Whew, friends, it’s been awhile since I put some honest words on this blog.
I’ve been in a bit of a non-writing season as of late. For whatever reason, I just haven’t felt like writing. I’ve been stumped on what to write, and even when I do think I have an idea, it usually just doesn’t come to fruition the way I want it to. A lot of what’s been going on with me interiorly, the kind of stuff that I would normally write about, has been too private and too sacred, as if it’s best for me to keep it between me and God.
I’ve been in a hard season lately. Ever since I moved to Wisconsin, I’ve been feeling a lack of peace and a lack of being happy and “at home.” It usually takes a few months for me to feel settled anywhere, but it has never taken this long. It just feels like something isn’t right. That could be contributing to why I haven’t felt like writing lately. I write to externalize my thought process, to make sense of things, but I haven’t been able to articulate any of what’s been going on inside of me lately.
But every so often, there’s a moment of clarity, and words come.
Allow me to be real for a bit here.
About a year ago I attended a come-and-see retreat at the motherhouse of a religious order that I had been excited about for about a year and a half. I thought this retreat would bring me a step closer to entering this order. I sat down with the vocation directress of the order at the end of the retreat, just to talk and so she could get a sense of where I was at with my discernment. I didn’t share much, but what I did share led her to the conclusion that I wasn’t ready to begin the formal discernment process that’s needed before the order lets you apply for postulancy. She sensed that I had some wounds that needed to heal and advised that I not reach out to her or attend any other vocation-related events with the order until I had sought some good counseling or spiritual direction to help me sort through whatever was holding me back. To say I was upset at this suggestion would be an understatement. I burst into tears and became defensive interiorly. “What is she talking about? I’m fine! I don’t have any wounds! Let me start the discernment process!” I thought to myself. But then I realized that I wouldn’t be getting so defensive and I wouldn’t have felt my heart drawing back and shutting down at some of the vocation directress’ questions if I was fine. My hoped-for vocation was being put on hold, and I didn’t know when I would be ready to pursue it again. I was devastated.
I sat in the chapel after that discussion, still shaken and unable to stop crying. I don’t quite remember what I said to Jesus in that time, but I do remember sitting in my pew with my hands draped over the pew in front of me, bent over from exhaustion and frustration. And in my mind, I saw my hands covered in scars and cuts and bruises. And I just looked at them with sadness and fear. And then, in my mind, I saw Jesus approach me and clasp my hands in His, and I could see the nail marks in His hands from the crucifixion. He looked at me and smiled and said, “We’re the same.” I knew I could trust Him with my wounds because He had wounds of His own. So I resolved to keep Him close and to be open to His healing.
Shortly after moving to Madison in mid-August, I started seeing a priest who was recommended to me by my pastor/boss for spiritual direction, and I had my most recent meeting with him in mid-March. He knows that I’m discerning, and I shared with him previously that I was struggling with not being where I wanted to be–in a convent or discerning with a community–yet. At this most recent meeting I shared, after months of keeping it to myself, that I had just been feeling stuck and not at peace ever since moving to Wisconsin. The conversation that followed felt like a repeat performance of a previous meeting. I heard a lot of the same stuff that I did a few weeks earlier, not because he or I had forgotten what we had talked about, but precisely because he remembered, and I wasn’t holding up my end of the deal. I hadn’t really taken some of those steps toward healing that he had recommended at a previous meeting, when we had just begun exploring what could be hurting me. I was getting ahead of myself, thinking that the burning desire I had to enter a convent was a sure sign that I was ready for it. But my spiritual director is smarter than me and knows that that’s not always how it works. He wanted me to focus less on my desired vocation and more on getting myself to a place of wholeness, happiness, and freedom to make a choice of what vocation to pursue. Any talk of vocation needed to wait until I had found healing from whatever was hurting me, until those hurts weren’t controlling me.
I left the meeting remembering that discussion I had nearly a year earlier with the vocation directress of that order. It was the same story: I wasn’t ready, and I needed help to be ready. My spiritual director was the second person I had heard that from, so I knew I needed to listen this time around.
I went to adoration at a local parish later that day, and as I sat in front of Jesus in the monstrance, I again saw this image in my head of my hands being covered in little wounds. And again, Jesus came to me. He sat down next to me, took my hands in His, and gave me a tender and compassionate smile as He said, “My love, you’re still hurt. Nothing has changed from a year ago. And I don’t want that for you.”
“Nothing has changed.”
It was true. I didn’t exactly take the vocation director’s words to heart after my meeting with her last April. And I was letting my own stubbornness, my own will, my own desire to be somewhere else, prevent me from doing what my spiritual director had asked me to do at previous meeting.
So ever since my last meeting with my spiritual director I’ve been asking the Lord to reveal to me what wounds could be holding me back from being totally free to say “yes” to an invitation to the convent. And I think I’m getting a few answers. I’m seeing things that I always knew about myself and am realizing that they’re not exactly healthy. I’m not sure if some of the things I’m seeing are actual wounds or just a perception of something that isn’t there, but I suppose that’s still a sort of wound. Regardless of whether the hurts are real or imagined, something (beyond student and car loan debt) is preventing me from saying “yes.”
It’s a difficult thing to accept. We live in a culture where we’re encouraged to go after anything and everything we want. If it feels right, we’re often told, go for it. This–religious life, belonging entirely to the Lord–feels like where I want to be. Nothing else will do.
And yet I’ve been stopped by two different people–people who are experienced at giving direction and guiding discernment processes–and told that I’m not ready. And despite my stubbornness, their experience and wisdom compels me to listen, to put aside my own desires for a bit and to submit to their guidance. My spiritual director has humbled me a few times since we began meeting, but I can tell he has my best interest–my interior freedom, my spiritual growth, and ultimately my ability to choose the right vocation for me–at heart.
So into my own depths and my own wounds I go, unsure of what I’ll find and what will be asked of me in the process. I’m a bit terrified. But I’m also comforted as I remember something else that happened last year, in the midst of my hurt after that discernment retreat: a profound encounter with a familiar painting. Last year, as Divine Mercy Sunday approached, I found myself drawn to “The Incredulity of St. Thomas,” by Caravaggio. The painting shows that famous post-resurrection encounter between Jesus and His disciple, Thomas. Rather than vaguely showing Thomas stretching out his hand toward Jesus’ hands or side, though, Caravaggio decided to take the scene, and the viewers’ imagination, a bit further. He painted Jesus grasping Thomas’ wrist as he probes the wound in His side with his index finger, while two other disciples look on in shock and fascination. It’s jarring. It makes your skin crawl a little. But Caravaggio went there. And as I studied that painting last year, I was struck by the way Jesus is assisting Thomas in the act of exploring the wound in His side. I realized that Jesus was extending the same gentle, guiding hand to me as I was contemplating digging through my own mess, my own wounds. He wouldn’t leave me alone. He’d go there with me.
I never really allowed Him to do that last year, but I can’t really run from it anymore. The invitation still stands: Will I continue pretending that I’m fine and keep the Lord at a distance when I begin to hurt, or will I let Him in and let Him take me where I may not want to go? Jesus is the perfect gentleman, my spiritual director reminded me a few months ago. He knocks persistently and He won’t do anything without my permission. But He waits and He waits for that permission.
I’ve kept Him waiting for long enough.