Five years ago I was invited to go rock climbing in West Virginia. The invitation was to a wilderness retreat in which I would spend a whole week camping, climbing and caving. I saw this as an exciting opportunity to do something that I really loved: be out in nature and rock climb in a place I had never been before.
The retreat was an amazing experience. I loved being outdoors, the quiet and stillness of the nights, prayer around the campfire, sharing meals and chores with others. I was stretching my limits and challenging myself to be open to the unknown. Little did I know that in the midst of all this, God was moving my heart in a way that I had never experienced before. I came back from the retreat a changed woman, not because I had climbed to the summit or rappelled 140 feet off a cliff, but because I started to question my life. I was feeling that God was asking me to do more, but I wasn’t sure what it was. It didn’t take long for me to get back into the swing of things: work, graduate school, friends and family. This was a way of life I knew to be safe and secure, so I pushed the feelings aside.
The wilderness retreat came up again, and I accepted the invitation. It was another awesome experience, and I came back with even stronger feelings that something was missing in my life. So, here I was in my last semester of graduate school; I owned my own home and a new car. I worked in a ministry that I loved, but I had a tug inside that was calling me to do more with my life.
I didn’t understand what was happening inside, so with the guidance of the Holy Spirit and my willingness to be open to what was happening, I asked for help. I started to meet with a spiritual director, someone who could help me strengthen my prayer life and help me begin to look at what God was asking of me and to be open to the answers. In spiritual direction, I was able to become more aware of God’s presence in my life. Through prayer, I was able to strengthen my relationship with God and be open to God’s will rather than my own. There are still many times when I would like to be in control, but I continue to pray for the grace to be open to the feelings that continue to emerge.
I also began meeting with a vocation minister, someone who could help me look more deeply at my call and how I would best live it out. In the sacrament of baptism, we are anointed for mission. Baptism calls us to a way of life in which we are invited on a journey of faith and commitment as a disciple of Jesus. Most people live out that commitment in married and single life. Others choose priesthood or religious life, and some single and married men choose to be deacons.
My discernment has invited me to religious life with the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas. Along with the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, the Sisters of Mercy take a fourth vow of service to the poor, sick and ignorant, especially women and children. There was the missing piece of the puzzle! The tug I was feeling inside was one to service. I had many experiences in my ministry of helping others less fortunate than I, but what God was calling me to was a life of faith and commitment in service to others.
With the loving support of family and friends and the parish community where I ministered, I have come to realize that I am on the right path. This is the path that God has invited me to walk, and I have accepted the invitation. My family has been a great support in my discernment process. Their love has helped me as I continue to be open to my call to religious life. My friends have not been shocked by my decision, and I have enjoyed the many conversations we have had about being open to God’s will rather than our own. Their questions have not been ones to discourage me, but ones that embrace my decision. They walk the journey with me in any way they can.
Being a woman religious has changed my life in many ways. Living in community and sharing things in common is a new experience for me. I have learned to move from being an independent person to one that is interdependent with a group of women who want to share their faith and mission. Community life has helped me become a woman who is able to allow others to care for me, and in turn I am able to care for them. Living a simple lifestyle has given me a freedom that I thought I would never have, a freedom that allows for fewer worries in my life so I can be more open to where God is asking me to be. Praying together each day has helped me discover God’s movement in me and with those that I live with.
My path in Mercy has been a wonderful journey. I have been able to discern my call to religious life in an atmosphere that is open and welcoming. I have been able to share my gifts and learn to revere the gifts of others. The discernment process has given me the time to learn more about the charism of the Sisters of Mercy and for them to learn more about me. I found my candidacy process to be very enriching and encouraging, so I moved to the next step in the journey. Presently, I am a canonical novice in Laredo, Texas. My novitiate is a time to intensify my commitment to prayer, community life and service, and to deepen my understanding of the charism of mercy. This time also allows me the opportunity to discern the authenticity of my call.
For many of us, discerning a vocation can be difficult. Why? Because we don’t know where to begin. How do we know which is the best way of life for us to love and serve God? For me, it was through prayer, being aware of the invitation and responding to the call. Invitations can come in ways we might never expect. Mine came through an opportunity to experience something that I love to do: to be out in nature and to climb rocks. God called me to a place where I like to play, and a place in which I could come to know God more deeply.
So, what is your vocation? What is God asking of you, and how is God asking you to live it out? Are you willing to listen, be open and trust? Can you say with an open heart, “Here I am Lord, I come to do your will.” (Psalm 40)
Sister Orman, former faith-formation director at Holy Ghost Parish in Gates, is a canonical novice with the Sisters of Mercy.