Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Single Purpose

I've written about this subject before, but I think, given that all us singles just went through St. Valentine's Day together right after Ash Wednesday, I would give some nonBS reflections on the single life based on my own experience over the the years. But before that, I'd like to assure you that I'm not a "cool" single that has dates every week and is followed by trails of wishful, puppy-eyed suitors. I've gone through the familial pressure to get a man (I'm Mexican so that's double the guilt), the inquisitive aunts, awkward parties and heck, I live alone with a cat which is the ultimate stereotype. I once had a friend tell me I shouldn't get a cat because that would be a declaration of my perpetual state of singleness. How sensitive.

So, I guess I'm a stereotype... but I think, by conversations I've had with other girls or guys in the same state of life, I'm much happier with my situation than most. With grace I believe I'd be able to get through an entire life single and still have been profoundly joyful, but in spite of that hope I'm still convinced I'm called to be wife, not a nun, hermit or consecrated virgin.

I still suffer through periods of anxiety when I wonder if I'm doing something wrong, and if I will never get to live out the vocation I've wanted to live out since I was six. The loneliness is real. However, it is nowhere near to what I felt as a teen and in college. Not even close. I can't even remember how to feel like that anymore. It is absolutely Grace, but changing the way I approached and thought about the ultimate purpose of my life changed the way I experience my day to day life profoundly.

The Other Vocation

When I was twelve, I told God that if he wanted me to be a nun or a sister, that would be alright. So I sat there waiting to see if there was some kind of fluttery, sparkly inspiration from the Holy Spirit that would say, "don that fair veil and get thee to a nunnery where you shall run to the mountains and sing off key." There was no whiff even close to a "maybe," but I continued to ask every so often, and I occasionally still do. I mean if some kind of "Yes" came, I'd be all set. Jesus is in, I'm in, we can just go off and have a happy time together. 

About three years ago, I was befriended by some consecrated gals. They're not nuns, they wear normal clothes, but they give their lives to Jesus and the Church and vow to remain chaste their whole lives. I visit them once or twice a month and I think they are absolutely wonderful. They are all different and they are in love with God. If they are encumbered with crippling sexual frustration they hide it very well. They also happen to be 18 to 22 years old. I think that's what shocked me the most; dozens of young, happy, holy girls, some with the deep wisdom that I'd expect from a woman of forty. I want to be holy and happy, so I asked God if that was even in the realm of something he wanted for me. The answer is best described as a firm "no".

Despite discerning that religious or consecrated life was not for me, there is a lesson of deep gravity that everyone can learn from the witness of those who do choose to live a life of radical singlehood for the love Christ. They never have sex, ever, and the thrill of the marital embrace is one of the great and wonderful reasons a lot of us would like to get married. We desire to be one with someone we take profound delight in, and for some reason some people decide that the most joyful life they can experience does not involve a romantic, sexual relationship with another human being. If you spend some time reading the life of a saintly priest or nun or martyred virgin you will be overwhelmed,  you will be attracted, even tempted to their life, because it offers a deep satisfaction so often glazed over in today's sex-crazed society. Spending time with people who are holy and happy and are never going to get married rewires and untwists the message this culture jams into your brain: "Sex makes you happy, and if you're not having it you've never lived." I've learned that you can in fact be in no romantic relationship, not have sex and have an extraordinary life. So for as long as you are single, be a counter cultural phenomenon and teach the world that even if you don't envision yourself as single forever and there is an element of "waiting" in your life, profound joy is yours and his name is Jesus Christ.

The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life... the name of a book on my shelf that I've been meaning to read, but I'm just going to riff off the title, because I've had countless momentary meditations on it.

If you've ever been in love, you've worn the magical pink-colored glasses. When you put them on, everything seems brighter, like the world is being lit by two suns. Everything is transformed. The streets you walk down every day are suddenly the most charming streets you've ever walked past. You notice the flowers lining front yards, the giggle of children as they race each other to the bus stop, and every moment is euphoria. How had you never noticed how absolutely awesome life could be? You never want the person you love to ever go away. They changed the world, and yet nothing changed about it except them.

