It’s not that I’m not happy; in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been so aware of the abundance of blessings in my life. It’s not that I’m not loved; I don’t think many people have the kind of love from family and friends that I am so rich with. It’s not that I distrust God’s timing; I am confident that He knows that I need this time of waiting, time to grow and serve Him in ways I may not even be aware of. It’s not that I’m even sure that my vocation is marriage or not; one thing I’ve learned is that, try as I might, I’m not going to know until God gives me that knowledge, knowledge that cannot be simply taken but must be given.
It’s just that I want my partner, and the kind of love that can only be shared by he and I.
Back when I was seventeen or so, I thought I was going through a true longing for a spouse. But as God has, slowly but steadily, led me step-by-step along this path of vocational discernment, I’ve matured by degrees as a woman, spiritually (I hope), but also emotionally. As Mary’s beautiful courtship with the Dash has progressed, I’ve begun to feel a sort of loneliness I didn’t know when I had her all to myself. You see, Mary and I have always been partners of sorts; and even though my relationships with my younger siblings are just as close and dear, there’s a special level of that partnership with Mary simply because of age. When we were younger and both nervous in public settings, we would hang together and talk about stories we were writing. On long car trips we would sit beside each other and do the same. There were so many things only we knew about each other, so many nights we stayed up way too late, so many inside personal jokes. It was (and still is!) almost frightening to other people what a dynamic duo we make as a team in Taboo.
Now don’t take me wrong, I’m not trying to bemoan the fact that I’ve lost my older sister. Mary does an unbelievable job of spreading her attention, love, and care around (actually, she’s the whole reason I’m writing this post, as you will discover later) to both the Dash and our family, at least as much as is humanly possible when her mind and heart are revolving around a different planet. And the Dash is a dream; he is like an ideal older brother already (he even helps coach me on my ballroom-dance dipping, trying to get me to relax and not be so tense). I couldn’t be more blessed in them both. But one side effect of this whole, beautiful thing is inevitably a sacrifice of that person who used to belong at my side and now belongs at his.
When I spent that week at Ephesus at the beginning of March this year, I was struggling hard to open myself up to what God wanted of me. So many graces, thoughts, emotions, and lessons were tied up in those seven days that I’m still trying to process it every now and then. I recently got a letter from a fellow aspirant whose visit to the Benedictines coincided with mine. We had a great conversation (far out in their garden where we wouldn’t disturb anyone’s silence) while clearing dead bean vines from a fence, made friends, and decided to keep in touch. In her letter the other day, she mentioned she had made another, longer visit to Ephesus.
It’s struck me recently that, as odd as it sounds, I really don’t want to go back.
Upon reflection, it’s becoming easier to see that during that week, I was definitely sensing the peace that pervaded the priory and all the sisters, but it was not reaching into me very far. I was constantly fighting just to get through the week until my family could come pick me up. I was tired, homesick, and lonely. I would be outside and listen to the occasional truck driving down the country roads surrounding the property, and be filled with a longing to get out. To jump into one of those cars and go anywhere. Instead of feeling safe and secluded, I felt imprisoned.
As these memories are unfolding and I am trying to sort through them, I’m beginning to see with a greater clarity and simplicity what was difficult to see in the muddle of my thoughts then. Although I will not deny that my experience was strongly affected by anxiety, homesickness, exhaustion, and the weakness of my flesh in disliking the austerity of things, I think it’s pretty plain to see that there was something missing for me. If it had been meant to be, I think I would have at least felt a peace, some desire to return, some reluctance to leave. I really felt the opposite, and I think it was more than my lack of holiness and love for sacrifice. I did not find my place there.
In the time since then, I’ve been so blessed to be where I am, to know that, at least for now, I’m meant to be here with my family. Different circumstances and events in the past months have just confirmed that God-given intuition that I am where I’m needed. I also still sense that there are many ways left for me to grow from girlhood into womanhood, perhaps known only to God for now. And that’s okay. I have plenty to do, books to write, a house to keep clean, a family to serve and enjoy, a prayer life in continuous need of practice and improvement.
Really, I think there would be something wrong if there weren’t a small cross to carry. I might start to get spoiled, or prideful, or take all these gifts for granted.
