One night, the phone rang at my place. A young woman I knew needed help understanding God’s will for her vocation. She was in her late twenties, still single, wanting to be married, and trying to figure that out.
In the course of the conversation, she dropped this little grenade: “My worst fear is that I’m going to end up like you.”
Single, she meant.
I was all of 32 years old at the time. Not exactly ancient. A flood of thoughts went through my mind.
What? End up like me? An accomplished woman, in possession of a Master’s degree from one of the finest universities in the country? A homeowner of a charming old house with lovely woodwork? Working in my dream job? That’s your worst fear?
(Dreadful, I know.)
I managed to choke out something that was rather gracious in retrospect. My life was not over just because I wasn’t married yet. I have a life full of possibilities for which I am responsible, and I intended to make the most of it, come what may. (But I’m sure I probably cried myself to sleep that night.)
Not Your Worst Nightmare After All?
Fast forward a few years. She did meet a fella. And she was determined to be married before she reached the age of thirty. I attended her wedding, and I was happy for her. He seemed like a nice enough man.
As I’ve watched her life unfold on Facebook, I can tell you that ending up like me would have been a comparatively happy ending. Marriage hasn’t exactly gone according to plan. In fact, a mutual friend recently told me that she made an inquiry with someone at the marriage tribunal, to see what her options are.
You see, her obsession to marry before she was 30 drove her to the altar without carefully asking herself whether she did so, “freely and without reservation to give herself to this man.” She ignored certain flags in her “obsession” to tie the knot before she was 30. And this has led both of them into what appears to be a trap.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the definition of a tragedy.
How Not to Do That to Yourself
Which leads me to what I want to share with you now. The treasury of our Church has some awesome tools to help you not do that to yourself. I’m a big fan of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, and he has some sound guidance for ordering your life accordance with God’s will, rather than letting some stupid, arbitrary thing like your age drive your discernment. Or the fear that you may not get another chance.
In his “Spiritual Exercises”, Saint Ignatius has some sound guidance for making a choice of way of life. Your purpose in life is to serve God, not to get married. If marriage serves you in serving God, well and good. But you must not make the means into an end. No less a man than St. Thomas More realized that he would have been a miserable priest. He got married—and served God supremely as a married man.
For the rest of us who still are working that out, St. Ignatius urges us to strive for “holy indifference”. We must make use of all the possibilities that help us to serve God, and rid ourselves of everything that doesn’t. Our one desire and choice should be, what enables us to praise, reverence and serve the Lord.
Three Types of Discernment
In some cases, it will strike like a bolt of lightning. We will “know” like Saint Paul knew on his way to Damascus, without the possibility of doubting.
Or, in other cases, there will be a notable tug-of-war inside, in which we learn a lot from the experience of consolation and desolation until God clarifies.
Yet again, at other times we’ll be able to see the situation clearly, and through the natural use of our reason come to a sound decision.
In no case at all did the Saint ever suggest that hurrying up because of your age was a good idea.
In fact, according to the Rules for the Discernment of Spirits, stridency, and pressure of this sort should make us immediately suspicious. The enemy of our human nature often uses the experience of desolation to cause us to panic. And that’s when he offers to be our life coach.
It’s a trap. In my friend’s case, it appears that he succeeded.
Of course, it can happen the other way too. The devil can also use such desolation to augment an irrational fear of commitment.
Either way, don’t let it happen to you.