These are marks of Existentialism. Wikipedia has a delightful insight on the despair of Existential thought:
Despair, in existentialism, is generally defined as a loss of hope.
More specifically, it is a loss of hope in reaction to a breakdown in one or more of the defining qualities of one’s self or identity. If a person is invested in being a particular thing, such as a bus driver or an upstanding citizen, and then finds his being-thing compromised, he would normally be found in state of despair — a hopeless state. For example, a singer who loses her ability to sing may despair if she has nothing else to fall back on, nothing on which to rely for her identity. She finds herself unable to be what defined her being.”
For the last few years of my life the defining of my self, who I am, has laid in my calling to the priesthood. I have spent the last five years preparing for ministry. However, long before that I was discerning (whether knowingly or not) if I should enter into ministry. If you include my Protestant upbringing and training in undergrad it would be about ten years of discerning for me. People have told me all my life I was gifted for leadership and had what it took to be a strong leader.
In highschool, I ignored all that. Ignored it for a bit in college too. I always ran from leadership positions and wanted nothing to do with them. I went to Johnson with the intentions to obtain a degree in audio/radio production. I wanted to play and record music as a sound engineer/producer; I wanted to build a career in that field.
Then I kept getting the leading of the Spirit to switch my major from that to Preaching/Church Leadership, something I really did not want to do, but I learned the hard way it is easier to obey than not to. I learned that sometimes God wants us to obey rather than sacrifice and that sometimes you have to sacrifice in order to obey. So I did.
I switched and I felt immediate peace in my heart. I felt I was on the right track. I was on the right track. Things in my life changed for the better as well afterwards as if it were confirmation of what I felt was a leading of the Spirit.
I can say that calling, that wrestling, was there and still remains.
Yet here I am back in that same boat. Here I am still wrestling with it. Had I been Episcopalian still there may have been a chance I’d be sitting in a new place on a seminary somewhere about to begin a Masters in Divinity.
I thought I’d be headed for ministry right after, but part of me deep down knew that was wrong. I am but twenty-five years old, so it isn’t so much I want to be a priest right now; it is discerning with the true Faith, the true Church whether or not I am called to serve in the vocation of priesthood.
Trust me I’m very much too immature, too inexperienced, and still too broken from my own wounds to help others heal from theirs and to be a spiritual doctor. I know this. That is in part what keeps me sane during the anxious time in which I dwell. I suppose maybe my discernment will be a few years. Maybe more. We like to know the when as humans. Perhaps if I knew for sure God wants me to be a priest and when I’d be less anxious? It may be for my salvation that He lets me wrestle. I have control problems; control problems our marriage has definitely shown me. I think perhaps God gives me this unknowing to trust and give him control and to surrender.
It is a very hard thing to do, but I have nonetheless fallen victim of the existential despair of finding my being in what I, in this case, think I am called to do. That is placing being in something Kierkegaard would say could crumble. My beingness, my ontology, lies not in what I do or think I will do, but in knowing God and coming to union with Him.
Kierkegaard once said in “Works of Love”:
When the God-forsaken worldliness of earthly life shuts itself in complacency, the confined air develops poison, the moment gets stuck and stands still, the prospect is lost, a need is felt for a refreshing, enlivening breeze to cleanse the air and dispel the poisonous vapors lest we suffocate in worldliness. … Lovingly to hope all things is the opposite of despairingly to hope nothing at all. Love hopes all things – yet is never put to shame. To relate oneself expectantly to the possibility of the good is to hope. To relate oneself expectantly to the possibility of evil is to fear. By the decision to choose hope one decides infinitely more than it seems, because it is an eternal decision.”
I shouldn’t despair not becoming a priest. I don’t know if I will be one or not, but my hope should not be diminished due to not becoming what I think I was meant to become. I have hope. I have love. I can breath clean air. I can relate myself to the possibility of doing good, which is to hope. To choose this hope, to do good no matter what I become, is indeed eternal. No matter what I do as a vocation/career my beingness is not rooted in those things. If I do not become a priest I should not fret nor sorrow, but continue to seek God who is Reality and serve Him and humanity.
