Tag Archives: Vocation

Wait…Wait…Don’t Tell Me

wwdtmEvery couple of months someone will stop and ask me if I work for National Public Radio. “Do you ever listen to Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me? At the end of the show they list off the names of their producers, and I’m sure I heard your name! Are you a closet radio host?!  Are you side-lining for NPR?!”

It happened again a few weeks ago, and the conversation went like this:

Beth!  Are you working for NPR now?

No.

Are you sure?  They said your name on the radio!

Yes, I’m sure.
I’m sure that I don’t work for NPR.
And I am certain that the person’s name you heard is not mine.

++++++++++++
Let’s pause here for a moment and talk about the basics of German pronunciation.  My last name is KNOBBE, and it’s really not as difficult to pronounce as it looks.

Most people (with the exception of customs agents in the Frankfort airport) assume that the letter K is silent, like Knock or Knife or Knob.  That would be logical, but it’s wrong.  As I often explain, “It’s a German thing.”  My last name begins with a hard-K sound, like Kitchen, Keys, Kettle, or Kite.

Better yet, think about how you would pronounce conniption fit (which is how I react when telemarketers call), or the word sour kraut where you pronounce both the K and the R.  Those first few letters are rolled together into one sound.

In recent decades, people ask if I’m related to Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi from Star Wars.  I claim that he is my third cousin twice removed.  (Some people actually believe me!)  I’ve found this to be the most helpful and entertaining synonym! Which is often met with a shower of movie quotes:

It drives me crazy, but whatever it takes for people to remember and correctly pronounce my last name!
++++++++++++

So, why do people seem to think that I’m the web-guru for National Public Radio’s hit show “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me”?  If you listen to the credits at the end of the show, host Peter Sagal thanks their web-guru Beth.  And apparently her last name sounds just like mine!

“She” is not me.  Her name is Beth Novey.  I know this.  It took me months of random google-searches and scouring the NPR website to find her.  (Beth, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry.  Really, I’m not stalking you.  I’m just trying to set the record straight for my friends.)

I do not know the origins of Beth Novey’s last name, but I promise you that her name is pronounced exactly how it’s written: “no-vee”.  Which, in quick succession, sounds a lot like “no-bee” especially if you think the K in my last name is silent.

While I’m not sidelining at NPR, I am happy to report that there are many exciting developments on the job front.  Including two great offers to go back and teach high school again (thank you, but no…).  I am grateful and humbled by the people in my network who continue to call, check in, and forward my name for potential career opportunities.

I had a second-round job interview last week, and hope to have more details to share soon!  Unfortunately, it is not with National Public Radio.  Although, maybe the “Wait, Wait” team would like to invite me onto the show to play “Not My Job” and have me answer questions about what it’s like to be a Web Guru!

Believe it or not, my soon-to-be new employer has a lot in common with NPR – an amazing, national, non-profit organization, located on the east coast…

Wait …. Wait … Don’t Tell Me …

Stay tuned for more updates coming soon!

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Callings Are Vocational and Locational

kids-vocation

I have a job interview tomorrow.  I could certainly use all of your prayers and positive thoughts!  You can scroll to the bottom for a career update, or keep reading for some additional reflections.

One of my first networking dates last summer was with my friend Andy.  We ran into each other at a mutual friend’s ordination, and we agreed to meet sometime after graduation.  Of course, neither of us knew that the week after graduation would find me searching for a new job!

It was quite fortuitous though, as Andy had recently made a significant and successful career transition.  On top of that, Andy is a compassionate listener, we share interests in both business and ministry, and he was full of great advice.

Andy’s best advice that evening was this: “Callings are vocational and locational.”

I’ve thought about this many times as I discern what’s next, especially when well-meaning friends send me job postings that would require me to relocate half way across the country!  I’ve received job postings from New York to Detroit to Southern California.  I am so grateful to everyone for thinking of me!

The reality though is that I have no desire to leave Chicago.  I’ve lived here for almost 20 years.  All of my closest friends are here, my church community(ies) are here, and I have a strong professional network in this area.  If I’m going to work regionally or nationally, Chicago is a great place to be located.  God continues to do amazing work through my life and relationships in this place.  It would take a pretty incredible opportunity for me to leave.

