How eavesdropping led me to a resolution

One recent morning I sat in a coffee shop doing some freelance work and half listening to two mothers who sat chatting in chairs beside me. One of the women did most of the talking, and she complained. A lot.

She complained about her schedule, about her kid’s teacher, about long emails and too-short spring breaks, about the cold, about her husband’s not taking her seriously when she said she wanted move to California.

The impish part of me wanted to interrupt and ask if anything good had ever happened to her, or at least in the last week. For crying out loud, here she was hanging out with a friend on a work morning, drinking hot coffee and wearing comfortable clothes while the red-eyed, suit-wearing masses lurched in and out around her, desperate for their morning fortification before a long day at the office.

But after a few minutes of listening I winced — yes, physically winced — as something very unpleasant occurred to me. How often have I been that person pouring out all my tales of woe, my insecurities, my frustrations and worries and fears into the ready ears of sympathetic girlfriends over similarly warm cups of coffee on pleasant days off? In fact, come to think of it, when was the last time I had a chance for a heart-to-heart that didn’t turn into an all-out Mabel Venting Session?

I can’t think of a single time.

Because, truth be told, I’m a world-class whiner. That might be too modest, actually. I wrote the book on whining. (The book itself was pretty negative and sales were weak, so I don’t talk much about it. But I digress.) I have a pretty amazing life when you look at it objectively, but somehow there’s always something to complain about. Negative feelings will crop up, and they must be given their day in public, mustn’t they?

When I’m not whining I’m backhandedly expressing my petty hurts over perceived slights and offenses. This acquaintance didn’t come to my dinner party last week, that roommate has been giving me the cold shoulder ever since I innocently remarked that she could clean her own dishes every once in a while, and my sister hasn’t called or texted me in weeks, which must mean she hates me. There’s always something to mutter about.

We strive so hard to avoid hurting one another’s feelings that we just end up being ugly. Instead of addressing issues head-on directly with the person who is causing us an issue, we “play nice” to their faces and then vent our frustrations in completely unproductive ways. Okay, I say “we.” Some people have learned the fine art of confrontation, but too often I still hide behind the mask of “niceness” because it avoids unpleasant discussions and emotions.

But when the mask comes off? It’s hideous. There was nothing attractive about that woman I overheard in the coffee shop. Indeed, I don’t even remember what she looked like because I was so distracted by the ugliness of everything she had to say. Yet she’s probably a lovely person, a good wife, mother, and friend, and I probably caught her in the middle of her purging session, when all the ugliness came out at once because she’d kept it bottled up for so long.

I have a long way to go, but that morning forced me to take a good look at myself, and to make a promise: to live honestly and speak openly with those who have to live with me, instead of bottling all my emotions and pretending nothing is wrong. I’m terrible at it, but maybe confrontation gets easier — or at least a little bit less terrifying — with practice?

If it doesn’t, don’t tell me. I may not have the stamina to keep it up. But I’m determined not to let long-held bitterness over trivial things make me ugly. That’s not what God made community for, even if the realities of Other People can drive you crazy sometimes.

Mabel

 

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What’s your story?

I’m one of those obnoxious Catholic girls who loves hearing people’s vocation stories. And now that I’ve been on this journey myself, I love it even more. I’ll track down just about anything in a habit and demand to know how it got there, and in recent months I’ve been more brazen than ever. 

As I prepare to enter the postulancy this August, the focus on people’s stories has struck me in a new way. Each of us has a story, and those stories should be shared. Really, they’re begging to be, but so often we don’t bother to ask. For some reason, religious vocation strips away some of those barriers, and I’m constantly surprised, humbled, and yes – delighted by it. 

When you tell people you’re entering a convent, they don’t just ask to hear your story – though they usually want to know – they want to tell you theirs. The receptionist at my dentist’s office told me all about his experience in a Catholic elementary school where he was taught by kind nuns. An old colleague talked about visiting his grandmother in Peru, and playing in the sun in a local convent’s courtyard where she went often to visit. Another colleague talked about being let out of detention in his Catholic high school by a sympathetic sister. Friends and acquaintances have discussed their own discernment experiences, or family members or friends who entered religious life.