I was recently lamenting having chosen the degree I did in undergrad (B.S. in Bible and Preaching/Church Leadership) and the possibility that I will never be a priest and how it was a waste to choose that degree. I was fearing. I was afraid. Sometimes I still am. I was choosing to fret. Father Stephen, my wise and humble priest, correctly corrected by bad thinking about it even though I still wrestle with whether or not I made the right choice. He said:
I still think this is mistaken thinking. Education is a huge part of what makes us who we are. God calls us and forms us into who we are. The ‘who’ of our lives remains ‘who’ we are, no matter what we ‘do.’ Trust that even if you made a mistake (something you will NEVER know, and there may not even be such a thing as a mistaken major), God will use it for your good and the good of the world. Don’t think too narrowly about yourself or what God is doing. Even when someone becomes a priest, it is possible to think in terms that are too narrow. We ‘think’ we know what the priesthood is, and even that is something that is yet to be revealed to us…it only comes one day at a time.”
I have indeed built an Ego of myself here. I have defined myself around what I do, or, in this case, around what I think I will do or become. This is bad thinking on my part and something for which I repent. No matter if I become a priest one day or not, my being is not defined by that. It is defined by God and finds its source there. St. Paul says, “Our lives are hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3). This is very profound! Our lives find their existence in Christ in whom St. Paul says we “live, move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Not in some job, vocation, career, person, thing, external condition, or crumbling thing.
I’m in a sort of existential daze since graduating. I often feel discouraged and useless. I feel that I am wasting time. I feel unwanted or maybe even rejected. It is a existential daze because it is confusing. It is a fog of unknowing. However, life is about paradox and even though there is angst and despair there is hope. I live in the tension. This is my place in life. I’m in a place where I often feel lost or dazed. I can’t see my hand in front of my face it is so dark. I can’t see what lies ahead in the thick fog. However, I have Christ. Much of the life of repentance is bringing our darkness into Christ’s Light. This is just more darkness I need to bring into the Light.
I’m in a place in life I’m called to be still, to sit, to be quiet, and to learn while I have a personality and a desire to move, to stand, to speak, and to teach. I’m indeed living in the fog of unknowing. I pray the Lord’s “secret hand” is indeed at work as Father Stephen wrote in his most recent blog. I’m learning what it means to be quiet and sit at the feet of the Church. I’m learning what it means to receive. I believe this quote from St. Isaac of Syria nails it for me:
Someone who has actually tasted truth is not contentious for truth. Someone who is considered among men to be zealous for truth as not yet learned what truth is really like: once he has truly learnt it, he will cease from zealousness on its behalf.
The gift of God and of the knowledge of Him is not a cause of turmoil and clamor; rather this gift is entirely filled with a peace in which the Spirit, love and humility reside. The following is a sign of the coming of the Spirit: the person whom the Spirit has overshadowed is made perfect in these very virtues.
God is reality. The person whose mind has become aware of God does not even possess a tongue with which to speak, but God resides in his heart in great serenity. He experiences no stirring of zeal or argumentativeness, nor is he stirred by anger. He can not even be aroused concerning the faith.”
I pray for God’s grace in this time, so that I will repent of my sins and find His Realness and know Him. I know one thing has remained steadfast in my life: the goodness and faithfulness of God, which I do not doubt. No matter where I end up once the fog clears I know that He will lead and guide me safely through these times, which very well may be given to me for my salvation. I have no need to lose hope for I have no need to ground my being in what I think I’m called to be. Priesthood or no priesthood, my personhood is still in tact and found in Christ. The only moment given to me is the present. Living in the moment, in the present, is what I’m being called to do now. Being the priest of my home is what is now. His work in me is in the present, I need not worry for the past nor the future.
As Father Stephen says, “God is good and all of His work is good.”
This, this is my hope…