many of us it is ridden with anxious expectations. The idea of going back into dating frightened me even before I left the convent. I remember a priest who formed us saying, “I wouldn’t want to be out in the dating world these days, you should all consider yourselves blessed!” It’s a rough trail to tread out here, certainly.
Some people leave the convent thinking, “absolutely, I’m called to marriage, let the dating begin!” This wasn’t the case for me. I had no idea where God was calling me upon leaving, so it’s taken me about this long to get used to the fact that God might be calling me to marriage, which implies dating first. Part of this has been finding potential mates in friends or the guys in the circles I frequent. Most recently, during a holy hour, I really felt the Lord ask me to surrender to the fact that he might want me to get married. It was freeing, but also terrifying. Perhaps part of the difficulty, as a woman who was in the convent, is that this looks a little bit intimidating. A guy hears this and wonders if he could “keep up” with me spiritually (obviously he has no idea how far from the truth this is…). I wonder sometimes, when I casually mention this to a guy, if anything romantic is automatically shelved. They may think it’s neat and ask all kinds of questions about it, or if they aren’t particularly strong in their faith, they may think it’s the craziest thing they’ve ever heard. It might also intimidate them that there are priests in my phone’s contact list who I consider to be fathers and brothers to me. One of those priests told me last year (in jest!) that I should just stand outside the seminary and wait for the guys who are leaving. I do sometimes think I’d be most compatible with a former seminarian, because he could likely understand me and my experience better, and I could be relatively sure that he shared my spiritual values and goals (unless he left because he had become cynical rather than simply disillusioned…).
This is where I tend to over-spiritualize things, and where I’m trying to focus on the whole person: attractiveness of both body AND soul rather than just one aspect of them. There is no such thing as a knight in shining armor. Relationships are a two-way street, and no one is going to be in the exact place you want them to be right when you meet them. We also need to love guys for being men: not being “our way out”. Jesus is our way out. I recently saw a bumper sticker that read, “I already have a Savior. I’m looking for a president”. I think we could say the same in this case: “I already have a Savior. I’m looking for a husband.” We need to let men be human, so that we can take the pressure off of ourselves too. Dating is not such a big deal. If a guy asks me on a first date I will not turn him down, no matter how much I think marriage with him is out of the question. Marriage and dating are not the same thing. Friendships are risked when they become dating relationships, but I have to remind myself that it is worth it!
The reason I think God called me away from the convent is obviously complex, but I think it had something to do with the fact that I got caught up in the vocation culture. It’s exciting to believe and to know that Jesus has a plan and a call for my life. I still believe that. And yet I think in all my discernment process I got away from the idea that Jesus is calling me first to be a Christian. Through my baptism he wants me just for himself no matter what my vocation is. And he wants to work out my salvation not completely reliant on that particular vocation. Since I left the sisters, I’ve come to understand that there isn’t necessarily one vocation that each person is destined to. Before you call me a heretic, let me explain. Is it in the nature of God that he would set up one particular mission for each of us, so that if we failed to discover that mission, we would not be able to spend eternity with him? This sounds more like fate to me. Certainly we each have a mission from him, but I don’t know that it is always definable. After I left the sisters, my former superior sent me that great quote from John Henry Newman: “God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next.” I’ve looked at myself as a disappointment to Jesus for much too long, as if I have broken his heart by “breaking up with him”, rather than loving him exactly where I find myself. Obviously he desires commitment from me, in whatever vocation that will be. But right now, in the present moment this is what he desires; my complete trust and total surrender to the fact that I’m living my vocation and my mission now. I have to know first that I am loved. And the love of God comes through the love of others; the people around me, my friends, my family, the people I work with, and the people I serve. And even through the men that I might date.
So to all the “Joe Schmoes” out there – thanks for your Schmoe-ness! It’s what makes you real and good and accessible and loveable. I am glad you are human, because I am too! And so, if it’s God’s holy will, I am open to loving you, with a human and imperfect love, so that together we can help each other on this journey towards Heaven.
Did you miss part 1? Read it here.
