Time to grow up

You know how sometimes you’re having a complete meltdown over something that seems absolutely critical to your future health, happiness, and overall well-being? There you are, staring out the living room window at the cold, dreary rain, thinking dark thoughts about the future without whatever it is and wondering how you will ever survive. You’re in the depths of despair, and you glower in black fury at your roommates when they walk innocently by and wish you “good morning.” Nothing interests you. Food loses its flavor. Life — what meaning does it hold now that That Thing is about to be taken from you?

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So I was having one of those days on Sunday. And I’m both relieved and embarrassed to admit that the answer to my woes was incredibly simple. It went something like this: Grow up.

I’m realizing with increasing regularity that I spend a whole lot of time thinking about how the events and people in my life affect me. Those that affect me most get the most attention. Those that affect me less can sit and simmer on the back burner, if I give them even that much thought. Why worry about other people’s lives, seems to be my semi-conscious mantra, when I have my own to worry about?

But when someone else’s life has a noticeable impact on mine, theI stand up and take notice.

This weekend a blip in someone else’s plans threw my own plans into a tailspin, and instead of reacting in genuine concern for that person, I had a fit because I wanted things to go my way. Granted, this other person would probably like for things to go my way, too. I’m not being completely selfish. But it wasn’t until the blip in their plans unsettled mine that I took this person’s long-standing intention to prayer with real fervor. Heretofore I’ve been comfortable with the more passive, “Please bless so-and-so in such-and-such situation.” But now my own dearest wishes were on the line, and my prayers were much more focused.

As a result, I’ve been taking a much deeper look at all my intentions and realizing how selfish I am…yes, even in prayer. It’s easy to say, “I’ll pray for you,” and it’s even pretty easy to tack names on to my daily rosary or Mass. But to really carry the people I care about to Our Lord and present all their needs to him and beg him to look on them in love and satisfy their deepest needs–needs that have nothing to do with me? I won’t say that’s hard, but it’s hard to remember. It’s hard to pull my selfish head out of my own goings-on long enough to focus on The Other.

It’s just so dratted easy to be selfish. And quite frankly, it’s childish. The child can center the whole universe on her own measly wants and needs, but the adult is supposed to know better. Not just outwardly — it’s one thing to volunteer at the homeless shelter, give your seat to old ladies on the metro, or let the person with two items get ahead of you in line at the grocery store. Those are good things, but they’re also external and therefore easier to see. What goes on inside is just as important.

Real Christian charity isn’t just an outside thing. It should be all-pervasive, all inclusive, and deeply selfless. I should have genuine concern for the people in my life in everything, not just the areas that impact me directly. So I was grateful, albeit a bit embarrassed, when a wise person listened to my tearful tale and chuckled and said, “You’ll be fine. But you should be worried about that other person.”

Ah, perspective. It’s still not all about me. Maybe some day I’ll learn that lesson for keeps.

– Mabel

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Profile No. 22: Bill Gonch

Profiles in the Gap

Bill Gonch

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Bill Gonch lives and works in the Washington, D.C., area

Did you expect this time of singleness?  

I expected to be single, but I expected a different singleness.

The whole time I was growing up I was an atheist. I had some vaguely defined plans for what I’d do in my twenties, but they all involved my career, interests, hobbies, fun. I figured I’d get married someday, but I didn’t think too much about the timeline. More to the point, I didn’t think of using my twenties for anything other than whatever I happened to want.

Then, when I was almost 22, I learned that God exists.  I remember one night shortly after that: I was looking around at things in my room, realizing that each one of them was held in existence by a direct, constant act of God’s will. If He stopped perpetuating granting existence to my desk…pop! No more desk!

I grabbed my desk. I don’t want to tell you how long I held it.

You see, when I first believed in God, everything changed. I mean literally everything: every single thing that I could see or touch or smell was a different thing than it had been before I knew that God exists. Before, things were just things—they were brute physical reality, and I thought about them or didn’t depending on whether I needed them for whatever I wanted to do.

