It was a week before I got married. The letter arrived with my name, familiarly scrawled on the front. I opened it excited for news from my former partner-in-crime who had, unexpectedly, abandoned our wayward ways and joined the convent.
In it she wrote of the beauty of her experience. She spoke of the ways that Jesus, her soon to be spouse, had blessed her and moved her heart. She was happy and peaceful and excited about her journey.
We had gone on visits to the convent together. Admittedly, we were unlikely candidates for renouncing the world and embracing a total commitment to Christ. Though both dedicated to our Catholic faith, we were considered “wild” when it came to any Catholic youth group experience. Still, both of us felt oddly drawn to religious life. In between frequenting dive bars, smoking cigarettes and drinking (too much) cheap beer, we often debated different doctrines of the Catholic faith. Almost as a dare, to prove how countercultural we truly were, we began visiting convents. Much to my surprise, after being reprimanded by the Mother Superior for sneaking out after curfew and disrupting morning prayer, my friend announced that she would be returning. And by returning, she meant staying.
Now her letter took a sudden turn: I have prayed so much about how I should approach this topic with you. I think I would be a crappy friend if I didn’t let you know that I don’t think you should get married. I honestly don’t think that this is the life that God has prepared you for. I can’t get rid of this nagging feeling that your place is here in this community.
I shoved the letter in a box under my bed and continued with my wedding preparations.
I can’t tell you how much that letter has haunted me. My marriage has been difficult. It has tested me in ways unimaginable. Having and raising children isn’t easy and isn’t always fun. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure I’m a good fit for it. While other moms seem to joyfully go about their days, I often find myself overwhelmed, out-numbered, lost, and wanting. In my (seemingly) daily moments of self-doubt, my thoughts often wander to the images of myself in religious life. I imagine myself within the safe walls of a convent: peaceful, content and glowing.
Did I choose the wrong vocation? Could it be that I messed up God’s plan? Did I choose what was behind door number two when the key to a happy life, for me, was actually behind door number one?
It is a notion that can be applied to all of life’s choices, not just the vocational one. Did I choose the right job? The right city? The right spouse? The right career? How easy it is for us to reflect and think if I’d only done it this way, made this decision, my life would be so much better. How quick we are to flog ourselves for decisions we made and the way that things turned out. Doubt about past decisions can be almost suffocating.
In between wiping runny noses and riding out periods of unrest in my marriage, I have thought (and prayed) long and hard about this concept. And when it comes down to it, it really doesn’t matter if I made the “wrong” choice. What matters is that I am a child of God. Our God is a God of faithfulness. He is unwavering in his love and commitment to each of his children. He is not a puppeteer that orchestrates our lives or a dictator that punishes us for not complying with his will. He is a loving Father who has counted every hair on our heads, who patiently weathers our choices, the good and the bad, and brings beauty and joy out of everything; even our moments of stupidity. As St. Clement says, “The Lord has turned all our sunsets into sunrise.”
If you reflect, really reflect, on the journey of what brought you to the here and now, you’ll see it’s true. The worst of marriages have brought the priceless gift of children, bad business decisions have paved the way for better ventures, bitter disappointments have yielded new opportunities, and even moments of devastation have been followed with experiences of true joy. Only God can do that. And you (and I) are always under his watchful gaze.
When I’m tempted to revisit past mistakes, or fixate over the way I could have done things differently, I am comforted by this short prayer from St. Therese of Lisieux: “May today there be peace within. May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.” And even though—had I been a nun—I would have given Maria von Trapp a run for her money with my lyrical genius, I do trust. I’m right where I’m supposed to be.
By Maria Garabis Davis