How Do My Unique Gifts Fit Into My Vocation? What if They Don't?
Recently I was talking with a beautiful, faithful, holy young woman who is experiencing fear of moving toward a vocation as a nun. Her reason? She said something that resonated strongly in my own experience: “I have different gifts and talents that I’ve been given, things that fulfill me when I do them, and I don’t see how I could possibly use them all if I become a nun.” I completely understand that fear. One of the reasons I resisted discerning a religious vocation was that I didn’t possibly see how I could forsake the many things that were such a huge part of my life: theater, singing, dancing, sculpting, public speaking, and leading exercise classes, to name a few. I remember thinking “nuns can’t possibly do all of those things. God gave me these skills- he must want me to use them.” Imagining a life of nothing but quiet prayer, fasting, and service sounded suffocating.
I was putting God in a box the size of my imagination. Shortly afterward, I visited cloistered Benedictines in Connecticut and was absolutely shocked to see sculptures made by the nuns decorating the property, handmade artisan cheese and ornate cards made by the nuns sold in the gift shop, a large summer theater on the property run by the nuns, and a 17th-century creche of figurines exactly like the dolls I sculpt that had been restored by the nuns. Well, that about erased all my objections. After that day I realized I had no excuses…except that the fear remained. Why? Because I knew that living under the vow of obedience meant running the risk that I would still be told I wasn’t allowed to use my artistic gifts, and instead would be relegated to scrubbing pots and or changing bedpans the rest of my days.
The fear stayed because I couldn’t see the future and how everything would play out. A seeming advantage of single and married life is that we get to choose what we want to do. Time freedom. However, now that I have accepted and am living out the vocation to be a wife and mother, I understand that there is a “law of obedience” in motherhood that I never saw coming. I’m far from perfect, and I struggle, because the reality is that while technically I get to choose how I spend my days, the reality is that my 6-month-old is an incredibly needy little being who needs what he needs NOW. There is no negotiating- “hold on a few minutes so that mommy can finish up this blog post.” Ha! Being pregnant with my second mandates that I go to bed as soon as the baby does, because I need as much rest as I can possibly get to avoid becoming monster mom. The necessities of caring for a house mean that, even to do minimal housework, I spend most of the baby’s nap times getting necessary things done so we can eat and not live in a pigsty. There are no long hours of doing the things that fulfill me, even as a stay-at-home mom who technically can arrange my day any way I choose.
And I’ve come to believe that that is the way with any vocation! I never anticipated the screaming bouts, dirty diapers, distraction in prayer, mountains of laundry and dishes, and exhaustion as a mother that block out time to do the things that I used to do for long, uninterrupted hours. I thought I would be freer in marriage and motherhood, but my law of obedience sometimes feels stricter than the nuns with whom I work. My six-month-old took his first steps the other day (what was God thinking, giving me such an active baby?!) and with his new mobility he is constantly on a suicide mission to reach for all the things that could possibly hurt him. I relegate the things I love to do to little moments throughout the day or weekends when my husband takes the baby for an hour or two. It has been very hard for me to accept that this season of my life means that I mostly set aside the things I want to do for the things that must be done. But that is what love is. I wonder what Jesus’s ‘hobbies’ were; whatever he loved to do, he set it aside to travel and preach because it was his purpose for being on earth. Someone recently told me that my children are the masterpieces I will present to God, and when I think of it that way it helps me realize that the things I think I need in order to be fulfilled are not necessarily what I do need. Someday I will have more time to use my God-given talents, but any vocation will require you to subjugate them to other necessities in some seasons of your life.
Any single people reading this who are seeking to choose their vocation may run away yelling and screaming at the picture of motherhood I have just painted. I am still able to carve out artistic moments by being creative with the use of my time and exchanging voice lessons in return for babysitting so I can teach dance and Musical Theatre classes. The beautiful thing is, God can work your talents into your vocation in ways you never thought possible. I think about my boss, the former teacher who became a Carmelite nun serving the elderly. After serving for some years in nursing homes, her teaching talents are being utilized by developing programs, teaching caregivers, and speaking at conferences across the United States. I’m sure she could never have foreseen the incredible opportunities that awaited her when she joined the order. When my husband and I play and sing to our baby, I know we are instilling a love of music in him and dream that as he grows we can all play and sing together…maybe even form a family music group that I always wanted with my siblings. When my babies are old enough, I can share the joy of dance and movement with them as they take classes I teach at our local arts center. Raising my own children expands the scope of my experience so I can write talks encouraging fellow moms and parents.
One thing I know for sure: my talents will not go to waste. Only God has the full picture, and he isn’t done until we draw our last breath. I have already been amazed at how my theater skills and singing are able to translate into my speaking ministry, a future I never would have planned when I developed them with the goal of starring on Broadway. If you are discerning your vocation or another big life decision, I encourage you to pray for extreme trust. God created your heart, he knows your needs, and he wants you to be fulfilled in your vocation. You can’t see the future, but as long as you stay close to him it will be good.