But now, every thing that was depended on God’s action for its existence. Every thing is a gift from God: rain and sunrises and scotch tape and earthworms and my sourpuss great-aunt. It was like I’d moved to Mars. (Oh, right, Mars is a gift, too.) I spent my twenties in an entirely different world than I’d lived in as a kid. By the time I’d started exploring the new world—which is the real world—any expectations that I’d had up until that time were gone.

If so, is it what you expected it to be? If not, what did you expect, and has the change been exciting or disappointing? 

It’s been wild. I haven’t gotten married, but here are a few things I’ve done.

I’ve met incredible friends—people who are so good that they make me want to be better. Some people I know are so good that it frightens me, the way Aslan frightens the Pevensie children in Narnia.

I’ve sat with homeless men in a park late at night, giving out sandwiches and talking about our families.

I’ve learned—maybe it’s shameful that I needed to learn this, but I’ve learned—that homeless men have families, that they see them and care about them.

I’ve helped a man get off the street and into a homeless shelter.

I’ve learned that the devils who keep men on the street are beyond my power to defeat, and often beyond those men’s power, but not beyond God’s power.

I’ve organized church groups.

I’ve learned that I’m really bad at organizing church groups.

I’ve learned to pray the Hail Mary.

I’ve learned that one of Mary’s titles is “Exterminatrix of Heresies,” and that there’s a painting of her beating down a demon with a giant club.

I’ve been one of the crazy people who prays the rosary outside of abortion clinics, and I’ve learned that the stereotypes of those people are very far from the truth.

I’ve seen a woman approach an abortion clinic and then change her mind, deciding to bring her child into the world, because of things that my friend said to her.

For three years I lived with the Blessed Sacrament in my house. In my house!

I’ve counted among my friends men who wear brown dresses, giant rosaries, and no shoes. I’ve learned that they’re called “friars,” not “monks.”

I’ve become the godfather of little boy whose soul is immortal.

It’s been wild.

Do you seek or find fulfillment in your career? If so, can you elaborate? If not, where do you seek / find it? 

I’d have found a lot more if I’d listened to what God was telling me.

There’s a passage in A Man for All Seasons that has been playing in my mind for the past several months. Richard Rich has been seeking a position in the government from Sir Thomas More, but Thomas refuses, believing (rightly) that Rich does not have the moral fiber for an intrigue-ridden court. Instead, he offers to appoint Rich to a teaching position. He says, “You’d make a good teacher, Richard. Perhaps a great one.”

Rich: “But who would know?”

Thomas: “You, your students, perhaps your colleagues, God. Not a bad public, that.”

I came to DC to work in policy two-and-a-half years ago. I thought it was the right move…and at first it was. My employer has an important mission and I work with wonderful, talented people; I’ve learned an awful lot from being there. But it’s been clear for a while that policy is not what I should be doing. For a couple of years now, I’ve felt a pull to return to school, get a Ph.D. and, well, be a teacher. At the end of this past summer the Lord hit me with a series of hammer-blows: it was time (past time, maybe), to apply. Lord willing, I’ll start classes in the fall. It doesn’t feel too good to be in the same spot as the villain in one of your favorite movies. But now, for the first time, I have a strong sense of vocation. I’m finally doing what God intends me to do. That does feel pretty darn good.

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

Goodness! You might as well ask, how does oxygen play a role in your life?

I mean that pretty close to literally. Faith gives me joy in good times and strength in hard ones. Faith constitutes the world: by it I know that each person I meet deserves my love and compassion and respect because each person is made in the image and likeness of God. I’m not sure I’d agree that it plays a role in my outlook: it’s more that faith is the very grounds by which other things can play a role. It’s not one of the things out there in the world, but the means through which I understand anything else that’s in the world. Faith is the pair of eyeglasses that lets me see the world clearly, and my soul comes with the same fine-print notice as my driver’s license: “Restriction: corrective lenses.”

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?

I’d talk to more people. I’m very shy, and I have a hard time knowing what to say to people whom I don’t already know well. It’s an INFJ thing, I guess. But when I do meet new people, I’m always glad to have done it, so I’m trying to be more outgoing.

