It's been almost 8 weeks of being an aspirant living with the sisters of the Religious of the Good Shepherd (RGS). Aspirancy is a phase of "come and see", during which one explores the life as a religious sister to get data for discerning if this way of life is what one is called to. This has been the closest ever to living the life of a religious since I began my discernment 4.5 years ago. So how has it been?
When my fellow aspirant (I'm the newest addition) asked me to sum up my experiences on my 1st month anniversary in one word, immediately I said, "Growth!" I did not even have to think.
Truly, it has been a period of growth. But before growth, difficulties and struggles. A Jesuit asked me recently how I have been, and when I said, "Struggle," he replied, "Struggle is good. If there is no struggle, something is not right." I appreciate his little comment that was more comforting to me than he probably thought.
I am a very easily distracted person, with many interests and a few deep passions. Keeping myself fixated on only one thing has not been my way of life all these years. I enjoy multitasking though I have found this ability declining over time, and I love getting my attention caught by nice -looking things, aesthetically attractive. Not a very helpful makeup for a person like me who is trying to settle down. Not helpful at all for one trying to find a focal point to fix my eyes upon for the rest of my life. Hence, on hindsight, I realized that my episodes of struggles have all revolved around this - Focus.
Where / Who / What am I looking at?
The eyes of my heart have been wandering. For a start, I was looking at beautiful things... houses, cars... mostly houses, travel destinations. Then, I was looking at my past; times with family and friends. And I began missing those times so badly. Familiar things I have brought with me were uncomfortably strange in a new setting. Very painful. The next episode was marked by my looking at myself. My enjoyments, my private space and personal time, my agenda and willfulness. And finally (for now), for the longest time, my eyes shifted onto certain specific people in my life. Extremely tough and painful.
It seems easy to dismiss these wanderings. After all, isn't this what most people focus their lives on? Even when some say they want to live their lives for God? Do His will? Serve His people? I'm human too. But this isn't how I am called to live - wandering, flirting around with so many other gods - because if it were so, I would not be feeling so burdened, pulled apart, disintegrated, disconnected. I realized that this period of difficulties and struggles, like my Spiritual Director so wisely put it, is a period of purification and clarification.
So I found myself tired, exhausted, disfigured. I have not come to rest in the One Person, who alone gives rest. My heart is divided into different pieces of varying sizes, and given to this or that thing or event or person. I am scattered.
Finally, last night, I sat in prayer and asked Jesus, "What would it be like if my eyes were fixed on you and you alone... when you become my one focus, now until my last breath?" I want this but know it is beyond me. I know that God will provide all the graces to fill my many lackings and have begun asking God to fix my eyes upon Him, permanently.
And I see now that this really is purification. Purification of my heart, sweeping out the clutter, so that my heart-space can be filled with God, my attention can be given all to Him. A period of "Christifying". Of becoming like Christ, whose heart and mind were preoccupied with the Father's purpose. And which led Him to become bread and wine for us. When at Mass, the representatives bring up the gifts of bread and wine during the offertory, my prayer would be, "Lord, I bring my life to your altar here. Help me to die with you and so be buried completely in you." Now it seems that my struggles and gradual growth these past 8 weeks have been an intensification of God's answering of my prayer. He is truly labouring in me to bring our union closer to completion. This growth is the most significant, apart from the others.
Difficulties and struggles to growth. What comes in between? It is God's grace. Endurance, trust, faith, courage, insights and realizations, etc...
No one except God knows if I will eventually become a religious. But does it matter? No time spent in responding to God's call goes down the drain. It doesn't matter anymore which way I go... for whichever way it is, hasn't God already been hard at work in my life, sculpting me and bringing me deeper in relationship with Him? And that's all that matters. That I become one with Him.