Until one day, they leave or you leave. And at some point you gather the courage to look back at the world, and it can be very hard to take in the remains. Often, it is decided that the world is gray, and you will suffer through it until your real true love arrives.

"Screw that," said me. "I can't continue to live like that." Life will continue to dish out various levels of suffering, but I had heard over and over again that true joy can live in the midst of deep suffering and so I began to look for the golden linings every day. I decided to step back and ask myself, if I really look at something in my life that I've always considered ordinary or boring, is it actually deserving of awe? Can I see it the way I used to see if when I was in love?

Get ready to have some brawls with the Devil. Win those golden linings. He wants you to settle for the silver.

A little scarred and bruised after one of those battles, with some wounds that I figured would take some years to heal, I looked out at the landscape of my little life. The city that once depressed me, was now dear to me. Small tasks, errands and routines had a wild, romantic air. I gave myself to what I had: my family, friends, apartment, etc. I let myself plant deep roots where I was with what I had. And suddenly...

The ordinary was transformed by being open to awe. And there began a simple little life, that is sometimes lonely, but that I'm deeply fond of. There was once a fear that if I loved this life too much I'd stop seeking things I wanted... like love and marriage, but it has only helped to free me from seeking those things out of fear. The fear that unless I get them my life will be just ordinary.

My Fair Lady

My father taught me an important lesson, but it only became relevant to me when I met a priest who became a very good friend.

There is this scene in My Fair Lady where a once common flower girl, now a refined lady with a accent to match, talks about two important men in her life. One, Colonel Pickering, she remarked, had always treated her like a lady, even when she was a flower girl, and the other, Henry Higgins, whose treatment revealed that in his eyes her dignity as a human being was never above that of a street urchin, even after she grew into a graceful woman. My father told me, you can be two kinds of people, one who helps reveal to another their true dignity and potential, or the other, one who limits and prevents the growth of another. And you can surround yourself with either of those people. Without even knowing it the latter will suck you dry, while the former will help you meet a person you never thought you could be, going beyond the limitations you were sure you had.

I never experienced the above in such a profound way until recently. Perhaps because I found the technique so obviously implemented.

When I was in the "depths of despair" I met a priest. Ever since the first buds of teenagehood I've had issues with self-esteem. Low self-esteem limits you. Very. Much. This man with a collar would listen to me, and then at the end of every conversation he'd say (and still does), "You're amazing." I'd answer back, "no, I'm not but thanks," and he'd repeat it until I'd say thank you. Its purpose was clearly to make me feel better about myself, but for some reason it endeared me toward him. And without realizing it I began to believe him. He sincerely meant what he said, and I got to know him fairly well after a few months. This priest was insanely smart, had a million of random talents, kept a busy schedule and had lots of friends. And yet he took time out to talk to me, be my friend and didn't require me to be as intelligent, talented or as interesting as him. It freed me to seek intelligence, talent and interests. There was the paradox. By not putting me on the spot, I put myself on the spot. By caring for me as I was and not expecting me to follow any of his ideas of what kinds of things I should be pursuing, I pursued a lot of things with gumption. Not everything stuck but I ended up doing a lot of things I never thought I was capable of doing. For instance, I gave a 40 min talk, and it was pretty okay. I didn't throw up, and I actually loved doing it.

By his example, I'm trying to be that kind of friend to others, understanding that people need different things in order to grow, and that they cannot be made to grow in the same way I do, but most importantly by always making them feel that they are deeply love today, as they are because they are children of God, because they are my brother or sister.

Surrounding yourself with people who really do think you are amazing because you are you will make single life or just life really, really fun. This also means that they like single you or married you, it really doesn't matter much to them.