So, Andy’s little truism has been a great source of reflection as I’ve considered each opportunity that has crossed my path.

Callings are Vocational
The word vocation comes from the Latin ‘vocare’ to call – God calls upon our gifts, our skills, our passions.  God knows our life experience and our personalities.  God taps into our deepest desires, those things which bring us great joy and are life-giving to others.

My year at Amate House – teaching math at an all-girls’ high school in Chicago – was a vocational call.  It answered my passion for service, my propensity for numbers, my knack for teaching, and my desire to make a difference in the lives of young women through education.

It also took place in a very specific location, and East Humboldt Park looks very different today than it did 20 summers ago!

Callings are Locational
Similarly, God invites us to use our gifts in a particular place, with a particular group of people, and within certain geographical boundaries.  In other words, God is not random.  God uses us where we are.

Each year when I travel with students to Nicaragua, we have dinner with Fabretto’s president Kevin Marinacci.  Kevin spent a year in Nicaragua immediately following college.  One year turned into two, then two into three, and the rest is history!  Kevin has given his life to the people of Nicaragua for over 25 years.  And yet Kevin is the first one to tell our students, “You can serve anywhere!”  Whether it is Nicaragua or South Africa or the south side of Chicago.  The location is not nearly as important as responding to the call.  There will always be people in need, God simply asks us to respond wherever we are.

As I consider whether my next move is a vocational or locational call, I’ve been paying a lot of attention to the things that give me life and spark renewed energy in me.  What about my vocation and location have always been true?  What “more” can I do for God either by staying here or risking something new?  Freedom is essential – an openness to God’s invitation and the willingness to discern without placing limits on God.

Here are some of the many things that have caught my attention:

I have a pilgrim’s heart and missionary feet.  Chicago has always been “mission territory” ever since I came here 20 years ago.   And yet, I now own a home in the city, my friends are here, I’ve put down roots.  In the midst of the job search, a colleague commented, “Beth, people around the Archdiocese know you.”  Chicago is clearly a locational call.

Meanwhile, another professional acquaintance asked, “Have you thought about being a missionary?”  I presume he meant becoming a missionary and moving to another country.  I replied, “I should really pay attention to this.”  On the one hand, I hear myself saying, “I could never leave Chicago.”  And the next day, I find myself searching online for language immersion programs in Central America.  Perhaps there is another locational calling that awaits.

I remember a conversation I had with a favorite Scripture professor, Barbara Bowe, who encouraged me to heed Jesus’ words, “Put out into deep waters!” (Luke 5:4)  It was her way of saying, “Don’t be afraid to go far, let yourself be stretched, and keep learning!”  My wonderful mentor Fr. Ken Simpson often reflects on that great line from the sending of the disciples “Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; and greet no one along the way.” (Luke 10:4)  Fr. Ken’s advice was always, “Travel light so you can travel far.”  This is true for geographical travel, as well as following our life’s call.

Last fall, I interviewed for a position at a local parish.  It was both vocational (using my gifts) and locational (in a specific place), but for many reasons, it was not the right opportunity at the right time.  It would have been a safe and easy assignment at a time when I knew God was calling me to something more.  It was one of those very early moments of saying “no” in order to say a deeper “yes”.

Finally, one of my favorite prayer poems is Mario Benedetti’s “Te Quiero” – a love letter of sorts to those who commit their lives to serving God and God’s people.  I am often moved to tears by this stanza:

and for your open face
and your wanderer’s footstep
and your weeping for the world
because you are of the people I love you

I have an interview tomorrow.

It is an incredible job opportunity and a great career move!  I would be working for a Catholic organization for whom I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration.  It would allow me to stay based in Chicago while making an impact on a much wider scale, and it aligns perfectly with my desire to live in greater solidarity with our brothers and sisters around the globe.

Furthermore, it feels like a calling – an invitation to become more authentically who I am.  It is both a vocational and a locational call.  I’m pretty sure this is where God is inviting me next.  Please pray for the clarity to hear the call and the courage to say yes.

I am so grateful for your prayers of support and presence on the journey!

