Something horrible happened to me last year.
While sitting in a theology class (that I loved) during the course of my master’s work at a Catholic graduate school (that I loved), one of my professors (whom I really loved) boldly stated that he didn’t believe that God “had someone” for us. To him, the notion that the Lord wills and has in mind a particular mate for those of us that are called to marriage was overly romantic and false. The alternative that he offered was that God’s will is for each one of us to be holy and, if one were earnestly pursuing that, should they choose a mate (and should that mate choose back), God’s blessing would be upon it. However, (as I perceived it, anyway), the specifics of how and with whom this potential vocation occurred were not of huge importance to Him. As soon as the words were uttered, I knew I didn’t like them and a small seed of unease began to worm its way into the previously peaceful soil of my heart.
After class, upon returning to the home I shared with several other theology students, we launched into a heated a discussion about our professor’s comment. After much debate, the majority consensus seemed to be that our beloved professor was correct: God doesn’t have some fantastical soulmate waiting out there somewhere for us. Our mates are our own choice. We are on our own.
My roommates pointed out many beautiful and positive things about this particular worldview on vocations: the obvious respect that our Creator has for our free choice, His unwillingness to corner us into only having a single chance to get it “right”, the beauty in our mates being with us, not because they are supernaturally destined to, but because they choose to be. Yet, despite all of these true and reasonable points, this new reality did not settle well with me. That seed of unease began to beget deep, twisted roots of dissatisfaction and sprout creeping vines of passive panic.
I, like many young adults in their mid-twenties, had been fed years of college campus ministers and well-intentioned speakers on retreats telling me that God had a plan for my vocation. I, like many other young adults, had said goodbye to a life of promiscuity when I heard the Good News at the age of 19 and said hello to a life of righteous, but difficult, chastity. I, like so many others, had began to watch younger friends, non-religious family members, and promiscuous classmates find love, get engaged, and start their happily-ever-afters, while I, who was trying desperately to follow God’s will for my life, remained perpetually single. But I was content. I trusted in the Lord’s plan for my life. When the man that I adored through most of my undergraduate experience told me that he was only interested in me as a friend, I trusted. When I graduated from college without having been asked on a single date, I trusted. When the man on my post-college missionary team took my breath away and then decided to become a priest, I trusted. Through all of my self-discovery and loneliness, through my tears, in the bitterness and sweetness, I trusted. The blessing and the aching of my singleness would surely end in my being rewarded for my stern struggle with a wonderful husband. Every heartbreak and unexpected turn of my life was okay with me, because I trusted that it was all part of God’s Greater Plan to lead me to the one that He always had in mind for me.
To confront the fact that my vision might not be true changed everything.
Were all the twists and turns in my life just arbitrary?
What if no one else ever decided to choose me?
What was the point of persevering along the difficult path of righteousness if it were just as likely to result in loneliness as in marriage?
How dare God call me to follow Him, make me all these promises, and leave me hanging out to dry?
I decided that, if God wasn’t about to help me out in the mate-finding department, I needed to take matters into my own hands. And since His way of doing things had gotten me a whole lot of nowhere, I was going to do it my way. I rebelled. For the first time since making my commitment to live chastely, I willingly gave into sins against my purity. I gave way to many temptations, I got involved with men that I knew weren’t good for me, and I stopped praying. I was angry with God, but the more I spited Him, the emptier I felt, and the farther I wandered from Him, the more directionless I really became.
At the bottom of my ravaged heart, I knew that I missed the Lord. I found myself in the confessional one Saturday afternoon, pouring out my feelings of confusion and anger towards God. The loving priest’s counsel to me was humbling: He said, “You’re not really mad at God. You’re mad at who you think He is.” My deep, deep discontent wasn’t just about my frustration at still being single. It was at the idea that God didn’t care about my life or my future. The idea that my hurts and hopes, fears and wishes were pretty much irrelevant to Him. The idea that the God Who knew every hair on my head didn’t really give a damn whether I got married or not. The idea that my best friend wasn’t Who I thought He was.
This realization was the beginning of my slow healing, the start of the process of letting God back in. The journey has been difficult and gradual for me, and I’m still in it. I’m still learning to be faithful and learning to hope, but, with the Lord’s patience and grace (as well as the counsel of several holy people in my life), I have learned several important lessons:
- Righteous living is worth it for God’s sake.
I was so busy being absorbed in my own misery that I became completely transfixed on the rewards I thought I deserved for being holy. I thought that my pursuit of purity and prayer were going to result in the prize of a spouse, when, in reality, my prize is Jesus Himself. He gives us a model for life because He knows it’s what’s best for us and we should be impelled to adhere to His commandments out of love for Him, not out of earthly gain.
- Our God is not a laissez-faire God.
My disillusionment with God began when I started to believe that He was out of touch with my every day and that He was more of a “big picture” type of Guy. I think this bothered me so much because our human hearts innately know that God has created us for deep and loving intimacy with Him. Psalm 56 tells us that “our wanderings have been noted by God” and that our tears are “stored in His vial.” I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound like a hands-off policy to me. In my rejoicing and in my suffering, God is before me always.
- The Mystery of Concursus
As members of the Christian family, we are blessed heirs to a faith that, at its very essence, is centered on the Incarnation. Our Lord came to earth and was 100-percent God and 100-percent man. Our Sacred Scripture is 100-percent divinely authored and 100-percent humanly authored (the Church calls this the “mystery of concursus”). Our faith is a “both/and” faith. I think it works the same way with our vocations. When I (God-willing, haha!) meet the man I am to marry, God has given me the freedom to choose him of my own volition. He’s not going to be my puppet master about it. However, it will also be entirely His will. How exactly does this work out? I’m not totally sure. As modern intellectuals, it’s often difficult for us to grasp that God’s ways are not always for us to understand in a complete way, but I am growing to trust the truth that He’s got it under control and that part of Christian freedom is not needing to pick apart every single method He’s got going on.
On the other side of all my turmoil, how do I feel about soulmates? I’m undecided. I think God would be a pretty narrow God if He only gave us a solitary chance to choose the right person. I think it’s possible that there are multiple people with whom one could be happy and holy and that God will bless the choices we make if we are seeking Him in the midst of them. However, I also believe that God is good beyond what our conceptions of goodness could ever contain. I believe that it’s totally possible that the Lord knows us and loves us so deeply that He creates us with another in mind. I suppose that I will not know the reality of the situation until I make it to Heaven. That is the one part of His plan that I am certain of. And I will choose to live in the joyful hope that I will see His go.