2016/17

2016 has been an awful year for me. I’ve lost one job, started a new one, and given up volunteering for a charity that has meant a great deal to me for many years. Relatives have suffered ill health, I was nearly sectioned, and I’ve had no less than 3 failed and destructive relationships (points 2 and 3 might have more than a passing relationship to one another).  I went from starting the year quite sure I was called to be a nun, to ending it quite sure that I was called to almost anything but. I’ve probably not had a year as full of epiphany and development since I was a very small child.

My faith has taken quite a blow this year. It’s very challenging to have the rug pulled out from under your feet, vocation-wise, and be left unsure of where you stand or where you belong. I’ve felt upset, confused, angry, and frustrated. Above all else, I’ve felt distant from God, more so than I ever have in the 4 years since I started going to church. My prayers seem to have fallen on deaf ears, and it’s taken me longer than I care to admit to realise that this is primarily because I’ve been praying for the wrong things, from the wrong place.

A lot of people hate resolutions, but I feel like it’s good to have ideals as long as they are undertaken with the understanding that they are often very challenging to maintain. Since I was a small child, one of my greatest loves has been reading and writing, and these have both suffered over the past few years. It’s all too easy to eschew them for other ‘more important’ things that feel they should take precedence over what feels like a leisure activity. But, for me, reading and writing is often an act of prayer, and therefore should take precendence over most other things. So, this coming year, among other things, I’ve decided to read a book a week, write a blog post a week, and write in my private journal every day. I hope that, through these things, I will reconnect with God, with my faith, and with the hope that faith promises to us all, especially at this most special time of year.

Amen.

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Choices, choices, choices.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve recently dropped out of university. I’m confident that this was the correct decision, and I don’t regret it. As I also mentioned, this has left me with an excess of free time. Great! Time to get into a better prayer routine, dedicate myself to my church, plough through my to-read pile, practise piano…but it also leaves me with a terrifying number of options which I’ve previously had no cause to consider. For the first time in my life, I have serious choices to make. Since I was about 15, I knew I wanted to do A levels, because I knew I wanted to go to university. I never really questioned this path (which is odd, really, considering the fact that nobody else in my family has done A levels or gone to university). Now, though, with that set progression and goal taken away, what on earth do I want to do with myself for the next few months? The next few years?

There’s a horrible amount of pressure on 20-somethings to find a purpose in life – not just purpose, but a purpose. “What do you want to do at university? Why? What career do you want? Where do you want to live? Do you want to get married? Will you have children?”. This creates the expectation that everyone my age should already have a set life plan, when in reality I think most people have no idea what they want to do. At the moment, I’m torn between studying theology, studying languages, studying nursing, leaving university for a few years and just focusing on being well in myself, getting married and having kids (not that I’ve found a willing partner in crime yet), becoming a nun, or none of the above. This, in theory, should be lovely. I have so many options! God, and mental health, willing, the world lays prostrate at my feet, and no power can stop me from choosing whatever will genuinely bring the most joy and meaning to my life. Instead of rejoicing in this, however, I feel paralysed.

There’s currently a great deal of research being done into the effect of the modern world’s glut of choice on people’s general wellbeing; the conclusion isn’t propitious. Barry Schwartz’s 2003 book The Paradox of Choice is a great exploration of the correlation between excessive choice and lessened wellbeing in the Western world. In a way, Schwartz argues, we were better off when we had less choice – we didn’t have dozens of career paths open to us, we didn’t have 90 different types of cereal to choose from at the supermarket – in short, we had a small, set number of options in life which could not be subverted. This goes against the most basic principles of our modern society, from basic consumerism to more important questions of social mobility. But, right now, I can only agree with him.

The truth is that I have no idea what I want. I don’t know what will make me happy. I have too many choices. By choosing one thing, I feel like I shut everything else off forever and commit myself to a path that might ultimately make me more miserable. It may come as a surprise to a lot of people that faith, rather than making this easier, is only increasing the difficulty of this consideration right now. I believe everyone has a vocation, but how am I supposed to know what God’s chosen for me? I don’t know how to best use my life to serve God. I don’t know if other people find it as easy as they make it appear, or if this is a perennial struggle for everyone of faith. It’s scary to think that there’s something right for me that I just can’t see. Am I letting God down by being so flittish? Is it okay for me to be this unsure? Am I just not trying hard enough to work out what to do? What if I make the wrong decision?

Somewhere, deep down, I do ultimately feel that God doesn’t mind me being so singularly hopeless and indecisive right now. God understands. God isn’t judging me. Maybe being so confused and indecisive right now is exactly what I should be doing, anyway. I’ve spent so many years being dead set on a certain path in my life – maybe this is God’s way of releasing me from such thinking, and allowing me to enjoy the entirety of life and consider possibilities which were previously closed off to me.

Right now, I have no real responsibilities or obligations. I have an abundance of time in which to begin a true process of discerning God’s will, considering the tens of options available to me each and every day, and discovering the best way to use my life to respect and glorify God. It is, indeed, both a precious gift and an impossible curse.