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Saying No In Order to Say A Deeper Yes

girl-playing-snowBack in the Fall, a friend of mine ventured this guess, “I bet anything that come February, you’re going to have four job offers, and you’ll have to decide which ones to decline!”

While I was flattered by her words of encouragement, I was also feeling quite lost in the wide open ocean of unemployment.  I was reluctant to believe the truth of what she knew from her own experience.  I was swimming around all sorts of interesting opportunities, but I had no real sense of direction.  While she had the clarity and foresight to know that good things were indeed on the horizon!

Fast forward a few months.  It is a new year with new writing projects on my plate.  I’m taking Spanish classes, while still routinely searching for jobs and coordinating networking dates.  In the past month, I have withdrawn from two potential job opportunities, eliminated a third option, and I’m continuing to pursue an exciting fourth.  My discernment radar is running overtime these days trying to read the “signs” of what’s ahead!

I’m learning a lot from allowing certain doors to close, and I’m trusting that each “no” is paving the path to a deeper and more profound “yes”.  Here are 4 things I’ve learned:

1. The Heart of the Matter
I really enjoyed this segment from the “On Being” blog by Courtney Martin. She uses the image of pruning and describes of spiritual art of saying “no” as essential to our very survival.

“You say no so you can say yes. It’s sad in the way that all limitations are, but also liberating. You are human and finite and precious and fumbling. This is your one chance to spend your gifts, your attention, most importantly your love, on the things that matter most.”

Every “no” along the way has helped me clarify what my heart truly desires.  I see it most prominently in my writing – in each request for an informational interview, every cover letter, all the points on my resume, and even when I have to explain why I am not pursuing a particular lead.

For so long, all I could see were the pieces on the cutting room floor.  I had no clear sense of where I was headed, but I knew for certain what I did NOT want to do.  Finally, like a sculptor, I’m beginning to see a clearer picture of what my future is becoming.  And much of that clarity has come from clearing away what no longer fits, letting go of what no longer belongs, and chipping away to the core of who I am – who I have always been.

All four opportunities – each one a distinct role within different organizations – fuel my passion for service and social justice, feed my desire to do meaningful work, combine my background in business and ministry, and open great possibilities for making an impact in the Church and in our world.

As it says in that beautiful prayer often attributed to Oscar Romero, “We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. It enables us to do something, and to do it very well.”

2. No to Fear = Yes to True Spiritual Freedom
One of my favorite discernment exercises is a simple pro/con list, usually scribbled on the back of a recycled envelope, and later elaborated in my journal.  Not long ago, a friend connected me to a job that initially looked so good on paper!  However, there were red flags during the informational interview; and as I made my pro/con list, things became very clear.

When it comes to listing pros and cons, it’s not about “tipping the scale” in one direction or another.  Rather, this exercise is really about paying attention to the movement of the Holy Spirit within.  My list revealed a lot about where I am free to respond to God’s call and where I am stuck in fear.

One of the items on my pro-list was, “I am certain I can do this job really well!”  I laughed!  One would hope that I would apply for a job that puts my skills to good use, right?!  So, what’s really behind that comment?

As I pondered my own pro-list entries about “being able to do the job”, I recognized my own fears.  I don’t like asking for help.  I hate not knowing the answer.  I seriously dislike the awkwardness of the learning curve and those first few months of “being a beginner” that comes with any new job.   While being good at one’s job is important, I quickly realized my own need to address that “fear of failure”.

Directly across, over on the con-list side, I wrote, “No clear opportunities for growth or advancement; pretty sure I would be bored after a year.”  I knew immediately that God was calling me to something “more”.

The pro-list gave me a lot of fruit for prayer and discernment.  As for a new job, the con-items were much more compelling.  It did not take me long to realize that this was going to be a great opportunity … for someone else.

3. The Temptation to Do … Anything!  
There is a part of me that is really itching to get back into full-time employment.  To be honest, as much as I love the flexibility of being at home, I’m ready to go back to work.  In between the job search and freelance writing, I have been very lucky to see my family and spend uninterrupted time with friends.

