As a wife, mother, and speaker my callings are clear. Ten years ago I was a touring Broadway actress with looming fear I might be called to be a nun. I fell prey to many of the devil’s traps: Stress, anxiety, and self-distrust. And so, dear reader, I humbly present for your learning (served with a large dose of empathy,) my discernment mistakes.
Eyes on the True Prize
If I don’t book a Broadway show, get married and have at least two children by age twenty-seven, I’m a failure. The self-imposed timelines and requirements in my head were relentless. Too often my discernment was geared toward achieving a worldly resume rather than asking God, “what do YOU want for my life?”
Worry and desperation, as well as self-imposed or culturally-imposed benchmarks, are poor guides for decision-making. God crafted the plan for our lives fully knowing our limitations, obstacles, and even stupidity. Fr. Gregory Pine wrote, “In any decision, the question is not so much whether I do this or that, but who I am before this choice and who I want to be on the other side of it. One’s life principally isn’t about results to be realized in the world.”
The true goal, dear reader, is Heaven. Living your life to please the judge in your head won’t lead to your most authentic self. As long as you’re loving the people placed in front of you right now, you’re in the right place. Your next big milestone will grow from that love.
Question Your Assumptions
“Why would you waste your talent by becoming a nun?”
My relatives’ voices still stick in my mind. Comments thrown out decades ago subconsciously colored my decisions. I gave far too much weight to what those around me would think.
Don’t be afraid to look at your deeply-held assumptions and ask, “Where did I pick up this belief? Is it true? Does it really align with what I want?” At the end of the day, you alone have to live with your choices. God’s voice, your spiritual advisors, and your gut instincts are your most enduring sources for decision-making.
Give God First Option
This is controversial, but I think every single gal should spend serious time discerning religious life, including visiting several convents in person. I wish more people had encouraged me to do this instead of unanimously praising my following my Broadway dreams.
I assumed I wasn’t cut out for religious life because it’d require giving up artistic pursuits. However, when I visited the Abbey of Regina Laudis I was shocked the cloistered nuns’ vibrant artistic lives. They sang the Liturgy of the Hours, wrote books, sculpted, drew handmade cards, and even ran a semi-professional theater on their property!
I was afraid that God wouldn’t want me to be happy so I avoided religious discernment for years. One of the nuns wisely said, “Stacey, if you’re miserable here we don’t want you to stay, because we’ll have to live with you!”
Words run short to express the gift and growth I experienced in discerning religious life. I gained the gift of dozens of Sisters praying for my journey. Not only did the blessings flow more abundantly than I could have imagined, but it fostered an authentic trust in and relationship with God that has blessed every one of my decisions since.
God Speaks in Many Ways
While agonizing over whether to enter a convent or pursue marriage, I would often ask God to just TELL me his will already. Instead, he would answer, “Do you know how much I love you?” I’m ashamed to admit I’d get upset with him: Why wouldn’t he tell me the answer? Where’s my burning bush??
The truth is, God wanted me to stay close to him but choose for myself. He loves me like his child, not his servant. I see now it was best for me to take a long, meandering path to arrive at my vocation, healing my heart along the way. He wants us to have the deepest desires of our hearts. Difficult as it is to accept, we can trust he’ll either speak or let us figure it out ourselves according to what’s best for us.
You Can be Happy Now
“I may not know the meaning of this moment, but if I believe there’s a God who loves me, then I know that this moment has meaning.” Fr. Mike Schmitz told me these words in our interview on the Called and Caffeinated Podcast. So much emphasis is placed on getting to the moment where everything clicks that it’s easy to miss the romance of now. You may not get the “aha!” moment today, or for a long time to come. But today is a building block in God’s masterpiece. It’s good in and of itself.
If you feel a little empty today or a little lonely, good! Loneliness or unsettledness is teaching you that God may be steering you in another direction soon. Welcome it instead of running from it. Lean into the richness of the Word of God to find out what he thinks about you, and try to be as gentle and as patient with yourself as God is with you. True happiness lies in running to God and seeking him first, not in having an answer.