One Hundred Dreams

As self-built limitations were crumbling left and right, I figured since I was out trying to be open to learning big life lessons, I'd better learn a thing or two from some type As. They seemed to always have a handle on their affairs, their apartments were clean and their taxes catagorized.

Matthew Kelley is a type-A Australian, who taught me to live a life with a single purpose and one hundred dreams at a time.

Let me look at my journal. Oh yes, I decided that this was the single purpose of my life: To revel in God and bring joy to the world.  Let's forgo the "and" and squeeze out my one SINGLE purpose. To Love. To bear Christ to the world. The word "saint" can be abstract and distant to some so gathering images, passages, people that help paint the picture of what you would look like as  saint will help make that hope, that dream concrete, and a powerful weapon when you find yourself scrambling for your identity. When all things overwhelm you, remember your single purpose in life: to Love. It won't magically make you feel all better and care beary, but it will help when you are in a situation that makes you feel like crap. A holy life is an infinite number of stories. Even if one story you had planned didn't work out, praise God there is a thousand more to pick from.

And there come the dreams. Pursue the fulfillment of your dreams, big and small with intention. Kelley recommends you write down your dreams for the year, for five years and then 5+. They will of course shift and change as you change, but living a life in which all of your fancies are not left up to "one day" is empowering and supah fun. I'm still completely naturally a type B, with some spikes of type A scattered, but even type Bs can learn to goal set and follow through, even if we don't achieve quite as much. I think sitting and reading a YA novel is a fine endeavor, I have no desire to become a CEO of anything.

Also, have I mentioned that many married people regret wasting their single life whining about being single, because now that they are married their priority is the health of their marriage and their wee little cute ones that pee and poop everywhere, and then come home one day as angsty teens who bond with twitter more in one day than they do with them in a week?

I like to think, at least I hope, that this time is not meant to punish me, but that it is a gift so I can develop the talents I have that perhaps will ultimately take the back seat for the sake of a future family.

Pope John Paul II nicknamed "Wujek" has something to say:

People like to think that Wujek would like to see everyone married. But I think this is a false picture. The most important problem is really something else. Everyone... lives, above all, for love. The ability to love authentically, not intellectual capacity, constitutes the deepest part of a personality. It is not an accident that the greatest commandment is to love. Authentic love leads us outside ourselves to affirming others: devoting oneself to the cause of man, to people, and above all, to God. Marriage makes sense... if it give one the opportunity for such love, if it evokes the ability and necessity of such loving, if it draws one out of the shell of individualism (various kinds) and egocentrism. It is not enough simply to want to accept such love. One must know how to give it, and it's often not ready to be received. Many times it's necessary to help it to be formed.... Wujek

Redemptive Suffering

If I had to pick one consolation to give to you it would be this, a glimmering jewel, why I spend so much time looking at a crucifix, Jesus suffering, a baffling paradox, the great victory. Jesus' suffering, his death to self, was not in vain. In fact, all glory ensued.

As the members of his body, in some astounding and mysterious way our suffering too is not in vain. It can be offered up for the transformation of the world (Col 1:24).

So offer up the angst, the pain, the loneliness in company with Christ. Sit in the garden of Gethsemane with him, he will teach you how to suffer and win.

- F


Anonymous said...

Dear Fabi,
Thanks for this. I just wanted you to know that every single thing you wrote here spoke to me. It helped me remember why I am catholic, why I love Jesus, why I am single and not having sex and why I dream.
May you be blessed as you have blessed my life.

Christina Yang said...

Thank you so much for writing and sharing. May God keep you close always!

Btw you may want to check out this website, I've found a lot of Lenten guidance from God there.

William Stevenson said...

Dear Fabiola,

This is a beautifully written piece on the single life. Yes, that joy can be cultivated particularly when one keeps close to Christ. As St Paul reveals of his contentment in all things this is something that comes through in this fine piece of writing and thought. Well done, Fabi!