But over the past month, I’ve caught myself in the temptation to “do anything” even if it’s not related to my career goals.  Recently, I was very tempted to say “yes” to a company that would have given me a short-lived ego boost, just to see their logo next to my name on my Linked In account!

Pride is a subtle thing.  Pride gets the best of us when our self-worth is defined by our work, by a job title, how much money we make, by the status of people who surround us, and by measuring how much we can accomplish in any given day or week.  A healthy sense of pride is not a bad thing!  One of my friends is fond of saying, “It takes a certain amount of ego-strength just to get out of bed in the morning!”  We begin to slip into unhealthy, even sinful pride when we place our own needs and egos above everything else.

One of the most fundamental definitions of vocation comes from Fred Beuchner.  “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hungers meet.”  Our vocation in life rests at the intersection of our deepest desire and the world’s greatest needs.

I’ve spent plenty of time reflecting on my skills, passions, and strengths.  As the “heart of the matter” has become clear, I find myself paying more attention to the world’s deepest needs, hurts, and hungers. Where is the world in need of my gifts?  I’m ready to give my heart full-time to meaningful work again, but it also means waiting for the right place and position to open up!

4. Who Do I Want to Become?  
I have a very wise mentor who often asks provocative questions for which I do not have all the answers.  Recently, she asked me, “Who do you want to be at 55?  What do you want to be known for when you retire?”  This was not a frivolous exercise of dreaming big.  Rather, it was her lead in to say, “This next job needs to be the first step towards who you want to become.”

I thought about her advice when I said “no” to an entry level role that would have been perfect for me ten years ago.  Similarly, I’ve declined roles that might be ideal in the future when I want to slow down and think about retirement.

Sometimes we approach discernment as if all these potential opportunities and decisions exist someplace far off in the distance, beyond our reach.  There is great value in “death bed” discernment, which considers the question, “How do I want to be remembered when my life is complete?”

But discernment also invites us to recognize the things that are unfolding before our very eyes.  Lately, I’ve been pondering, “How am I responding to the ways God is already at work in my life?”  Or as Tim Muldoon says in his introduction to his on-line Lenten retreat, “I invite you to reflect on the work God is doing in you and for the world through you.”

My discernment has been a tenuous balance between what is unfolding here and now, and how that relates to who I might become 15, 20, 25 years from now.  We need to do both!

I don’t know that either my friend or I could have predicted that I’d have four great opportunities arise all during the month of February!  But as the month comes to a close tonight, I’m excited to report that there are some pretty exciting things unfolding for me!

As I wait for new information to be revealed, I trust that all of these moments of saying “no” were in fact a clear and faith-filled “yes” to something better that is yet to come!

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Without Volatility There Is No Opportunity

There was a brief moment of panic over the weekend that sent me scrambling for my journal and a pen.  I quickly scribbled a long email and sent it off to four good friends, then fell asleep midway through a pro/con list for a potential job lead.  One of the women in my circle soon responded with this psalm prayer:

Our soul waits for the Lord who is our help and our shield, for in him our hearts rejoice; in his holy name we trust. (Psalm 33:20-21)

love-happyI breathed a sigh of relief; it was a good reminder that I don’t need to have all the answers today!  I’ve been out of work for two full months now.  Most of that time has been spent traveling – including a long-awaited 3-week vacation in Europe, plus an additional week with my family here in the States.  I’ve spent plenty of time catching up with friends and overall just enjoying the summer.

Now that Labor Day has come and gone, it is time to get serious about the job search.  I have a handful of informational interviews set, and I had my first official meeting with my Career Coach today.  My weekend email exchange reminded me that writing is good medicine for discernment and for processing the flood of emotions that come with being unemployed.

I am so accustomed to walking with our college students through their big life decision that it now feels strange to be on the other side of the discernment conversation.  There is so much that I am learning, re-learning, and being reminded of.  I hope these reflections are helpful, as I chronical the highs-and-lows of trying to understand and uncover God’s plan for my life.

One sure guarantee though- insights will come from the most unexpected places!

