I Have Plans & Desires...Am I Selfish?
I hope you love talking about desire as much as I do- for chocolate lava cake, that is. (Being married has made me aware of how often women bond by talking about foods they mutually love. Isn't that strange? But I digress.) If you’ve ever felt selfish for following your desires and dreams, or you worry that God will call you to do something you don’t want to do (*raises hand*), or have avoided asking God what he wants because you're afraid you won't like the answer, then this one is for YOU.
I have always wanted to have and be and do a lot of things: an actress, a mother, a speaker, a trash man... (That was when I was 5. Don’t judge. I still maintain it’s pretty neat they can go anywhere hanging off the back of a truck with no seatbelt.) That’s how God made me, and I had to come to grips with the difficult task of surrendering my desires to God in my discernment of religious life.
I knew what I wanted, but I always kind of felt selfish for wanting it. It seemed to me that if I were a saint I wouldn’t have desires; I would just be able to hand myself over to God in perfect trust.
Boy, was I wrong!
Because I felt guilty about wanting things, I kind of just did what I wanted and avoided asking the questions about what real holiness looks like. I told myself, “well, God will just bring the greatest possible good out of every situation, so it’ll be fine.” Plus, everyone seemed to support me going for my Broadway dreams. They respected that I worked hard at my career. I never felt much of a need to go deeper… until my dreams stopped being what I wanted.
Discerning religious life was one of the best things I’ve ever done because it helped me sort through the layers of desire in my soul and figure out which were the deepest. Like Shrek, I think of myself as an onion (flattering image, I know.) I have to peel away the lesser desires (like the one for chocolate lava cake…okay, maybe actually that’s kind of a deep desire and not an outer layer of the onion sort of thing…) and find out what are the deepest desires. That core desire, the very deepest part of me, is the exact same as God’s desire for me.
What I want for myself at the deepest level is what God also wants for me. They are one and the same.
Saying yes to something is hard when it involves also saying no to another good thing. It was so hard vacillating between marriage and religious life when I could objectively see they were both good. I can only confidently say yes if I know which option is better for me. Therefore, I can only confidently say yes if I know myself. And I can only know myself if I ask God what he wants for me.
How do I know this? I’m not a doctor of theology. It just makes sense. When JP II wrote in Theology of the Body that each of us is made to give ourselves away, it has to mean that giving ourselves away is what will most deeply fulfill us. It’s our core desire. It’s what we were made for. It will not always feel good; in fact, it may rarely feel good, but we will have peace when we pursue that path. What that looks like will be different for each person, but if that is what we were made for, then God must want that for us too.
If you feel hungry and are asking God what he wants for you, great! I can’t encourage you enough to discern (aka ask God what he wants for your life.) God will take any time you give him and multiply it a zillion times in blessings. If you feel comfortable where you are or have never questioned what you are doing, then I give you an encouraging nudge to still surrender your desires to God. It may be that you’re content in a comfortable life, but he wants to give you an incredible life. He will begin to wake up those deeper core desires. Either way, you have nothing to lose.
Discernment never ends. I have a call not only to a vocation, but to other things within that vocation too. I continue to have to keep digging deeper and getting to know myself more as I move through life.
I have had to discern the call to be a speaker and balance it with my vocation as a wife and a mother. That is an ongoing balancing act. Discernment calls into question my motivations for being a speaker and surrendering those to God, tuning into the needs of my husband and children, knowing what’s practical logistically, and correctly interpreting when I’m getting it right or wrong.
Right discernment comes from self-knowledge and surrender.
If you feel guilty for wanting things but don’t know how to find God’s will, the answer may be simple. Simple, but perhaps not easy to reconcile with your head and heart. Ask God what he wants for your life, surrender yourself to him, talk to your spiritual director, and God will begin to show you yourself. As you grow more confident in self-knowledge the right answer will become clear.
For now, be okay wanting whatever you want, but face the question: "Why?"
Today’s technological world affords us endless options of how to spend our time and the careers we choose. I believe that discernment of our vocations and other life choices is more important than ever before.
I'd really appreciate if you could pass this along to anyone you know who is struggling with feeling selfish in their decision-making. And I want to hear from you: what did I touch on in this post that can you start working on today?
Read more: Surrender: Your Discernment "Secret Weapon"