I’d write and publish more. Ray Bradbury once encouraged young writers to write a story every week for a year, because “No one can possibly write 52 bad stories in a row.” I’ve decided 2014 will be the year I get my fiction published, so I’ll be writing a lot and submitting things I’ve never submitted before. I’m just hoping I don’t prove Ray Bradbury wrong.

Finally, I’d listen to God more. It’s weird—I listen a lot when I’m talking with other people, but when I pray suddenly I’m doing all the talking. Talking in prayer is easier than listening…after all, if you’re just sitting there listening, pretty soon you find yourself thinking that you need to pick up some chicken cutlets on your way home, and how are you ever going to finish that report by Thursday, and—darnit—you left the dishes in the sink again, and hey, that girl by the Mary altar’s pretty cute. And then your mind’s entirely distracted from God and it’s time to start over on your page of Francis de Sales and see if you can salvage a bit of this Holy Hour for some actual prayer.

But I guess distraction isn’t the real reason I’m afraid to stop talking in prayer. The real reason is that sometimes, when you stop talking, God starts.

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!

(Guest post): A look back at the gap

LifeintheGap is accepting (and requesting!) guest blog posts. The below is a first in what I hope will be a long succession of great insights from all sorts of people on living out the single life, whether you’re doing it now or looking back and sharing your story.

A look back at my “Twentysomethings”

A guest post by “Lurking”

I am married. I am 34 years old. I have a 2-month-old child (my first). I suppose I’m qualified to look back at my own life in-between.

Recently, the author of this blog posted a musing on our society’s new boundaries and expectations, or lack thereof, for adults in their twenties. This led to the following retrospective on my own twenties.

I turned 20 in 1998; I was attending community college part time and working full time. I had a serious girlfriend, and we planned to move in together the following year. This was the beginning of a series of serious longish-term relationships that would end in heartbreak. When I was about 26, I made a decision about one of these relationships, and proposed to my then-girlfriend. I loved her, and I was tired of the lack of structure, at least in my romantic life. This engagement did one priceless thing for me: It brought me back to my faith in a way nothing else had.

My thinking went like this: “If I’m going to make this permanent move in my life, I’m going to do it right, with the faith that has always had a small grasp on my soul.” Faith wasn’t an active part of my life at this time, but it was a part of my conscience, and I knew that it had to be a part of my marriage.

My engagement ended with my fiancée leaving me for another man four months before our wedding date. Yes, we had already sent out save the date postcards! This was devastating to me. I ended up losing my job, some of my friends, and my goals (not that I had really definite ones) were destroyed. It took me the better part of a year to put my life back together. I finished my bachelor’s degree a year later and got a better job that provided some intellectual and professional relationship challenges that served me well for the last two years of my twenties. I did not, however, have another serious relationship for about 18 months after that heartbreak.

I met my wife years later, when I was 31. I have been abundantly and undeservedly blessed ever since then; she is the best wife I could ever have hoped for. But, what could I have done differently? How did I survive those turbulent twenties when hope was very scarce and my heart felt like it died over and over again?

Looking back from the wise old thirties, I’d say the top five things I learned in this time period were:

1) Listen. This is what your friends and family–if you have a good one–are for. They really do know you, better than you know yourself in many instances. Do what they tell you when you are lost.

2) Surrender. Do it over and over again. Pray for the grace to surrender, utterly. Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, was my only source of comfort when I was in the depths of despair. I was brought to my knees and to a deep depression by my life’s circumstances, but I fight against that kind of low. You can surrender without being beaten down.

3) Travel. I know it’s hard because in your twenties, you don’t have much (or any) disposable income, but find a way. You’ll meet new people and learn more about yourself than you can ever hope to if you stay put and do only routine things.