I know for myself, I worry about being rude or pushy if I ask people (other than religious, of course) to tell me about themselves – beyond the typical name, place of origin, job description. I struggle with the sense of encroaching on someone’s boundaries if I try to scrape the surface. And I hesitate to share my own story because I don’t want to be the over-sharer. I certainly don’t want to tell my story only to be ignored or half-heard or (worst of all) judged. But I’m coming to realize that our stories aren’t for ourselves alone; they demand to be shared, and there’s a lot of joy in sharing and encountering someone else in a deeper way through hearing about their experiences.

Some of my friends went on a road trip a couple of years ago, and one of them suggested sharing life stories during the long drive. It was a surprising and I think profound experience for them, and I’ve always been a little disappointed that I missed it, though I’ve been filled in on some of the stories since. Even now, it’s great to watch them reminisce about that experience. Clearly, it made their friendship much deeper.

Another friend once surprised me at a large gathering when he asked a complete stranger, clearly searching for a good conversation topic, “So – what’s your story?” Even more surprising was the person’s response. She brightened up and started talking. Granted, some people might find such a question invasive, but I think there’s a universal desire to be drawn out of ourselves in some way. We all want to share our stories, and to have someone else listen to them and even enter into them with us.

Of course, there are some parts of our stories that aren’t meant to be communicated. We each live a unique, individual life, and some parts are meant to be wrapped up in a secret place shared only between ourselves and our Maker. There’s a great moment in C.S. Lewis’ The Horse and His Boy, when one of the main characters, Aravis, learns that her maid was severely beaten because Aravis tricked her so she could run away from home. She knew when she left that the maid would probably be beaten, but she didn’t care. Now she’s sorry, and she asks Aslan if the girl will be all right. Aslan answers, “Child, I am telling you your story, not hers.”

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There’s a fine line between sharing stories and just plain nosiness, and that can be a hard thing to discover. But we have a duty to be ready to encounter the other, and even to invite them to the encounter, and one of the first ways to do that is through sharing who we are, where we’ve been, what we’ve done.

Like Mary in the gospel of Luke, carrying Christ to her cousin, each of us can and should say, “The Almighty has done great things for me” – and I’m aching to tell you about it, and to hear what he has done for you. 

-Mabel

Profile in the Gap: Marian Keiselbach

Profiles in the Gap

Marian Keiselbach

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Marian Keiselbach is a nurse in the Northern Virginia area.

Did I expect this time of singleness? I don’t know. Depends on when you asked me. When I was eight, I thought that the end of the world would come well before I was 21. When I was 16, I thought I had my whole entire life completely figured out and therefore how could there possibly be gap time. And when I was 21, and my life plan of 16 had fallen through and thrown me flat on my face, I thought the rest of my life would be an unending limbo of fog and unfulfilled desires. I’m 27 now and this “time of singleness” is well upon me, so there is nothing to expect or not expect, there is only the day behind me to be reflected upon and the day ahead of me to be embraced and lived. 

Married, celibately consecrated, or in the grey in between, I seek and hope that l will continue to seek to find my fulfillment in my relationship with… you guessed it…. God. I also can’t help but wonder if I really will feel more fulfilled once I’ve “minded the gap” and entered the train. I know that I’m crazy restless right now, and some of it is from the evil one driving me to despair and some of it is from the Lord urging me toward the Father, but I can’t really imagine that getting married or joining a convent will all of a sudden provide the magic cure for my restlessness. Surely the only true fulfillment will be in heaven. Maybe I will feel dissatisfied and unfulfilled in a different manner or a little less, but I think until I’m face to face with God forever I’ll always be searching. And for me this is one of the greatest consolations of this between time. My angst (I think) is not because I’m in the  wrong place or doing the wrong thing or not doing enough, its because Eve ate that damn apple and Adam stood by and watched.  

That being said, I do love my job. I’m a nurse and I thank God daily for my work. (Although last week when my patient vomited all over my new sneakers,  I believe I may have been a little less appreciative.) My work challenges me, pushes me, makes me more generous, gives me structure and discipline, and provides an outlet for my desire to serve. I’m also fulfilled by my many relationships, and I rejoice that I have time to make new friends and to love and grow with my old ones.

