One day during my weeklong retreat with Catholics on Call, I sat down with a steaming cup of tea and began to reflect in the quiet. I thought of how kind and wise Jesus was, but also of his deep suffering as an outsider. How no one asked him if he’d like to be the son of God, or if he would prefer something more sensible or even honorable to his neighbors, or just stick to being a carpenter like Dad. It must have been difficult during that time to be so very political, to be a leader by default, to have to know so little about your own humanity and yet know that you were a strange mix of otherworldly things as well. God must have sweated it a bit, knowing that the humans had him now, and who knows how every detail would work out. Not, mind you, because God isn’t powerful, but because the depth of our feelings and how confusing they can be create a lot of uncertainty when we make decisions. And maybe God knew how to handle things, but Jesus didn’t, at least not always or not at first. Jesus as a teenager, like I imagine most mothers feel about their own children, must have been hard to watch. Okay, so this is all just imagined and we know with certainty that everything did turn out all right, or at least the way we know Jesus is that he didn’t falter where any other person would have. This is why He is where He is, and we are here on earth, loved desperately but struggling considerably to live up to such a great standard.
It is always hard to be the outsider, and I have long grown up feeling that way. I am Catholic by choice, and learning to be Catholic has always been a challenge. It is something I have grown into, with the loving support of many. Like Jesus, I had to find my way through with God, and it was a messy experience, to say the least. Once I finally got my Catholic “diploma” through RCIA in 2009, the same year I graduated from college, I felt like I had been sent off to do good works, but couldn’t figure out what that meant at all. I had been called. I heard the phone ringing but couldn’t find it in my cluttered life to answer it properly. I had applied my educational experiences to studying what it meant to be Catholic but hadn’t really grasped how to live it. Funnily enough, I discovered that everyone I knew, regardless of faith, knows this struggle.
So why do I mention all of this? Because to be faithful means to struggle with that faith. That is the trouble with not knowing what God knows. The whole issue of our humanity is to live with limitation, and God does not want us just to live with it, as some sort of punishment, but to see it as our freedom. Would we really do better knowing what God knows? We may think so, but I have found that living in that gray area of uncertainty can be the most beautiful thing in the world. Waiting and listening to hear God’s voice in our lives is to be open to new possibilities, to see the optimism we need to do the work on earth that He cannot do without us. What God calls each of us to do is unique, just as we are created uniquely. The intersection of what we love and what God wants for us is the call. Sometimes that call is vocational, sometimes that call is to learn forgiveness, sometimes it’s to have a little patience when morning traffic threatens to sabotage our whole day. To be called to something is not limited to the capital letter sense, like a call to religious life, but is a whispered invitation to discover something within us.
Giving up my controlling tendencies gave me greater freedom to find the person I was meant to be. I had long worried that I would become unrecognizable to myself and my family, go off to join a religious community and have to give up all the other dreams I’ve had for myself. It all seems so silly now, but I put off a lot of time with God that I needed because I felt those were my only options. The peace I sought was only found through lots of prayers that sound a lot like conversations between friends, even if we are friends with conflicting ideas of who I am sometimes. And now, when I sit down in a big cathedral, I shake my head and smile before bowing in prayer, knowing that what I ask comes from a place of peace, and it took a lot of work through the Holy Spirit to get me there without protest. He knows my heart, he knows who I am meant to be, and we are working together to achieve that, whatever that means.