So here it is: I find myself thinking that marriage could well be God’s path for me in the future. I find myself, although I’m only nineteen and probably with years of waiting ahead of me, longing for my special someone. Someone to be at my side in crowd settings and keep me from feeling alone. Someone to sit beside on long car trips and talk about baby names with. Someone to dwell on, to give all this love I have waiting inside my heart to, to help grow in holiness, to help me grow in holiness. Someone like my dad. Someone who will make me feel beautiful and cherished, and at the same time keep me from thinking of myself at all. Someone who will tease me but not make me feel silly. Someone who will let me cry on them and know how to make me laugh. Someone who will be a little more adventurous than me and lead me out of my comfort zone.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to make these feelings and desires out to be anything they’re not. I know they’re the perfectly natural and normal desires of most young women my age, not necessarily indicative of my vocation. But they are nonetheless there, allowed by God to be part of me.
So what’s a gal to do?
I’ve found it helps to confide in your older and wiser sister. Last night while she was doing dishes, I was baking molasses cookies (at the pitiful entreaties of my younger brother whose primary love language seems to be molasses cookies), and most everybody else was outside picking blueberries, I told her just how I had been feeling all day (which wasn’t a surprise; she’s pretty used to hearing it all). At one point in the conversation she asked me if I was still praying to St. Raphael every day. At my bashful, ashamed grin, she shook me by the shoulders. “LENA! YOU NEED TO BE PRAYING THE ANGEL OF HAPPY MEETINGS PRAYER EVERY DAY! ‘LEAD US BY THE HAND TOWARDS THOSE WE ARE WAITING FOR AND THOSE WHO ARE WAITING FOR US! MAY ALL OUR MOVEMENTS, ALL THEIR MOVEMENTS, BE GUIDED BY THY LIGHT AND TRANSFIGURED BY THEIR JOY!’ WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”
After this initial outburst of a true St. Raphael devotee, she reassured me she wasn’t trying to thrust her devotion on me. . .but. . .it works! (playfully put). After discovering that I hadn’t read the whole book of Tobit (again, shame shame!), she reminded me of all St. Raphael did for Tobias and Sarah and how happy, holy Catholic marriage is entrusted to his particular care. It was basically a “you dummy, why aren’t you praying to the patron of your trouble” message (delivered in a particularly kind, sanguine sort of way). I tried to deflect blame off myself by pointing out how she had given away the St. Raphael holy card and St. Raphael booklet we used to have to the living Answer to her prayers (I know, as if being without a holy card and book somehow rendered me incapable of practicing a devotion. . .). “We’ll get you another one!” she exclaimed.
As we scarfed down molasses cookies, I felt immensely encouraged. I guess this is another case of hindsight showing me simple things that should have been plain a while ago. . .but better late than never.
Back in that era of life between seventeen and eighteen (which I mentioned before), I joined Mary in praying a couple of different prayers to St. Raphael every day with the same intention. I even promised to name a son after him if he answered my prayers (I know, I was shamelessly bribing an Archangel!) And although my desire certainly wasn’t as mature or certain as Mary’s, and not even as strong or clear as it is now (for what that’s worth), I know he was still listening. I’ve been shamefully negligent towards him since, and yet I get the feeling that the Archangel of Happy Meetings and of Joy hasn’t ceased to watch over me and, if I am meant to be married one day, my special someone, wherever he is.
But I also don’t want to just take St. Raphael for granted any longer; so I am determined to faithfully (and specifically) ask for his intercession each day; that he will lead me by the hand to the vocation God has in store for me, and if that is marriage, that St. Raphael will lead my future husband to me and inspire him to pursue me as soon as God’s will permits (to quote Mary’s exact petition; hey, it worked!). And, already, I am finding comfort under the shadow of those mighty wings, knowing that, whatever happens, I have perhaps the most loving and gentle archangel of all taking care of me and chasing loneliness away.
Here is the beautiful “Angel of Happy Meetings” prayer which I mentioned (and you may have seen on Mary’s blog before). While it could be prayed with a variety of intentions, I think it fits very well with someone waiting for their spouse.
Prayer to the Angel of Happy Meetings
“Dear St. Raphael, Angel of Happy Meetings, lead me by the hand towards those I am waiting for, and those who are waiting for me. May all my movements, all their movements be guided by thy light and transfigured by thy joy. Angel guide of Tobias, lay the request I now address to thee at the feet of Him on Whose unveiled Face thou art privileged to gaze. (Mention your request.) Lonely and weary, deeply grieved by the separation and sorrows of earth, I feel the need of calling out to thee and of pleading for the protection of thy wings so that we may not be as strangers in the province of joy.
Remember the weak, thou who art strong, whose home lies beyond the region of thunder, in a land that is always peaceful, always serene and bright with the resplendent glory of God. Amen.”
May God bless you, and St. Raphael watch over you!