I was voted “most likely to become a nun” in both eighth grade and my senior year of high school. Hilarious, I know — except that I didn’t think so at the time. I was terrified my classmates were right and that I was destined for the nunnery.
Honestly, I did not stop freaking out about the whole “forced into the convent” thing until I was 30 — which was a long time to be “freaking out.” Since that was just three years ago, that means I spent almost two decades of my life plagued by a fear about religious life. The devil is crafty! Only Satan could take something as beautiful as consecrated religious life and turn it into a devout Catholic woman’s greatest fear.
So what changed? How did I figure out that I was called to marriage and not the religious life?
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A few things:
1.) Spiritual direction. No spiritual director I ever had thought I had a vocation to religious life. Spiritual directors have been wrong before, of course — but it’s a good idea to listen to these people if they’re wise, holy and trustworthy.
2.) Therapy. My therapist(s) helped me realize my fear had little to do with religious life itself and very much to do with the fear of rejection — which is something I’ve struggled with for most of my life.
3.) Grace. I prayed for freedom from this fear until it went away, thanks to God’s gifts mentioned above.
4.) A new understanding of discernment. I came to realize that all discernment has both an objective and subjective dimension, and that God’s will isn’t some sort of riddle I have to figure out. Having the qualities that are right for the priesthood or a religious order does not necessarily mean one is called to that life. God speaks to us most often in the concrete circumstances of our lives — and that includes our deepest subjective desires.
The happiest priests and religious people I know had a sincere desire for their vocation, even if they were afraid and resistant to the Lord at times. The happiest married couples I know were afraid of certain aspects of marriage and family life before they got married. That kind of fear is normal — and the only way it can be overcome is if a person’s desire for the vocation is greater than the fear.
5.) Meeting my husband, Kristian. Some people may want to get married and yet never meet the right person. I was definitely aware of this and open to the possibility when I was still single.
Some people may resist a vocation to priesthood or religious life well into their 30s or 40s, until they finally stop running and say “yes.” But if one’s desire is married life, there are no impediments to marriage and one meets someone who also desires married life and has no impediments — and then you both fall in love and want to marry each other — you are called to marriage.
It’s not as complicated as we make it.
For those who are still waiting for a future spouse to come along: I know how hard it can be. And I am praying for you. For those who are sick and tired of others assuming that because you pray and go to Mass, you must become a priest or nun: I feel your annoyance. I feel your pain. For those of you who are still unsure about your vocation: Trust that the Lord will show you what He desires of you in His own time.
Christina Dehan Jaloway is a freelance writer, speaker, and former high school theology teacher based in Texas. She is an editor at Spoken Bride, a Catholic website for brides and newlyweds, and blogs at The Evangelista.