Sunday, September 20, 2009

Are we there, yet?!

Yes and no. Here and there. Now and then. In the meantime, the in between time, God wants me to go one way, but I can decide to go mine.
At times, I would like more than anything else to arrive at an intersection on my spiritual journey where there awaits a crystal clear answer from God. Normally when I’ve gotten to the point when I’m ready to do whatever it is He asks of me, except wait longer for an answer, that’s what He asks of me. I can understand and empathize with whoever first came up with the prayer: “God, give me patience, and give it to me right now!”
One humorous incident I thought of today when faith formation classes (formerly known as religious ed. or CCD) started back up happened four years ago when I heard the announcement at church that they still needed Catechists to teach middle school religious ed. classes.
That evening when Kevin and I were at my mom’s house for dinner, I told him, “I think God might be calling me to teach eighth grade religious ed.” Kevin’s immediate response was, “Can you ask Him, again?!” Though, before long Kevin agreed to be my assistant teacher for an eighth grade class.
For a number of reasons, I despise being kept in the dark about things, lied to, or told “you’ll find out soon enough.” Yes, I know it means that I’m not doing a very good job trusting other people or God when I get impatient. I know what it feels like when you just want the flipping answers!
Having “a sense of urgency” as my dad would call it, has helped me in some situations and hindered me in others. I am often good about scheduling things, being on time or early, getting the job finished and then some, but I do tend to run thin on trust, faith, and patience if my focus on the deadline or finish line keeps me from seeing other important aspects of the assignment or the race.
A number of my friends have shared with me that they are currently deep in the throes of discerning what God wants for them. In addition to praying for them often, I have tried to offer other forms of support and encouragement, because I know how difficult it can be to “live the questions” as Henri Nouwen calls it.
I remember the periods from years ago and some quite recently when I will have a question weighing on me. Some of the past questions have been pretty major, such as: where should I go to college? Is God calling me to join a convent or marry the man I’ve already fallen in love with once I graduate? Should I get the type of job other people say I should or do what I love even if it’s not very prestigious or high-paying?
 I’ve been thinking a lot about the vocations we’re called to, the challenges of discerning God’s will, and waiting faithfully for clear answers. I understand how hard it is when God and other people tell you to wait for something you want more than anything else. It seems even more difficult when we can look back and see God seems to have been leading us in the direction we most want to go.
If the only clear desire we have is to do God’s will, especially when it is contrary to our own, then we’re probably on the right path. He’s put the desire to do His will in us. That doesn’t mean He won’t test it.
Though it tore me apart ten years ago, I can now see how important it was that I felt called to religious life after falling in love with Kevin and wanting to marry him. I knew by how I responded to God, by saying I’ll do whatever You ask of me, that when it came right down to it I wouldn’t choose to put another person or my own will above God’s, not for the long-term anyway. I knew I’d struggle sometimes more than others to keep God at the center, but in my heart of heart’s that I would serve Him first. That’s what I really needed to know. I loved Kevin and wanted to get married, but I was very clear that I didn’t want my relationship with Kevin to be the center of my life. Even then I wanted my relationship with God to be at the center.
My faith is so much a part of who I am that my vocation to loving and serving God, which I still see as being my first and most important calling, is intricately tied to my second vocation of marriage. Though it tormented me at the time, I needed to know that if God called me, I’d say yes. The trial of discernment showed me I could love Kevin and want to be married, yet that I wouldn’t let that desire come before my desire to serve God.
God has a habit of testing the people He loves and wants to give great responsibility. As He did with Abraham, sometimes He grants us the desire of our heart. After a very long wait, Abraham and Sarah have a son. God fulfilled that longing within them, then asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac to see if His devotion and love for God would trump even the love for his long-awaited son. It did, and in the end, Abraham was assured of His deepest devotion to God, and his beloved son was also spared.
Lately, I’ve spent a lot of time considering two questions I posed to a friend: what in your life is God asking you to sacrifice on the altar in order to show that He comes before all else? What relationships, events past or present, activities, attitudes…is God asking you to sacrifice on the altar?
Sometimes we are faced with doubts from within at the same time as we are questioned externally about our decisions. When we are hurt and discouraged by what others say about our preparedness or the timing of something, it can be part of the discernment process to pick through our own thoughts and feelings, the opinions of others, then take all of those things to place at God’s feet.
At 17, I was closer to my mom than anyone else, and it was hardest for me to go against what she felt so strongly about, but I couldn’t honestly believe that having a close friendship with Kevin wasn’t what was best for me then. There will probably be some people you really trust and care about who out of their love and concern for you may try to suggest another path or different timing from what you want. I still come up against that with my family, friends, and Kevin.
It’s up to us to spend time with God and look inside to discern what is true in the depths of our souls. When we look inside and are completely honest, what do we see that God has placed on our hearts? Are we ready to say, “God, show me how You see me serving You in the future” and be completely open to the answer. Ask the tough questions. I’ve been surprised and deeply moved by the way God answers when we earnestly seek to know who we are in His eyes.
God’s thoughts about who we are and the ways we can best serve Him are what we need to focus on. We have to leave the other stuff at His feet. Take the setbacks and heartache, the affirmations and compliments, and put all of it before the Lord. Once we’ve set that burden down, it will be easier for Him to give us the message that we are His beloved children, that the love and devotion to Him in our hearts glorifies Him, and when the time is right, He will make the answer clear, or perhaps give us the courage to accept that He’s already given us the answer, now it’s up to us to live it out.
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