4) Write. Express your feelings, document your days, share your perspective. I guess it doesn’t have to be writing, that’s just been my way of exercising my creativity. But be creative, now, while you have some time. File a patent, hang one of your own paintings on the wall, share your short stories with friends, submit a poem to a magazine, just do something to show yourself to the world around you. The dividends you will reap will be unexpected and make you smile; I guarantee it.

5) Walk. Keep putting one foot in the front of the other. God knows the journey you are on; you don’t.

And please pray for me, that my thirties will continue to be a decade of blessings. I also need strength and grace to change some parts of me that are still damaged and suffering from decisions I made in my twenties. No matter how old you are, we’re all still trying to walk with Christ. That’s what matters.

 

 

 

The hardest thing

The hardest thing about trust is that it’s so easy. 

Just accepting that God has all the fuzziest parts of my existence under control involves way too much resignation. It’s so much simpler to worry, to lie awake at night and wonder how it can possibly all turn out okay, to pick at my meals, to be short with friends, to sneak away early from parties and sob during my commute home from work. None of that requires any stretching on my part. As long as I can panic and imagine the worst-case scenario in every situation, I can continue to be myself, and I can be comfortable.

Please, just don’t ask me to trust that God the Father loves me and will take care of me. 

Don’t ask me to accept all things with joy, because they are his will. 

The effort involved in letting go of my sense of control might just break me. 

Thoughts on the road out of Jericho

I don’t have writer’s block. What I have is almost worse: a long list of posts I should write, and I just don’t want to. Can men and women be “just friends”? That post has been hanging out as an unkept promise for a good year at this point, and every time I sit down to start it, I get fidgety and cranky and have to erase and start a post on something else. I’ve also been meaning to write a bit on vulnerability. But since the very process of publicizing a post on that topic involves being somewhat vulnerable myself, I’ve been bypassing that topic with a backward wave for months. Also on the list: a post on budgeting. I’d love to write this one, actually, but I feel I’d better start keeping a pretty careful budget myself, before I talk about what a great idea it is.

(Okay. Maybe now I’ve let you all see some of these topics, I’ll feel forced to getting around to them eventually.)

The Number 1 topic on my avoidance list since the inception of this blog, though, has been Discernment. Not vocation, which is ostensibly what you end up with at the end of the process of discernment, and not simple joyful acceptance of life in the now before vocation (which is what this blog is all about), but the active, aching, confusing, at times terrifying journey that is discernment. I don’t want to write about it now, either, but I’ve been praying about what topic I should look at next on this blog, and he just keeps throwing this one at me.

Because I don’t really know what I’m talking about, I’ll keep it very simple–I’ll let the Bible do most of the talking for me. We read one of my favorite Gospel passages on Sunday: the story of blind Bartimaeus and his healing on the road leading out of Jericho. In the past I’ve always found myself reflecting on the blind man’s admission of his own need and want. I’m still blown away by his courage in calling after Jesus, despite the people around him telling him to knock it off. As I’ve written before, it takes courage to ask for the things we need, because it involves admitting to ourselves and to others that we aren’t self-sufficient.

Reading the passage this time, though, something else resonated with me. Jesus at last hears the blind man, and the people say to poor Bartimaeus, “Take courage, get up. Jesus is calling you.”

Take courage.

Get up.

Jesus is calling you.

I realize we’re all in different places in our personal discernment processes. It’s a journey each of us makes alone, regardless of who may join us along the way. I’ve left this topic alone very much for that reason. Beyond that, I have to admit to some bitterness about the whole “vocation thing.” After years and years of discerning, praying, and waiting, sometimes I wonder if maybe I’m not called to anything in particular after all. Maybe the grand high purpose of the Christian life really is only for those exceptional people I see around me every day, people God has already called to the priesthood, to the convent, to beautiful, fruitful marriages. Maybe he did his best with me, and I’ve simply failed. I won’t walk you any deeper into the darker musings I sometimes fall into–suffice it to say, in recent years I have left the topic of discernment very much alone because I’m sick and tired of it.

So those words on Sunday morning went off in my head like a cannon. “Jesus is calling you.”