“Wait, so you broke up with Jesus?” The confused look on my third grade student’s face spoke volumes. I was trying to explain to him that I had been in the convent for a year, preparing to marry Jesus, but decided that it wasn’t what God was asking of me at that particular time. I stuttered as I attempted to respond… after all, isn’t that exactly how I had felt so often in the last two and half years since I had left? It is certainly confusing to me as well, how could I expect a third grader to understand! If I am not called to live fully that spousal intimacy with Christ here on earth, I know I am still called to it forever in Heaven. But sometimes it just seems like the idea of dating a regular Joe Schmoe after being lined up to marry the most perfect man (slash GOD) is just a little bit of a step down. And perhaps that’s the message I’ve been sending to those Joe Schmoes as well…
So I’m on Catholic Match. I made a New Year’s resolution to be actively open to dating, whatever that means. After realizing in prayer that this was necessary, my first (bad?) move was to check out the Catholic Match website. To my surprise it said that I could fill out a profile for free! I did so out of curiosity. When I got to the end of it, of course, there was a price tag. Just before clicking out, my mom ran over with her credit card. “I’ll pay for three months!” she said. So yes. I’m on Catholic Match, sponsored by my mother…yikes! Does this sound desperate to you? I really, honestly am not desperate. I left the convent 2½ years ago and it has taken me this long to even allow myself to be open to dating. There is something weird about the idea of online dating sites, though everyone assures me that it’s the way most couples are meeting these days. I am suspicious of every person I “meet” on it… is there something wrong with them? Where’s the catch? But maybe there’s just something wrong with me, and my struggle to open myself to the new-fangled methods that the Holy Spirit is using these days… my excuse for being out of the loop on technology and current events (even three years later) continues to be “Well, I was in the convent!”
I loved religious life as much as I struggled in it. I loved the routine, the constant opportunities to love and to give, and the sense of belonging I received in being a tiny part of the whole. But I also felt deeply that lack of intimacy between me and the other sisters in my community. Of course we shared the ins and outs of our lives, and made ourselves vulnerable at appropriate levels. But exclusive friendships were not encouraged, and I had a hard time navigating this without feeling lonely. I knew it was just something that I was giving up in exchange for a deeper intimacy with Jesus, and I believed that over time these friendships would deepen and grow, like family. Now that I am back in “the world,” I value my friends in a new way. I do not think I am as attached to others as I once was, but I certainly have friendships with both men and women that are exclusive and particular. I still believe (perhaps falsely?) that as a married woman, it would be much harder to have a deep intimate relationship with Jesus.
I admit too – it was a little strange that in the convent, we were all married or planning to marry the same guy: Jesus! Everyone, religious or lay, is called to a spousal relationship with Christ. But in a particular way in the convent, I found that I would compare myself to Jesus’ other brides way too much, doubting myself and His love for me. This was dangerous and full of lies. It seemed like all the sisters around me had a deeper love for him, devotion to him, care for the poor, love for their sisters, than I did. Before I entered the convent, I had been surrounded by people who loved Jesus but most didn’t seem to desire the intimacy of relationship that I desired. I had always felt a little different, like Christ had claimed me in a particular way for Himself. And now, the pride that I had upon my entrance was completely shot because I was surrounded by these very human but holy women who felt the same way. It was extremely sobering. I had to learn how Christ could love me particularly while also loving everyone else particularly. I went to him with my pain and those desires for intimacy. I remember praying on one particularly lonely day, “no one knows or cares how much I am hurting right now, except for you Jesus. There is no one else to tell, and I can’t pick up the phone and call a friend. Please listen to me and hear me out on this.”
I don’t think I’m called to marriage simply because I felt lonely in religious life. There is an existential loneliness in every vocation here on earth. This “Original Solitude” as John Paul II calls it, is what always reminds us that God alone can fulfill our deepest longings and desires, no human being. I think the biggest fear I have about marriage is that the intimacy with Christ that a religious sister is called to and a single woman can at least afford, seems to be substituted by the intimacy with one’s husband and the needs of the family. After all, St. Paul says “And the unmarried woman and the virgin are anxious about the affairs of the Lord, so that they may be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please her husband.” -1 Cor 7: 34b. Are they mutually exclusive? I want to please the Lord first, but if I were to insist on a daily Holy Hour or a quarterly retreat as a married wife and mother to the neglect of feeding or caring for my children, this in itself would be selfish. Certainly the married saints have been powerful examples, but let’s just call a fact a fact – there aren’t too many of them declared by the Church yet! It has been shown through the ages that the life given to spreading the Gospel and dedicated to prayer has been the life of the religious or priest. I am grateful however, to live in the Theology of the Body generation, in which we are just beginning to unpack the words of St. John Paul II and his love for human love. This gives me great hope. If God calls me to marriage, I will love my husband as if he is Christ, and yet he will not be Christ. I will go to Christ everyday to give me the love I need to love my husband, so that ultimately it will be like Jesus loving Himself.
Read part 2 of this post here.