This is a true story.
Once upon a time, I quit a job simply because I heard a voice whisper in my ear, “You can quit.” At a staff meeting earlier in the day, my boss had announced that either I took a position in his company I did not want or I would not have a job. I am sure he thought that by backing me into a corner publicly rather than by speaking with me privately, he would achieve his objective — and he almost did. I was stunned by his tactic, cried for the rest of the afternoon, and went home burdened with despair.
As I mounted the steps to my apartment, I heard the whisper, and shook it off as wishful thinking. How could I quit? I had never earned more than it took to keep a roof over my head and a few art supplies on hand. I didn’t have anything saved for emergencies. How could I quit? But the voice was insistent, and when my employer finally met with me privately to speak about his plans, his approach convinced me that staying would harm me more than leaving, despite the financial hardship leaving would entail.
On the first day I was free, I took a road trip with a man from my church who showed me all of the ghost towns in the area — and took me to a small church out in the middle of nowhere that was maintained by local people as a place of prayer. I found myself uncharacteristically attracted to a statue of Jesus with his Sacred Heart revealed. Normally, such sacramentals elicit a smile and shake of the head — both because the artist in me is offended by mass-produced plaster images and because, well, some Catholic devotional practices don’t resonate with me as much as the gospels do.
However, that day, I found myself kneeling in humility before the statue — and at the same time being amused by my need to do so. When I returned home later in the day, I found a brochure about a women’s retreat stuffed in my doorframe: Living in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The coincidence told me I needed to attend, and I did, thanks to the generosity of a kind priest.
The first night of the retreat, after receiving the sacrament of reconciliation, my heart opened wide in complete surrender. A conference room had been made into a place of prayer by being darkened except for candles and the golden monstrance holding the Blessed Sacrament. I don’t know what I had been thinking or praying when suddenly, I was murmuring — or felt as though I were murmuring — over and over, “Anything, Lord, anything. Anything, Lord, anything.” I opened my hands on my knees, palms up, and sat in that hallowed embrace of grace until benediction and the exposition ended.
Still embraced by grace, feeling surrounded by light, I found a chair on a deck and wrote impressions in my journal. In the days and weeks which followed, I went back to those notes over and over, trying to make sense of them. I felt strongly that I was being called to obedience, but what did that mean for me as a single woman?
Sometime later, in reading a book recommended by a friend, I found one answer. In THE JESUIT GUIDE TO (ALMOST) EVERYTHING, James Martin, SJ, writes about obedience, describing it as embracing reality as the will of God. I was willing to accept that definition, but it’s taken time to grow into living it. Most people my age are retiring and enjoying leisure. I don’t have that luxury. I am still working, still trying to juggle a full-time job with family responsibilities and a desire for a productive creative life (e.g., my desire to be an artist and writer).
I can’t say I never long with wistfulness for the opportunity to be free of work responsibilities, but I have come to appreciate the grace of this life. This life, with days that leave me physically exhausted and weekends filled with activity, is God’s gift to me. No, I don’t get to travel like some of my friends. No, I don’t have the comfort of a companion who has shared my life. No, I haven’t done great things. But, I have done small things with great love, learned from my experiences, shared what I have learned to help others along the way, loved friends and family, raised amazing daughters, produced a large body of art work, and grown to love God more with each passing year.
As far as “anything” goes, that’s not bad. But, feeling gratitude in it is the real gift. Somewhere along the line, I have discovered pleasure in what I have — and ceased to cling to regret for what I do not have. Somewhere along the line, I have come to appreciate that God who created a world with infinite variety and the body — both the human body and the mystical Body of Christ — with many parts, called me to embrace that personally by following him on what Robert Frost called “the road less traveled.”
Somewhere along the line, I have come to see the twists and turns as God’s hands shaping the clay that is both my heart and my life. Somewhere along the line, I have come to appreciate it is good — all of it — as each day of Creation was good. Different, but life-giving and good.
Could I have reached this point without that night of graced surrender? I don’t know, but I do know God speaks to all of us in a voice we can hear and understand. Perhaps that’s what I needed to hear his call to embrace the reality of my life, to see his hand at work, to experience this joy. Moses had his burning bush. Mary had her angel. I had a night to remember.