While on vacation, my brother and I were talking about “risk”.  My brother is a commodities trader; he knows all about taking risks!  It’s how you get ahead in the stock market; you have to be willing to take a risk when everyone else is holding tight.  This is especially true when the market is unstable.  No one wants to take a loss, so they hold steady.  But, as my brother reminded me, those who take risks during times of vulnerability are the ones who are most apt to see the greatest gains.  Without volatility, there is no opportunity.

“Well, there’s a new motto to live by!” I replied.  “Without volatility, there is no opportunity.”

While it is certainly true for those who venture in the stock market, it also rings true for the adventures of the spiritual life.  Everyday life is full of fluctuation and change.  But in those moments of real vulnerability (cancer diagnosis, a job loss, an untimely death, etc.), our tendency is to hold tight to what we already know.  And yet, these are the moments of greatest learning, the moments that hold the greatest potential for encounter with God.

This lesson was at the heart of my anxiety this weekend, as I discerned whether to venture further into a safe and easy new job opportunity; or whether to wait and risk something yet unknown.

Thanks for walking with me as I risk new adventures and wait upon the Lord.

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Attracted to the Single Life

The following essay was published in “Voices of Hope” – a newsletter from the Society of Helpers – as as part of their recent series on vocations.  I am grateful to share it with you here.  

fabretto-heart-of-gold

There was a time when my “attraction radar” was on high alert at all times – beginning with Sunday morning mass, to my Monday morning commute on the train, then the Tuesday volleyball league, Wednesday night bible study, Thursday after work happy hour, and Saturday afternoon run along the lake.  I constantly found myself on the lookout for a potential suitor, and if the same handsome man were to appear at two or more of these locations, then it was a sure sign that we were meant to be together!  I took notice of many people along the way, always trying to read the signs of a potential romantic interest.

Years later, as I embarked on the journey that would take me from an aspiring consulting career into a life of ministry, I made a very conscious decision to put dating on hold.  At first this was a very practical decision which I hoped would give me more time to focus on my studies.  In reality, the actual number of dates was few and far between.  What I really needed was permission to give the radar screen a rest!  Unbeknownst to me, that one decision would have significant consequences for my life and my future.

Suddenly free from the pressure I had put on myself become someone’s other half, I began to take notice of the love that already surrounded me.  I rediscovered my own love of prayer, scripture, and spirituality.  As clients and coworkers learned of my decision to pursue a career in the church, they offered stories of their own faith experiences.  (Many of whom I had worked with for years without ever broaching the taboo subject of religion.)  The friendships I made in graduate school quickly moved beyond the superficial facts of life, and we easily exchanged stories of the not-so-straight paths that brought us to divinity school.  As for romantic relationships, my interest quickly waned in favor of more interesting, meaningful, and intimate conversations with friends, classmates, and prayer group.

What I suspected would be a temporary decision, evolved into a more permanent way of being.  I never intended to spend my years as intentionally single, but the call to single life found me ready and waiting with an open heart.  As I allowed myself to dive into this new reality, I discovered a deep fulfillment and joy in this way of life.  I recognized the truth of the gospel where it says, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you – and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain.” (John 15:16)  I began to see how God delights in me as a single woman, and God continues to bless and fulfill my “yes” in response to that call.

God calls each one of us to a particular vocation.  And that same gospel passage continues, “This I command you: Love one another.” (John 15:17)  God chooses each one of us to fulfill some unmet need for love in the world.  Each vocation brings with it a different expression of love.  The more I embraced singlehood, the more I recognized the many facets of love in my life.  Love is expressed in generous hospitality, through the intimacy of prayer, and in compassion for those who struggle.  I experience love within friendship, among my students, with my family, and for my goddaughter.

Something else changed when I embraced the single life as a vocation and not merely an extended layover on the way to some more exciting destination.  Instead of keeping an eye toward external markers of beauty, I notice people’s hearts.  I pay attention to sadness and joy.  I recognize confusion and grief.  I watch for gratitude and despair.  I’m curious about people’s feelings, and I’m far less concerned about whether or not they are noticing me.

“To be enamored and elated by the beauty of another person is a gift and can make one feel so much more alive and responsive to others and to God.”  (from the Trappist community)

Last semester, at the suggestion of a mutual friend, I invited a handsome young missionary to speak to our students.  At the end of the evening, one of the girls pulled me aside, “Wow! Did you SEE him?!” Her excitement suggested something we both noticed – his deep blue eyes, dark hair, and other attractive physical features.