Finally, the life of the mind is another truly satisfying aspect of the single life. If I was married with children or caught up in the responsibilities of communal life, would I have the same luxury of free time to study my Spanish, visit the many museums in the area and of course read, read, and read some more? Probably not. So, although I think it’s about time the Lord revealed His will for grown up me, and if He would move it along a little I would be very grateful, I nevertheless daily thank Him for the wonderful and satisfying things He has given me, and I strive to continue to have as much fun as I possibly can in the meantime.

 

 

Profile No. 14: Ashton Mallon

Profiles in the Gap
Ashton Mallon
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Ashton Mallon is a campus minister living and working in Northern Virginia. You can read some of her other great writing here.
Did you expect this time of singleness? 
I think I have known in my heart from a young age that the Lord would give me as much time as I needed to prepare me for whatever Vocation He has in store for me. At the same time, I also know that at times I can get impatient with every passing year. I have always understood, in my heart, that I am not perfect yet, so I expected to have years of being single that can prepare me for my vocation and spouse. I grew up not dating often, and only dating intentionally, so it comes naturally in a sense for me to embrace singleness.
If so, is it what you expected it to be? If not, what did you expect, and has the change been exciting or disappointing?
I am very appreciative because very rarely do I get frustrated with being single; it must be some extra grace! Rather, I have always seen it as a time to grow into the person that God desires me to be, the one whom He desires me to be to my future spouse. I honestly am not one to make too many expectations, because the Lord always seems to surprise us in life.
If I were to look back, though, and then look to now, I do think that being single is what I thought it would be. It consists mostly of dating when I feel called to, continuing to discern my vocation, and most importantly staying plugged into prayer and the community, particularly through friendships. This is what I mostly imagined it to be, though to be honest, I wish that I was able to have more time to meet new people. I work in ministry, which I absolutely love, but it does mean odd hours in my schedule and often means that other (most!) things come after my students. In an ideal world, I would appreciate more time to spend meeting other women, dating, and or visiting religious orders to discern better. But, I wouldn’t want it any other way–the Lord is working beautifully!
Do you seek or find fulfillment in your career? If so, can you elaborate? If not, where do you seek / find it? 
I work in college ministry and I absolutely love my career! To be honest, I sometimes forget that it is a “career” because I go to work every day to, what feels like, just hang out with friends. Much of my job is spent personally growing so that I can continue to be an example to my students of what it means to seek after Christ and allow Him to fulfill you…. it’s intimidating! My only goal is to inspire them to desire and pursue Christ, hopefully first by my own example. The conversations I have about their questions inspire my own faith; the Bible studies I have led enrich my own relationship with Christ; the situations I help them work through remind me of what I need to be doing in my own life, how much more I need to depend on Christ, and how much more I have to grow. It’s beautiful!
How does faith play a role in your actions and your outlook on your life as a single young adult? 
Faith plays a monumental role in my actions and outlook! I honestly could not name much else that does. All that I do, all that I think, and all that I am is because of and influenced by my relationship with Christ. When I am struggling with loneliness as a single young adult, I turn to Christ. When I am trying to discern a relationship more seriously, I pray even more. Particularly as a single young adult, I feel that I have even more need to depend on my faith because it is a difficult time of decisions; jobs, housing, relationships, morals–it all has to flow from my prayer life, community, and beliefs.
For me in particularly, working in ministry allows me to see my faith as a crucial aspect to my single life, because I am able to be almost radically available to share my faith with my students, something that I know I will be unable to do when I am in my vocation. Faith motivates my choices, since sometimes there is no one else there to help you (I am not married or part of a community, so it’s often me and God). Faith and my relationship with Christ motivate my discernment of my career, my charity towards and relationships with my housemates, fulfills my loneliness, and strengthens my pursuit for a spouse, amidst so much else.
 
