“It's easy to recall what doesn't heal,
More difficult to call back what leaves no mark,
what depends on memory
to bring forward what's been gone so long.
The heart's too gentle. It won't hold
before us what we may still need to see.”
- Daniel Halpern
I’ve been trying to answer the question of my calling in life for quite some time now – since 2008 to be exact - when I started asking myself if I was meant to become a nun. Even though I had been through several romantic relationships, this itch kept bubbling up in me. I knew that if I did not explore it then, I never would. I told myself – and many others – that even if things didn’t work out, at least I would have tried and not spend the rest of my life wondering. Little did I know what I would really end up experiencing and discovering through this journey.
I kept telling people that I was going to pursue my calling, vocation in life. The meaning of vocation and discernment at that time to me was religious life. I had a game plan down: I would explore different orders and communities across the spectrum from contemplative to active, local to international. I was pretty vocal about this, headstrong in my determination to figure out where I was meant to go.
What would happen then when I hit wall after wall of setbacks, in the form of health issues? Every time I tried to enter or explore another community, I would get into a car accident, have a major surgery, and so forth. It happened enough times for me to finally let go and after some time explore dating again instead. Then those relationships did not work out either. Was I really meant to be single, then? Did I give up too soon on religious life? Why if I was open and committed to giving myself and my life to God, were things just not working out? Why would I keep ending up in what seemed like the wrong relationship? On top of this, since I had been so public about all of this, I had a harder time processing everything because I was feeling so much embarrassment, judgment, and shame for not being able to get it together.
I started to ask myself, “What is really going on here?” Two Christmases ago, after ending a relationship, I did something I had never done before: I cried in my dad’s arms. I hadn’t planned it out or anything, I was just so overwhelmed that I ended up bawling in the middle of Christmas Eve Mass. Little did I know how that moment would be the beginning of my relationship with my father reconciling and transforming in a way that I would never imagine. How our relationship would heal in ways that I honestly thought would not happen until his deathbed, if ever at all. All these years I had been frustrated wishing he would change, when really all it took was one moment of me allowing myself to be real and vulnerable in front of him.
Somehow after this I stopped pointing the finger elsewhere, and whether I realized it at the time or not, began looking inside myself instead. I started going to therapy, as I noticed I had a pattern of broken relationships, but didn’t know how to go about resolving this. I came to see that while the other person may truly have issues to resolve, you also bring into your life what you believe about yourself. I discovered that the painful aspects of my relationships, whether pertaining to abuse, neglect, or any other number of issues, I allowed into my life because deep down I did not believe I was capable and worthy of a great relationship. That my time was running out. That I had too much baggage. I did not believe that I could be loved.
So I tolerated. What started out as whirlwinds of romance shifted after the honeymoon phase, and I didn’t really know what to do. Whether behaviors from another were “good” or “bad” I labeled them as love simply because they were acts of attention directed towards me. This is not to say that the guys were all bad - I was not respecting myself, which then allowed boundaries in various ways to be blurred and issues to then ensue. I then got lost and swirled up in this heinous mind game, always believing that if the relationship was not going well, it was because something was wrong with me; that I was doing something wrong and I had to fix myself to make things right. That I was always the one to blame - or completely the other way around. Essentially, I was playing victim to all that had happened in my failed relationships to date. The cycle would repeat itself over and over and over, and I was going nowhere - or so it seemed.
There has been one area that seems to have been unscathed by all this though – my career. What has been the difference? All I’ve been able to glean is that I’ve approached things in this area objectively, that is, not personally, and that I’ve been clear about expressing what I’ve wanted. That I held onto what I knew I was capable and worthy of – and the wait has been worth it.
Perhaps that is all it is. That the key behind all this hasn’t been some secret complex pathway to discover simply other than coming to know, feel, and understand my worth and then operating from that space. That there isn’t anything wrong with me. That it’s ok to have desires and to want things in life – that God has been waiting for me to say these for myself, while I thought I was waiting for God to show or tell me all these years. That really when it comes down to it, the call isn’t primarily about the state of life as much as it is to love and allow myself to be accepted, cared for, and loved – however that comes about. To trust that I know what I want, even if I cannot put it into words, and to move in that direction, even if it looks or feels blurry. A recent longer silent retreat as well as subsequent key conversations and continued unfolding graces have been pivotal to coming to these understandings.
How much I see now that I’d been running away from - not toward - God, and really myself, all these years. How much I’d been behaviorally looking for answers outside of myself even though I’ve known conceptually that you can only find answers within. How much I’ve since learned to trust myself – and therefore God – now in ways that make no sense to me and yet follow a felt logic I never before knew. At this time in my life, all that matters is to know that I am cared for and loved. To continue to operate from this space and not abandon myself in the process. To have the courage to allow myself to be who I am, where I am, and not apologize for it. To ask for help when needed.
The significant relationships in my life as a result are becoming healthier. I also feel that I am doing less, yet more is getting accomplished. I am more honest with myself. Things are not perfect, but they are more true. It is a call in which the path continues to reveal itself not as a one time revelation but rather step by step. Ultimately it was about something so much more simple - and deeper - than I thought I knew those first searching years ago.
Quyen Nhi Ngo