Have you ever been so sure about something that when you realized you were wrong, your whole world was shattered? When I realized I was wrong about my vocation, my world was not shattered but, actually, it was rebuilt.
Each person has their own journey to walk. I want to share with you a little part of my journey. From a very young age I was always afraid that somehow God would “make” me be a nun. From my classmates and from people at my parish, I would hear the same mantra: Rocio will be a Sister one day. As I entered my teenage years and began attending retreats, God’s love became very real for me. During this same time, this fear of religious life grew in me more and more. My prayer was often, “Lord, I love you and want to serve you for the rest of my life, but I’ll never be nun.” I was falling in love with God but I was afraid that this meant in the end I’d be exactly what I said I’d never be. Deep down I didn’t trust Him…
When I think back on this particular time in my life, I am able to see how I projected onto God my understanding of love. I reasoned, “How could God be showing me so much love without wanting anything in return? He must be doing this only because He wants me to be a nun.” Only recently have I been able to put my finger on this: I was receiving God’s love as conditional. All of my fears and hang ups about love due to various experiences throughout my life kept me assured that God could not be giving me this great gift of His love for nothing in return. Now I see how huge of a lie this is. God loves on us and pours out His gifts of mercy not because we deserve it but because He is Mercy; not because He wants us to do something for Him, but because He is Agape, self-donating love.
After my freshman year of college, I entered a period of my life where I seriously wanted to discern and know God’s will. I was afraid but I was also very aware that if I did not take this question seriously, I would spend the rest of my life in regret and uncertainty. Through many circumstances and graces, the Lord worked greatly in my life and I was finally entirely open to His will, even if it meant what I was most afraid of. I began to even feel joy at the possibility that God had been calling me all this time to be a Sister. I no longer looked at the religious life as a curse on my life but as a true blessing. I spent about four years seriously discerning and praying about this question. It involved many tears, prayers, goodbyes, setbacks, and occasions for grace, healing, and growth. After a little over two years at Casa Guadalupe, a house of prayer and discernment for women, I entered the Brooklyn Carmel as a postulant.
I entered Carmel thinking God was calling me there. Truly, He was; but only for a season of my life, not for the entirety of it. In the end, the Lord showed me great mercy and for the first time in my life I can honestly say I received the grace of my daughterhood and my freedom as a child of God. I knew that the Lord was inviting me to choose and not feel constrained by what I thought He wanted of me. I understood in the depths of my heart that I was truly free to choose what had always been on my heart. I knew that God was pleased with me and that He had always known my deepest desires. The realization that His love is truly free and gratuitous entered my heart and this changed me.
I realized I was wrong. I saw how I had discerned my vocation the right way and yet I ended up in the wrong place. But really, the “wrong place” was where I found the answer I had been searching for. A friend told me once this beautiful quote, “God gives back to us the gift of ourselves.” I believe this is why the Lord allowed me to take the misstep of entering through the holy doors of Carmel: to receive from my Father the truth of who I am in my deepest identity, His daughter.
So maybe you too were discerning your vocation and you thought you had found the answer only to realize you were off the mark. What should you do?
Take a breath. Take some time to regroup but please beware of the danger of loathing. Depending on how you “discerned out” of religious life or out of the discernment process all together, will determine how long this period will take for you. The religious community asking you to leave, for example, is a very different experience than you choosing to leave. This can influence how much time you will need in this initial stage of coping. For some, this time might be a moment of much grieving. I’ve met some people who have really struggled when coming out of a discernment process and I have also met others who were happier than when they had started. No situation is the same but you’ll know when you’re ready to get back out into normal life again, meet old friends, and move forward.
Don’t buy into the lie that you have failed. Mother Teresa said, “If you uncover something of the will of God, be faithful to it.” That’s what you were doing. How could God, who is your loving Father, not be delighted in your desire to know and do His will? Remember, sometimes all the Lord wants is for you to take that next step even though the rest of the path is not yet clear to you. Your confidence in Him is what pleases Him. You haven’t failed God and so what does it matter what others say? If anyone seems disappointed with your decision, gently remind them that ultimately this is between you and God and it is sacred.
Fear cannot have a hold on your life. If you find yourself afraid to make decisions and to move forward in any one direction, pray and ask for the grace of courage and boldness. You are made for freedom and to live as a child of God not as a slave of fear.
Lastly, if you were discerning your vocation to religious life and realized you were wrong, like me, give thanks to God every day that He is the one leading you and that it’s not you writing your own “perfect” story.
“God writes straight with crooked lines.”- Mother Teresa
Rocio Perez is currently a missionary in Ethiopia where she spends most of her days taking kids to the potty and teaching them to count to 5. She has lived in a discernment house called Casa Guadalupe and served in the chastity ministry, Corazon Puro, as well as other groups within the Catholic Church. Rocio considers herself indebted to John Paul II and hopes to spend the rest of her life sharing the Good News of the Theology of the Body. She enjoys good chocolate and bold sunsets.
Image by: [Marisel Rodriguez https://www.flickr.com/photos/mariselrod/]