Since you have this time, what are some challenges you give yourself? If you didn’t have to worry about failure, what would you do with this time that you might be putting off out of fear?
Some challenges that I give myself during the time of being single are not allowing myself to get too discouraged. It can sometimes take more prayer than I would like, but when I really think about how much God loves me (as corny as it sounds!) I am reminded that this loneliness is only a reason for me to draw even closer to Him; to perfect myself through His love and grace, and to let HIM lead the way.
Another challenge I give (though I need to be better about following through…) is to make time to hang out with people. It’s difficult, but it’s important. Particularly as a single woman, I think I need to be better about going out and meeting people, cultivating those friendships, and possibly even meeting people of the opposite sex … what a concept!
If I didn’t have to worry about failure, I would also go to more young adult things to meet new friends… I just get so shy! I would also like to speak in public more often. I love speaking about femininity and chastity, two great passions of mine. I come alive when I give talks on retreats, and I feel so encouraged in my own faith journey when I do. I also think that when I share about my prayer, my relationship with Christ, or about things that I have come to believe and love, I just see myself so strengthened in those areas and I love trying to inspire that in others. Ultimately, I would just put myself out there more–ask more people to hang out, etc!

Profile No. 13: Joan Nagel

Profiles in the Gap

Joan Nagel

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Joan Nagel is a Registered Dietitian and grad student living in North Dakota. She blogs at Everything is Yours. Follow her on Twitter at @rdgal37.

Did you expect this time of singleness?

Yes and no. Now I realize that a question technically shouldn’t be answered with both yes and no, so I’m going to do my best to explain myself…

I say yes because I’ve dated quite a bit over the past few years and have yet to find “the one” who is “my one.” I’ve sometimes wondered if “the list” of qualities I’ve concocted for my future husband might be impossible to find in one person. But when I listen to the advice of strong, married, Catholic women who stress and stress and stress, “Never settle,” and “Never lower your standards,” I am so thankful that I’m not married yet because I truly haven’t met someone that embodies everything that I’m looking for.

But are there days when I think, “Gosh, will I ever get married?” Definitely! I just have to keep reminding myself that God’s plan is always better than my own, so when he thinks that both me and  ”my one” are ready, it will happen!

So on the flip side, I say no because I have always and probably will always be a very “planny” (please excuse my feeble attempt at trying to add a word to the English language) person. I love making lists (task lists, grocery lists, lists of lists), so when my mental plan of “go to college, graduate college, get married, and have kids” didn’t happen in that order, the “planny” part of me went a little crazy.

Thankfully, I’ve finally learned that it’s okay to keep “get married” on my to-do list, but I’ve realized that this can only happen if and when God decides to check it off of his list, too.  

Do you seek or find fulfillment in your career? If so, can you elaborate?

Absolutely! In September 2011, I got my first “big girl” job working as a dietitian at a hospital in my hometown. It was such an amazing learning experience, as I was exposed to so many aspects of clinical dietetics, but it really drained me emotionally. Since I’ve always loved school and learning — I was that little girl who maxed out her library card during the summer months — I started praying about whether or not I should consider going back to school for my M.S. in Dietetics in hopes of landing a job better suited to my personality.

After feeling a great deal of peace about pursuing grad school, I started exploring my options and eventually found myself enrolled in an online program which allowed me to take courses from 9 different universities. The online option appealed to me because I wanted at least one year’s experience in the hospital setting before looking elsewhere. 

I started to pray feverishly for a new job once I hit that monumental one-year mark, and my prayers were answered after being offered a position from the diabetes clinic where I had interned as an undergrad. Although the position was full-time, it was also just a maternity fill, but I felt confident that another opportunity would present itself after if it was meant to be. Thankfully, I was right, and several dietitian opportunities have fallen into my lap since moving!

Currently, I am back at that same diabetes clinic working a few days a week, facilitating a diabetes prevention class, teaching two college-level dietetics courses, and taking a full load of grad courses with plans of graduating in May. I absolutely love helping patients reach their diabetes and weight loss goals in the clinic setting, but I’ve discovered that I also really enjoy teaching! I’m hoping to take and pass my Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) exam this coming June, so it will be exciting to see if any new opportunities come my way once I have M.S. and CDE after my name!  

How does faith play a role in your actions and your outlook on your life as a single young adult?

One of my favorite things to hear is, “Joan, you’re always so happy!” Now I’m not going to lie, I definitely have those days when I’m not feeling like this ball of sunshine, but for the most part, I always try to greet people with a smile or simple hello, even if I’m feeling stressed or crabby.