Sure, I saw all of those things.  (Although, an earlier version of the single me would have spent much more time obsessing over this.)  Instead, I found myself intrigued by his stories of mission, wrapped up in our conversation about ministry, and inspired by the compassion with which he spoke about his work with the poor.  Grateful for our brief encounter, I was free to bid him farewell, certain that God’s grace was at work in our conversation.  What I desired was not a deeper relationship with this one person, but when our time together was complete, I found myself more encouraged in my own relationship with God.

When we live out our true vocation, our capacity for love exponentially increases.  New parents say, “I never realized I could love one little person so much!”  Even in the midst of tragedy, a couple may reflect, “I never imagined I could love my spouse more than on our wedding day, and here we are 10, 15, 20 years later.”  The same is true for those in religious life and the single life.  We discover countless ways to share our hearts with others, and we are stretched into sacrificial service for those we love.

As we seek to discover our true vocation in life or to grow in deeper commitment within our chosen vocation, I invite you to pay attention to your love.  Who are you in love with?  To whom or toward what is your love being directed?  How expansive is your love?  And how expensive is your love?

Love is so much more than warm feelings or heartfelt expressions.  While love may delight in beauty, it does not desire to possess or control it.  True love multiplies itself – the more we give, the more there is.  Love may cost us something, but it leaves us (and those who receive it) free to live more fully as God intends.  Ultimately, a vocation based in authentic unconditional love draws our hearts closer to God, who is the very source of love itself.

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Happily Ever After Begins Now

I get this question a lot, “What if I’m single, but I really feel called to marriage? How can I use the single years to prepare for the vocation of marriage? And can you give me something more substantial than, “be patient, keeping praying, and wait for God’s perfect timing!” (Which, by the way, are all good places to start!)

Jeremiah 29-11Thanks to the Young Adult Community at St. Clement, I had the chance to answer this question in 30 minutes or less as a part of their “A Shot of Theology” speaker series.

There is a lot of advice that I could serve-up in a short amount of time, but for this burst of “highly concentrated Catholic theology” I focused on the Four F’s of Catholic marriage – Free, Faithful, Forever, and Fruitful – from a single person’s point of view.  (There are some variations on the four F’s, but you can look up Question #3 for the official criteria here.)  So, let’s take a brief look at how the church’s teaching on marriage can be beneficial to singles who are hoping to make a lifetime commitment with someone they love.

FREE:   

In the context of Catholic marriage, the question about freedom is whether or not you are free to marry in the Catholic church.  Likewise, in the marriage rite, a couple is asked to freely give their consent.

So, beyond simply being free to marry, how are you doing with freedom?  Freedom is one of the great gifts of being single! I can choose how to spend my time, where to travel, which friends to hang out with, and what time to get up in the morning.  However, true spiritual freedom is more than doing “whatever I want, whenever I like”. 

When we are truly free, we are compelled to act in accordance with our deepest values and inner truth. True freedom allows us to be the person God intends us to be. What does real freedom look like in the single life? How do we know that we are acting in a way that is truly free? 

True freedom means that I strive to let go of outside pressures, and that I set aside my own agenda, in order to respond to God’s call, wherever that may lead.  I met a guy once who raised his hand during a Q&A session, and he prefaced his question by saying, “I’ve always wanted to be a priest, but I can’t.  I’m an only child, both of my parents are deceased, and if I don’t get married soon I’ll never have a family.” 

He was convinced that marriage was his only option!  Perhaps he was truly called to marriage, but I couldn’t help but wonder if he was limiting his options.  (Didn’t I just hear you say that you always wanted to be a priest?) 

There was this sense of obligation that he MUST get married and that having children was the ONLY way he could be fulfilled. I could hear the frustration in his voice, but mostly because HIS plan was not working.  That’s not true spiritual freedom

(And yes … all of us will go through times when we are lonely or angry or disappointed … and it is good to voice those frustrations!  It’s OK to yell at God, talk to your best friend, even cry if you need to.  Trusting our feelings is part of the discernment process.  My point is to not put limits on what God wants for our lives.)

