When I was discerning the religious life, my fellow aspirants and I lived by the oft-repeated motto of living with our hands open. By this we meant that what we had been given could be taken away, that we must be ready to sacrifice our personal plans for the sake of the community whenever it was deemed necessary, that it was easier to live by trusting God rather than agonizing over details that we didn’t have much control over.
In the context of the convent, it was actually a really nice way to live. We didn’t need to worry about where our next meal would come from, work long hours to ensure that we could pay bills for clothing, housing, and utilities, or stress about the countless other decisions that single and married people living in the world have to make on a daily basis. Our lives followed a pretty basic routine, and most of our activities were planned for us. As long as we were open to the occasional change in our routine, life was pretty simple. From one day to the next, teachers might have to cancel, or we might have to abandon our regular classes to assist with cleaning or some other project that needed to be completed, or I might have to skip a softball practice to meet with some visitor to the convent. My time in discernment taught me to be flexible, and to this day, it’s one of the best lessons I have ever learned.
I have never needed that lesson in flexibility and trust more than I do at this particular time in my life. Andrew and I are currently living in a rather uncomfortable state of limbo, and we won’t have much clarity for several more months. Andrew is *hopefully* in his final year at Catholic University, with plans to finish his dissertation and get hired as a professor of Moral Theology this year. But because we don’t know where Andrew will be hired, there are a lot of question marks regarding next year. We have no idea where Andrew will be working, where we will be living, if I will be working, and if I am working, where I will be working. We don’t know how far away from our families we will be, whether this will be a “passing through” kind of home or a “forever” kind of home. Right now, we have a lot of questions, and absolutely no answers.
Earlier this fall, I felt incredibly stressed any time I thought about our future. There were just so many question marks, and I had a really difficult time accepting the fact that I had to continue living my life when I had no idea what I would be doing in one year’s time. It was so hard to make decisions, especially decisions that I knew might not reach fruition until after my family had moved on. But these decisions still had to be made, because the world was still turning, it was still part of my job description, and there was also a chance that I would be around long enough to see my choices bear fruit. I just didn’t know, and until some of our questions were answered, I was left entertaining multiple possibilities.
I struggled to think about the future without stressing out about it until I remembered that handy little motto from my time in the convent. I had to start living my life with my hands wide open again. I needed to place my trust in God. I needed to believe that God would assuredly take care of me.
Once again, I found myself in a situation where someone else’s decisions would directly impact my life. I am not the one graduating this year. I am not the one applying for jobs right now, and I am not the one whose new job might cause our family to move. Eventually, I might need to look for a new job, but not until we know where Andrew gets hired. There are a lot more Catholic parishes in the country than Catholic colleges. Andrew might apply to a whole bunch of schools, but we know that there’s a distinct possibility that he will be hired by one. And though we don’t want to consider it, there is also the chance that he won’t be hired by any. I don’t think it’ll come to that, but Andrew and I prefer to consider all our possibilities ahead of time, just in case.
Naturally, Andrew and I will make whatever decisions we can make together, but in a very real sense, there are a lot of elements that are completely out of our control, and particularly mine. Andrew can put together stellar applications and give his all during interviews, but ultimately, he won’t be the one deciding to hire him. This will be the most significant element in determining our future, but much of it is outside our control. Sure, we might choose our next apartment or house, and we’ll choose what town we’ll settle in, but before we can do that, Andrew must be hired and that decision is not at all ours to make.
It would be very easy to stress relentlessly about all of the changes this next year will most likely bring. It would be easy to agonize over the countless possibilities for jobs, towns, and residences. It would be easy to just break down and cry because ultimately, we are powerless to control what it out of our hands. Thankfully, my time in the convent has done much to prepare me for circumstances such as these. It taught me the value of living with my hands wide open, willing to accept what God has given me, knowing that it is never mine to hold onto. Because sometimes, when we refuse to let go of what we are holding, when we close our fists tightly around what little gift we have been given, we are actually denying God the opportunity to exchange one gift for another that is much more glorious. We just have to be willing to let go, and living with our hands wide open is the perfect approach to accepting such a wonderful gift.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!