A Crisis Of Vocation: Marriage as a Second-Rate Vocation

Mary Help

All photographs provided courtesy of Rachel Darley Photography.

This past week I was struck by the fact that there’s only eight more months until I’m married.  In some ways, it still feels so far away, and in others, it feels like it’s so close.  Naturally, Andrew and I are anxious to begin our life together, so our wedding still feels like it’s a long way away, but when I look at our checklist of things to do before the big day, I occasionally wonder how I’m going to get it all done.  That being said, the feeling that it’s just too long to have to wait always wins out in the end.  No matter how much we have to do, I would never wish that we had more time.  Eight more months is all the time that I need.  I wouldn’t want to wait any longer to marry the love of my life, the man of my dreams.  I’ve waited long enough, thank you very much.

My discernment journey has by no means been an easy one, and I cannot begin to describe how wonderful it is to finally know the kind of life that I’ve been called to.  After years of doubts and questions, of trials and tribulations, I finally know what my vocation is.  It’s been a confusing journey, but I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.  And there’s a person waiting for me there- his name is Andrew, and he’s going to become my husband in just eight months.

Andrew and II guess you can say that my vocational journey began in high school, although it was born on very rocky ground.  I had spent my childhood dreaming of my wedding- of white gowns, bright flowers, and a handsome man waiting on the altar for me.  These dreams were only intensified as my friends and I spent hours envisioning what our big day would be like, what our gowns would look like, and most importantly, who the lucky man would be.  Quite often we would gather together in my basement bedroom, all of us crammed onto my twin-sized bed while we swapped dreams in vivid detail.  I was enamored by marriage, and I was confident that this was to be my future- as soon as I found this mysterious man.

But then I was introduced to the words ‘vocation’ and ‘discernment,’ and my entire world changed.  I went to a small all-girls Catholic high school, and these were the hot topics in religion class and all around campus.  It filled my day, from the moment that I stepped off the bus until I left campus for the night.  And unfortunately, I’m not exaggerating.  Every morning, I hopped off the bus, one bleary-eyed student among many, and I was instantly approached by the elderly little nun who welcomed us as we arrived.  Every morning, her question was the same: “When are you going to join us?”  At first, it was cute.  She did it to everyone- even the non-Catholics (but I suspect she didn’t know that)- so I didn’t feel targeted at all.  After several weeks of this, students began to slip past her without acknowledging her daily greeting.  Still half-asleep, most of them probably didn’t even realize that she was there.  But I did.  I knew that she was there.  And she knew that I was there as well, and every morning her question was the same: “When are you going to join us?”

FountainAt first I gave her real answers.  I told her that I felt that I was called to marriage (at a Catholic school like mine, you learned the lingo fast).  I told her that God was calling me to other things.  I told her that if it was God’s will, maybe someday.  At first, I humored her, but with time I became less enthusiastic.  Though I still answered her, my response was only half-hearted, and the same every morning: “I don’t know, sister.”  I was quickly growing tired of our exchange, and I was beginning to feel pressured.  To be honest, the daily ritual became so frustrating that I began avoiding the locker room entrance all together, choosing to climb a set of stairs, only to descend again to enter the locker room.  But the extra travel was preferable to another encounter with the relentless nun.

But in her defense, she wasn’t alone.  On an almost daily basis, I had people telling me that I should become a nun.  Despite feeling no interior inclination to this state of life, it seemed as though everyone else knew something that I didn’t.  They all seemed to know what God wanted for me, even though I was fairly certain that they were wrong.  What was most shocking- and discouraging- was the fact that many of these people were actually married themselves, and yet, when I told them that I felt called to marriage, their replies all seemed to imply that this was somehow beneath me.  As if marriage wasn’t good enough for me.  As if I was too good to get married.

In hindsight, I know what they were thinking.  They assumed that a good Catholic like myself had to become a nun.  I prayed often, liked praise and worship music, was saving myself for marriage, and got straight As in my Religion classes.  Apparently this meant that I had to become a nun.  Even though I also got As in Physics and British Literature- but no one ever told me that I had to become a scientist or English teacher.  Only a nun.

TreesMany of these people had fallen victim to an improper notion of man’s two potential states of life.  You don’t get married just because you’re not cut for the religious life.  You don’t settle for a husband and children because you’re not holy enough to be a nun.  Yes, nuns should be holy.  But wives and mothers should be holy too.  Marriage is not a second-rate vocation.  We are all called to holiness, whether we are nuns, priests, husbands, or wives.  No one is excluded from the call to become a saint.

My vocational journey was not an easy one, and it was fraught with many obstacles.  It took me years to overcome my distaste for the religious life- the result of my first experiences of feeling pressured.  Then it took me eight months to realize that the religious life wasn’t my vocation after all.  And now, over two years later, I am engaged, and in eight months, I will marry the love of my life.  I have finally found the man of my dreams.  He finally has a face.  He finally has a name.  I know who I will find waiting for me on the altar, and I’ve realized that in the end, I’ll be the lucky one.

Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!

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