Growing in freedom comes through prayer (talking as well as listening), through honest discernment (is this something that I want, and is it what God wants also?), and maybe taking a risk to try something new (a geographical move, a career change, accepting a first date with someone who may not necessarily be “your type”, trying a new hobby).  It means exploring ALL of my options (even the options I would consider impossible or improbable), and by allowing our hearts to be completely open to follow God’s will.  It means trusting that God has my greatest happiness in mind.

FAITHFUL:  

All Christians are called to a life of holiness – whether we are called to marriage, single life, or religious life. Furthermore, our most fundamental call as Christians is for us to LOVE one another. It is a call to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself.  Discerning one’s vocation is really a response to the question: how am I best suited to love people?

As a result of their baptism, all Christians are called to a life of holiness. This divine calling, or vocation, can be lived in marriage, or in the single life, or in the priesthood or consecrated (religious) life. No one vocation is superior to or inferior to another. Each one involves a specific kind of commitment that flows from one’s gifts and is further strengthened by God’s grace. All vocations make a unique contribution to the life and mission of the Church.  (from: For Your Marriage)

One of the biggest mistakes we can make (and unfortunately, this even happens within the church) is that we glamorize marriage. In our American culture, we have certainly over romanticized marriage and placed too much emphasis on the wedding day. For some people, marriage is the ultimate “goal” or indicator of “success” in a relationship. At times, marriage is so exulted that singles feel an undue pressure to find Mr/Mrs Right. Singles wonder if something is wrong with them because they aren’t in a relationship. Some singles even feel excluded from parish life because they don’t have kids in the Catholic school.

For singles who desire to one day be married, it is essential to name and claim marriage for what it is!  Marriage is a vocation. It is a particular call from God in which two people respond in love for one another. Marriage is also a sacrament. It is a visible sign of God’s invisible grace. Healthy and holy marriages are a mirror of God’s love, and ultimately, they show us how great God’s love is for each of us.

Love is not easy, and most married couples will tell you that they aren’t perfect!  Singles need strong role models if we are going to be realistic about the joys and challenges of married life. I wonder if we can find marriage role models who are deeply committed to one another because love hasn’t always come easy.

Do you know any couples who are struggling financially or have been unemployed?  Is there anyone in your faith community who is coping with aging parents or a sick child?  Do you know any couples who had a miscarriage or waited a long time for an adoption?

Can you ask them (in a loving and gentle way), “how’s your marriage?” What does it really mean to love and honor one another in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, in good times and in bad?  Perhaps our greatest role models are those who constantly strive for holiness despite a far-from-perfect life.

FOREVER:  

When a couple walks down the aisle together, we know their “I do” remains firm “as long as we both shall live.”

The idea of commitment is frightening for some singles, and a first step toward commitment might involve getting a cat or taking care of house plants!  But seriously … who are the people in your life that you’re really committed to? What does commitment look like for you?

I often think about my married siblings and their kids.  Life is not always convenient for them.  Their weekends revolve around soccer practice, and their days get rearranged when the carpool driver has to cancel.  Not to mention, a trip to the Emergency Room is rarely scheduled in advance!

My single life is easy in comparison!  But if I’m feeling drawn to marriage, then perhaps I should ask myself, “how am I doing with commitment?”

Am I willing to be inconvenienced without complaint to ensure the safety, success, or well-being of another person?  How much of my time, money, and energy am I willing to sacrifice for my family, friends, and faith community?  What happens when I’m asked to take on responsibilities at the last minute, when I’m already financially strapped, or when I’m simply feeling selfish about my time?

Radical commitment can come as a threat to our independent single lives.  Jesus tells us, “no greater love is there than this, but to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  Love is more than warm, fuzzy feelings.  Love is a decision, and often that means making sacrifices for those we love.  Chances are, the places where we are most fully committed, are also the places we are most fully in love.

FRUITFUL:  

Finally, for many people, the desire for marriage also means the hope of someday having children. Children are a great gift, but they are certainly not a guarantee.