There’s no equivocation in that passage, no second guessing, not even necessarily in this moment a particular something he’s calling me (or you) to or for. So I’m still in the dark about what my main life’s work might end up being and the ultimate vocational setting in which I’ll end up doing it, but I can rest assured that I am called.

The daily process of discernment rests in that trust. Whoever you are, whatever your circumstances, the Master has need of you. He’s calling you. Discernment, then, means shutting up and listening. Moreover, it means getting up and going to him. For those of us still in the waiting period, that means making time for him every day. We tend to think of discernment as this grand grappling with God, like Jacob wrestling the angel. Of course, discernment can and probably will have that aspect, especially in the beginning while we’re still bringing our wills into line with his. We don’t just leave it there, though. Beyond that point, discernment should be a daily, quiet, habitual process of growing close to Christ now so that, when at last he’s ready to set us on the road, we’re already there, itching to go, confident that he loves us.

Take courage.  Get up, Jesus is calling you.

A 6-week love story

Did I ever mention that I fell in love last year?

Yeah, I did. It was Advent, just two and a half weeks before Christmas, and I met him on a cold—really cold—Tuesday night, the vigil of the feast of the Immaculate Conception.  We both showed up at a D.C. church for a holy hour, only to find out it had been cancelled. He had an “in” with the priest and got permission to stay and pray, provided he locked up when he was all finished. In a highly unusual burst of courage (I hate hate hate asking for special favors), I asked to stay, too.

We ignored one another during our prayers, of course. Though I couldn’t help but notice that he wasn’t bad-looking… Afterward, as he locked up, we exchanged the usual pleasantries: names, jobs, home parishes. I liked him right off. He was open and chatty and obviously holy. Once outside, we shook hands, said, “Maybe I’ll see you around soon,” and went our separate ways.

Nothing special. Really, nothing. Except that I have this awful habit of assigning deeper meanings to events that have no actual meaning. Part of that Catholic upbringing of mine: I love signs, and asking for signs. And I guarantee you, if you ask for a sign, you will find one—whether it’s real or not. It’s amazing what you can read into something when you’re determined to find “meaning” in it.

It was the vigil of one of Our Lady’s feasts, and I just happen to be consecrated to her: a sign!

It all happened in a church, and one of my prayers as a romantic and overly pious teenager was to meet “The One” in church: a sign!

He mentioned in the course of our brief conversation that he’d just gotten out of seminary after two years, and I’ve always wanted to end up with a guy who gave the priesthood a try: a sign!

He had a really cool biblical name, which wasn’t in itself anything I’ve “always” wanted, but was nevertheless fascinating and therefore probably significant.

So even though the chances of me ever seeing this fellow again were pretty slim, the incident stuck with me for weeks and weeks—and yes, the hope that this “nothing special” might be repeated or followed up and become something.

It didn’t.

In a turn of events that will surprise no one, when at last I did see him again (at the same church about six weeks later), he was with another girl. C’est le vie.

Why am I bringing him up only now? Honestly, I’d almost forgotten all about him, and then I ran into him at a house party some friends threw a couple weeks ago. Literally. The room was very crowded and at one point I took a step backwards and bumped into someone who said “’Scuse me” in a kind of peeved way, and I turned and said, “So sorry,” but he was already walking away. No flicker or gesture or movement of recognition. You fall in love with a guy for six weeks, you at least hope for the eyebrow raise and the, “I think we’ve met before” handshake when you see him again a year later.

It’s amazing, the way we can take a fellow human being and stick him (or her) in a particular role in our own imaginary worlds. And even more amazing how angry and sad we become when that fellow human being gets his lines wrong or misses his cue. Don’t you know God gave me a sign? As if everything in the universe boils down to me and my silly daydreams.

And this all came over me as I watched him walk away at this party, clearly not even interested in introducing himself. Humiliating? You bet. But also incredibly freeing in its own way. I spend so much time asking what significance this or that event has to me in my life. But maybe this particular event wasn’t about me at all.

Maybe God just wanted someone to carry that boy around in her heart for a few weeks.

You just never know…