Why? Because a smile can brighten a person’s day. A hello can let others know that someone in the world cares about them. I absolutely believe that a simple act of kindness can go a long way, so that is one example of how I try to allow my faith to influence my daily activities.

As far as my outlook on life as a single young adult goes, it breaks my heart to think of how many young adults are living their lives. I believe that the main reason why many young adults are filling their lives with alcohol, parties, addictions, and promiscuity is because they are trying to fill the gap in their hearts that only God can fill. I know how it feels to have that gap. And I know how it feels trying to fill that gap with things that aren’t from God. It doesn’t work. I know that God can fill that gap. And I know that it can take time to fill that gap, but it can be done through prayer, attending Reconciliation, and more prayer! 

And so it is my hope, that my “cheery disposition” may be contagious or heck, even obnoxious enough to at the very least get someone thinking, “I wonder why Joan always seems so happy?”

Since you have this time, what are some challenges you give yourself? If you didn’t have to worry about failure, what would you do with this time that you might be putting off out of fear?

During the last few years, I’ve developed a love for running, so I have been trying to run at least a few races each summer. This past summer I ran a half marathon and a 15 K, and I’m toying with the idea of signing up for my first full marathon next summer. Go big or go home, right?!

Another challenge I’ve given myself is in trying to spread the Catholic faith via my blog. I started the blog ~1 year ago coining myself an “online missionary,” and this blog has honestly been such a blessing in my life. Blogging has become my new favorite verb, and it’s safe to assume that I can be found sitting at my kitchen table, overhead lights off and candles lit, most nights of the work week (okay, sometimes on the weekends too!) as I blog to my heart’s content.

I’ve really enjoyed connecting with other Catholics and non-Catholics in the blogosphere and have felt my love for the Catholic faith grow leaps and bounds with each post I’ve written. I recently started a series on the Fruits of the Holy Spirit and am hoping to feature more series in the future as well as to host more guest posts to include a variety of perspectives from both girls and guys!

What would I do if I didn’t have to worry about failure? Gosh, good question! Well if money wasn’t an issue, I would quit school, quit my jobs and fly to Rome in hopes of attending a Pope Francis-led Mass. And then after I’d toured every church and museum and tasted the finest coffee and gelato, I’d travel to India to work with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity! A girl’s gotta dream, right? 

 

Profile No. 12: Casey Bustamante

Profiles in the Gap
Casey Bustamante
 
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Casey Bustamante is an officer in the U.S. Air Force. 
 
Did you expect this time of singleness? 
Yes! I have this magical age I think is the absolute latest age I can get married: 32 years old. I’m 27 now, so I am still on track for my goal. Hah! 
  
Okay, honestly and truly, it is an expectation I’ve set myself since my sister got married at that age. Being raised in an immigrant Mexican-American household, I want to feel guilty about being single. I want to blame my singleness on the push for me to be financially independent from my parents. My parents had to work hard to be where they are now, allowing my sister and me the opportunity to focus on our studies and graduate from college. My parents never wanted me to struggle. And as I moved through my twenties, I not only started to feel pressure to work hard at my career but also to have a family. I was totally wrong. I have gone and confronted that with my parents only to find out that it is an expectation I have set against myself. My family has never wanted anything more for me than to be happy and living in service to God.
 
Do you seek or find fulfillment in your career?   
My career started on my first day of college. I was graciously accepted to the US Air Force Academy and commissioned as a Cyber Operations officer (IT girl). It has been everything I’ve needed: discipline, schedule, routine, but most of all an invitation to grower closer to Jesus. I was the type of cradle Catholic growing up who walked the line of not committing any serious sin, but I was honestly living a selfish life. I was searching for my identity, which landed me in a self-serving relationship and in a pool of lies I fed to those that loved me. God gave me an incredible moment of grace and led me to confession my freshmen year in college. The weight of sin was lifted! From that point on, I always wanted to say “yes” to God. Am I always successful at it? No, but the desire only grows stronger every day. We had an incredible young adult ministry program at the Academy that really started to impress on my heart the desire to share the love of Christ with others. And this is what brings me fulfillment in my career. I not only have a unique opportunity to share His love with my Christian brothers and sisters in arms, but my job is to serve others. As an officer in the military, regardless of your career field, you are commissioned first and foremost to serve those around you with a great selfless love.
 
