If I enter religious life, do I waste the “gifts” God has given me?

Slide2Another question from a reader:

I am currently in the process of discerning a call to the religious life. However, of late, I am experiencing a deep-seated struggle over what feels like a “locking away” of my gifts.

I have been an actor, writer and poet since I was a child, and I am passionate about music and the arts, theatre in particular. The thought of being unable to do these things, or at least participate in them fully, is painful to me, but I cannot decide if these are legitimate obstacles to a religious vocation, or merely commitment fears.

I thought I might put the question to you, as a writer and communicator. Did you ever struggle in this way with your discernment? Can you offer any insights that might help me in my attempt to be more sure of what it is God is calling me to?                                                                                 – L

Dear L.,

You have raised an excellent question that I’ve heard before and which I certainly understand. When I first entered the convent, I naively thought I was giving up writing altogether. It was a difficult choice, a letting go of a cherished dream. I never imagined that I would go back to writing and eventually become a published author as a Daughter of Saint Paul. Of course, I was too young to be sure that I wanted to be a writer, or even that I could be. But I’ve never regretted choosing to be a sister over writing, even when I thought I would never write again. Following Christ in God’s call to me was and is more important to me than anything else.

Here a couple of insights that I’ve received as I’ve lived religious life as a writer:

  • I have discovered that, whether I’m “assigned” to writing or not, I love our Pauline mission, which is an even deeper call. I didn’t enter the Daughters of Saint Paul to write or to “do” anything else. I entered to become a bride of Christ, an apostle, and a saint (insofar as God works in me). I entered religious life to become a better lover of God and of souls.
  • Living religious life calls forth a deep level of creativity—both life in community and in the mission. Religious life is a very demanding lifestyle, and calls us to use all our gifts, even gifts that we don’t know we have! (For example, I had no idea that I could be a good teacher until I started giving conferences and workshops as an author.)
  • One time, when I was asked to give up a form of writing that was really hard for me, I discovered that I’m most passionate about my writing because of how it allows me to live the Pauline mission. Writing is one way—an important way—that I live my Pauline vocation.
  • Even now, there are times when I’ve wanted to go in a particular direction (with writing) or write a particular project and, in obedience, I’ve had to let go of what I thought was best. I’ll probably never stop writing entirely…but with the demands of our ministry, it’s not always possible to write when, how, and what I’d like to. For example, right now I’m assigned to Pauline Digital, which is wonderful, but also a sacrifice because it means:
    • Most of the writing I do now is “short form,” which isn’t my preferred (or best) form. But I am getting better at it, I hope!
    • I have to “squeeze in” the time to write any new books in free moments, so instead of taking a year to write, now a book will take 2.5 years to write
    • Much of the time I’m not writing at all but focused on collaborating in projects in which I am doing other kinds of work, such as editing, technical, managerial, etc. All of this, however, feeds my writing.
  • When we are truly committed to our art, it grows and develops over time, and our needs and desires as an artist also change over time. I truly believe that God uses my desires, and blesses my obedience as a religious, even when obeying means greater sacrifice. If your state in life changes, you may discover that the very gifts that you brought to the theater arts will be called upon in another way. Or, you might be surprised as I was, and discover that God is giving you a new opportunity to use your gifts for theater, poetry, or music…

I would definitely suggest talking to a sister from the community you are discerning with. Find out if some of the sisters work in the arts, even in an adapted way. (But don’t decide to enter based on the fact that you would only be doing a particular ministry, unless the sisters assure you that this is the case. In our community—as in many others—we are called to obedience especially in our apostolic assignments.) This will give you more information that you need to discern this particular question. 

Also, you may want to look more closely at a community in which the arts has an important role in their ministry. There are a lot of communities where the arts are important to the sisters’ lives and mission (including my own, the Daughters of St. Paul). Music is important to many communities, including contemplative communities.

Finally, have you brought this specific question/fear to Jesus in prayer, and really laid out to him your hopes, your dreams, your fears, and your desire to do his will?  Don’t be afraid to entrust your questions and fears to him. Sometimes when we are really wrestling with something, we forget to bring it to him. Jesus will give you the light—and strength and desire—which you need to discern and respond to God’s call for you.

Whatever you discern his call to be, I encourage you to follow him in the vocation he gives you. You will not be disappointed!  May God bless you in your discernment journey. 

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