children, convents, and other commitments

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“Celibacy is impossible and outdated,” the doubters challenge the seminarian.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?

4 thoughts on “children, convents, and other commitments

  1. This is so true. I remember the first ordination I ever saw. It moved me more than I’d expected, and I was struck by how much it felt like seeing a wedding. That kind of commitment, in any form, is so powerful.

    1. Such a good point, Ginny. Your comment made me think of the part in the ordination liturgy when the men lay down prostrate while the congregation prays over them. Can you imagine if we did the same in the wedding liturgy?! (Ok, setting aside the fact that I would never have wanted to lie down on the church floor in that gorgeous white dress, lol.) What a sign of humility and service – which is exactly what we’re called to in marriage as well.

  2. LKF, thank you so much for these words. As one of those three, I’m humbled by the support and love that have been coming my way.

    And I think I’m even more humbled by the challengers. We talk about “first fervor” in religious life and I’ve never quite felt that until this summer. The fear, for me, has always outweighed the joy and excitement. Somehow this summer the scale tipped and the excitment is overwhelming.

    It takes a great amount of courage to go where we are called. I think we take the leap, despite the knowledge that falling is the other option besides flying, because we know that standing still is no longer an option. We simply must see what we’re capable of.

    1. Lauren, you are welcome. But thank you all the more for sharing your journey with us. It is awesome and inspiring to see the courage and the conviction of people answering their calls in powerful ways. I think and read and write about vocation all the time for work, and yet it never fails to knock me off my feet when I see the strength that people summon up to follow the One who calls us.
      I love what you write: “…we know that standing still is no longer an option. We simply must see what we’re capable of.” Amen and amen to that. And I’m so glad that you feel the love and support that surrounds you as you take the leap. Great excitement is more than due you!

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