How does faith play a role in your actions and your outlook on your life as a single young adult? 
Everything I do should be for His greater glory. Through discerning any decision in my career or personal life, I must seek consolation in actions that will glorify our Lord. 
 
Since you have this time of singleness, what are some challenges you set for yourself? 
As a single young adult, the challenge to not live only for myself is tough. I have a good paying job right now that allows me to travel, buy nice things, eat out, and have an overall comfortable life. It is easy for life to continue to be about me. One of the best decisions I have made since moving to the DC area was to live in a house with four other women. The reason I moved into this house was because I knew it was best for me to not live alone, so I was going to move wherever my original housemate went. The experience has been incredible. I live in community with these women, and I am challenged in many of the simple day-to-day nuances to not live for myself. Whether the next chapter in my life brings religious or married life, God has provided many opportunities for me to live for others with the lovely ladies of the Grant House. (And yes, we have named our home.) 

Profile No. 10: Dan Smyth

Profiles in the Gap

Dan Smyth

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Dan Smyth lives in Rockville, MD. He is co-founder and editor of LibertyBlog.org.

I try to see life in terms of its blessings, and singleness can be a blessing. I like Dictionary.com’s definition of “blessing” as “a gift bestowed by God, thereby bringing happiness.” 

Singleness as a young adult has given me time to grow spiritually and personally. For one, since my early twenties I’ve made strides in trying to love God with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength. My spiritual director, who has instructed me since earlier this year, has helped me improve my prayer life.

Also, when I moved to the DC area in 2008 after graduate school in Baltimore, I made the best Catholic friends I’ve ever had. Several of us started the Bethesda Young Adult Ministry at Our Lady of Lourdes, which continues today. I’ve also helped lead the St. Lawrence Society, a prayer group for Catholic men that meets monthly and cosponsors such larger events as the 2014 Epiphany Party for Catholic Young Adults.

Other blessings I have as a single Catholic in DC include the following:

Of course, if one’s vocation is marriage, then meeting the right person could be a bigger blessing than singleness. However, as blessings are God’s gifts, one can’t expect to receive a blessing. This Christmas, just try telling family members that you expect certain gifts and, if you don’t get them, you’ll be upset.

I’d like to meet Miss Right, as it’d be a blessing. Can I get an Amen?

 

Looking back, forging ahead…

This blog turned three yesterday. 

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What started in December 2010 as a combination of venting, catharsis, and some vague hopes of maybe writing a book someday has gradually become something more important, at least to me. It’s become an opportunity to journey with so many other people living the same state in life and trying to figure out why they’re here — “stuck,” as we so often feel, in the gap and not sure what God wants out of our lives.

I’ve been gratified, humbled, and often inspired over the years by hundreds of conversations with friends and acquaintances, both in person and online, about this life in the gap and what we’re called to do with it. Even if this silly little blog serves no other purpose in the vast scheme of things, it has been an invaluable aid to me in my own journey, and a source of real consolation in the darker times, when the road ahead rolls on with no apparent direction. 

Someone recently told me that “life in the gap” isn’t something Christians should celebrate. The argument went, basically, that those of us who are still single well into our twenties and even thirties are products of a culture that prolongs adolescence, elevates career, and encourages us to push off our vocation as long as possible. It was odd to hear this argument against the very concept of my blog (and, actually, the very relevance of my day-to-day life, if you think too hard about it) expressed so directly. For it was exactly this unspoken attitude I started the blog to fight back against. 

Here’s a little quiz for my readers:

Raise your hand if you’re a Catholic (or Christian) single adult who has decided, “Vocation will be nice…in about ten years. For now I’m going to go at it alone and work my job and go to parties and just enjoy being single.” 

Okay, so a few of you probably did raise your hands. Most people who feel this way also probably don’t get a whole lot of consolation or help from my blog (but maybe I’m wrong?), though I do hope you’ll continue to read it and draw something from it anyway.