The heart of our Catholic teaching on sexuality includes two important words: unitive and creative. I know a priest who asks engaged couples, “where is there ‘more’ in your life since the two of you began dating?”  Often they respond by talking about having more patience, greater forgiveness, or perhaps a hobby they have taken up together.

As single people, we can intentionally practice being fruitful. Where is there room for “more” in your life? The single years are a great time for self-discovery and self-improvement. Who am I? What am I passionate about? What are my strengths? My interests?

And where is “new life” being generated?  How am I allowing God to create new life through me?  New life expresses itself by welcoming guests into your home, creating works of art, visiting a sick friend in the hospital, bringing joy to people through the gift of music, or time spent in prayer. We bring forth new life into the world when we mentor new employees, care for the ill or the elderly, teach young children, and provide financial support to worthwhile causes. New life comes through prayer, through volunteer service, and through relationships with the poor. It happens in chapels and soup kitchens and hospital rooms.

Any expression of love that is truly holy and God-given can always be identified by these two qualities.  It unites us together with those we love, and it creates new life for others. 

The USCCB has a great online resource for married couples called For Your Marriage. It also includes articles for those who are single, dating, and engaged.  What a great tool for anyone who is discerning a vocation to marriage!

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Must Read Articles for Catholic Singles

girl-readingIt’s been a busy couple weeks with a string of speaking events in Chicago and Wisconsin, which concluded this past weekend with a talk at the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Parish Leadership Day.

I have grown quite accustomed to talking about the single life with other singles.  Parish Leadership Day gave me a chance to view the single life through the eyes of pastors, parish council leaders, the faith formation committee, and directors of religious education.  We specifically talked about how giving voice to the single life can add value to the vocations of marriage and religious life (more to come on that soon!).

In the meantime, I promised folks that I would share my favorite online articles about the single life, as it is hard to “link” them on a handout.  Here it goes!

  • The Busted Halo article “Celibate at 23” by Jeff Guhin was my first inspiration to start thinking more seriously about what it means to be intentionally single.  I appreciate his realistic look at chastity, his description of healthy intimacy, and his suggestions for entering into authentic relationships with others.  Furthermore, it led me to write my first published piece on the single life, “How I Stopped Dating and Started Living” parts of which are also featured in Party of One.
  • This article from Francine Cardman, “Singleness and Spirituality” turns 30-years-old this year.  But trust me, there is nothing old or outdated about the wisdom it contains.  The statistics may have shifted, but the underlying spiritual questions remain the same.  Cardman addresses the challenges of friendships, work, sexuality, and singles within the church – all of which are as applicable today as they were three decades ago!
  • More recently, Heidi Schlumpf addresses the concerns of single parents in “Stand Alone Mom”.  I’m always clear with audiences that my writing is intended for those who have never-been-married.  This article gives a great summary of how churches are addressing (or in some cases, could do better at addressing) the needs of single parents who are divorced or widowed. 
  • The challenge of living an authentic single life is a question not only faced by Catholics.  In some cases, I find that our Protestant brothers and sisters are better attuned to the needs of singles in their communities.  I was grateful to stumble upon this sermon “Solid_Singles” by Rick McGinniss of North Heartland Community Church in Kansas City.  The sermon itself is dated, but the message is as timely as ever.
  • Likewise, this recent Valentine’s Day blog post “Reclaiming Singleness” by Corey Widmer at East End Fellowship in Richmond, VA has helped me think about how our views of marriage and single life correspond to one another.  He explains how a healthy understanding of marriage contributes to an abundant single life, and how a favorable view of the single life add to the sanctity of marriage.
  • Finally, here are two great articles from Franciscan Media. (Full disclosure, they are the publisher of both of my books, under the label St. Anthony Messenger Press.)  “Single Catholics: Making Them Feel at Home” by Trudelle Thomas is great for anyone in a parish leadership role.  I used a lot of this information for my most recent workshop.  While “Unmarried and Unashamed: Grace and the Single Life” by Christopher Heffron is a must-read for singles of all ages and stages in life.

If there are other articles or blog posts that have inspired your own journey to live a full and abundant single life, feel free to include them in the comments section below.

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