Now raise your hand if you’re a Catholic (or Christian) young adult who has been waiting for a year — or two, three, four, five, ten, fifteen years — to meet someone you feel called to marry, or for a vocational call, or for anything at all to remind you that God hasn’t retired into the heavens and forgotten all about you and your life. Raise your hand if you’ve ever cried yourself to sleep trying to figure out what the hell you’re doing wrong, because the years drag wearily on and you’re not sure that your life isn’t a complete waste of space. 

Anyone?

If that rings true for you, know that I started this blog in December 2010 for you.

We’re not called to live a prolonged adolescence, and the point of Life in the Gap has never been to encourage the selfish, undisciplined, live-for-the-moment lifestyles touted in sitcoms and tabloids and held up as the model for our generation. Instead, the blog was meant to start a dialogue about the ways in which we can be fully active, faithful, mature, and generous adults even as we work and pray to discern the “big-‘V’ Vocation” God has in store for us. How do I turn my career into a prayer, since this seems to be where God wants me right now? How do I love my neighbors, build community, and die to myself as a single young adult? How do I take possession of my own life and turn it into a song of praise, even while I feel so often stuck in a sort of limbo?

Those are the questions Life in the Gap continues to explore.

Reading the December profiles that have come in so far, I’ve been moved and touched by people’s stories about using this time to the fullest, to grow closer to God, and to wait with patience. I can’t wait to see more of them. And I look forward to diving deeper into these issues in 2014, confident that God does have a role for each of us in His plan, and that he always gives us the present moment to begin to listen to His voice and do as He asks, even in the smallest things.

–Mabel

 

 

Guest Post: When It’s Not All about Me

Today’s guest post looks at the apparent contradiction between being “honest” (with ourselves, about ourselves, and with others) and being loving. Sometimes we have to be true to ourselves and open with the people around us. But is this always what charity demands?

 

It’s a pretty problem.  Your job requires you to see people—lots of people—every day; to talk to them, to work on them, to get them to produce for you.  Obviously, you’re going to dress professionally, modestly, etc., etc.  But what exactly does “etc.” entail?  What if you catch yourself wearing clothes you would never have chosen for yourself, or for a date, or for a party with friends—clothes that you chose specifically in order to make an impression on the people you work with?

It’s not a vanity issue, it’s an honesty issue.  When you dress up for the party or the date—or even Mass or dinner with the family—there may be a little prick of vanity in your desire to make a good impression.  But at least it’s an honest vanity.  You want to look your best.  For the job, it’s another matter.  You want to look their best, the best version of what they find attractive—and that may not be Who You Are at all.

Let me be repeat: this isn’t about modesty or professionalism.  Let’s take it for granted that even if plunging necklines or ripped jeans garner some extra attention from our audience, we don’t indulge them (or ourselves).  But what if you’re the original little black dress girl, and you’ve found that clients respond well to bright colors?  Or you’re a navy-suit type, and it turns out that your students warm up when you wear tweeds?  Should you feel guilty about dressing a part?

If you think this kind of conscience twinge is far-fetched, consider this scenario.  There’s a Situation—in your office, in your friend-group, what have you.  Philomena and Claudius aren’t speaking, and this really bothers Damien, who’s better friends with Philomena, but really thinks it’s her fault, and doesn’t want to risk jeopardizing the friendship, and so spends all of his efforts trying to get Claudius to apologize, which only irritates Claudius more.  Meanwhile, Hieronymus, whose intransigence caused the original quarrel between Philomena and Claudius, comes to you for advice about the Situation, as does Philomena.

If you’re lost in that chain of pride and prejudice, that’s fine.  The only significant takeaways here are (1) It’s Complicated, and (2) everybody is (to one degree or another) at fault.

With that given, what do you do when Hieronymus comes complaining?  Do you point out that HE DID start it all?  Do you remind him of how he steps on everyone’s toes—including yours?  Do you point out that the whole Situation might have been avoided if he, Hieronymus, were just a little more [bold, or patient, or hard-working, or polite, or whatever he wasn’t]?  Do you?  Did you?

I know I did; I know I have; and at those times when I’ve bitten my tongue instead—when I haven’t “been honest” with my confidants—I’ve usually suffered the pangs of conscience afterwards.  How could I pretend to tell them how to handle the Situation when I wasn’t being forthright about what I thought of it, and of them?  When I didn’t tell the whole truth?

Then the other week another friend needed advice.  In her case, it wasn’t about a Situation.  She was worried about Dressing a Part, worried that it might be dishonest.

“Look,” I said, after I had listened to her scruples at some length over a suitably soothing beverage.  “Look.  I really don’t think you need to worry about this.  The fact is, you think you’re worried because you’re not being honest with the people you see, because you’re dressing differently for them.  Well, fine.  You are dressing differently.  But it’s not like you’re pretending to be another person; you’re just limiting your appearance in front of them to a part of yourself, maybe to an underdeveloped part of yourself, or a part you don’t use very often.  You’re worried that you’re being dishonest, but are you sure that those scruples don’t come from pride or vanity instead?

“Do you really need to tell everyone who you are, or what you think about everything?  The impulse to let your audience know the truth about you isn’t about what’s honest, much less about what they need—it’s about what you want.  You’re not lying to them by putting on the pink dress.  You’re helping them get to where they need to be.”

My friend had started to nod slowly, as if light were gently breaking over the horizon.  But it struck me all at once, in a flash—a dose of my own medicine.

Did it really do Hieronymus any good to tell him what I thought about him?  Really?

Honestly, I had to admit to myself that it did not. My urge to tell him the truth—the whole truth—was no more an honest scruple than my friend’s concern over her rhetorically effective habiliments.  It wasn’t about what was honest, much less about what Hieronymus needed—it was about my need to get my frustration with him off my chest.

It’s a pretty problem, this little dance we all have to do between honesty and charity; and there is no sure-fire way to ensure that you aren’t violating either in your relationships.  Perhaps the nearest one can come to a solution is the old method of the saints: turn your gaze outward from yourself.

Gia Demoro is a writer who lives in Virginia.

 

 

 

 

When Community Bites

“You cannot pray with enemies in your heart.” 

Pope Francis said that this week, during a homily on the Lord’s Prayer. 

Last night I attended Mass at my parish church, and I was angry. Someone had offended me earlier in the afternoon — not on purpose, and with all the best intentions, but it hurt my feelings (or my pride), and three hours later I still hadn’t gotten over it. I sat in the back where I had a pretty good view of everyone else in attendance; this church has been my home parish for over four years, and I knew at least a third of the people there. 

And as I nursed my little hurt I found myself ruminating over every single hurt or aggravation any of the people around me had ever caused me, whether they knew it or not. Because let’s face it, belonging to a community of any sort can be really, really tough. I sat staring at the backs of my acquaintances’ heads and feeling lonelier by the second, and the tears welled up, and the typical Mabel “solution” presented itself almost as an imperative: maybe it’s time to move on. Find a new parish. Even better, leave the area at last, like I’ve been talking about doing for years. Start over with new friends who haven’t hurt my feelings — and whose feelings I’ve never hurt. Or maybe I should just shut down officially, shut everyone out, focus on work and prayer and family and forget about trying to live in this “intentional community” that’s so hard to keep track of anyway. 

Now I should know better than to take my pity parties to prayer, because inevitably I get a Holy Smackdown. Sure enough, it came right around Communion. It wasn’t a simple phrase or flashing lights or a holy fragrance wafting across my path, so it’s difficult to put it into words here. But it came over me then that I’ve been treating Christ like my personal possession and my convenient escape route when my relationships with other people get uncomfortable. 

You see, Lord, I said, It’s really easy to love you. 

But other people? Other people have hard edges, sharp words, mean looks, bad days, melancholy moods, rushed schedules, differing opinions, frustrating needs, sometimes bad breath and dirty nails. Other people can be very, very hard to love. 

And of course the only response I got to this inner tirade was a loving chuckle and a somewhat dismissive, “Yes, and?” 

I guess I can’t add a whole lot to that. Community is necessary not because it keeps us from feeling lonely or frightened, or because it cushions against our needs — though it can be nice in those ways — but because it wears away our sharp edges and forces us to be together and practice the kind of love that matters — the kind that just plain sucks sometimes. 

God never said, “Love one another. It’s easy!”

He just said to do it. You simply can’t claim to love him (really) if you haven’t got that part of the Christian life straight.