Before I began dating my husband, I wanted to give God a chance to tell me if He were calling me to religious life, and I spent a little time researching different orders. I was most attracted to the Nashville Dominicans and their charism of teaching. But, when I thought a little harder about what was drawing me toward them, I realized I was mostly picturing myself as a teacher—a teacher wearing a habit.
I was responding to the sisters’ teaching work, not to their gift of their whole lives to God. I was missing the heart of what it means to be a consecrated religious woman. I visited the sisters and was blessed by their hospitality and the opportunity to join in their prayers, but I didn’t discern further with their community.
Back out in the world, what I found most helpful in Schmemann’s instruction was his warning to “serve where needed and not where you think you are needed.” The enemies of Christian community—be they the long work hours that leave no room for the Sabbath, the devaluation of nonerotic love, or the weakening (and shrinking) of families—may shape the way I am needed. But I don’t want to get so excited about my own ideas and solutions that I miss the chance to hear God’s. I want to develop my readiness to be used by God, to be responsive to His promptings.
It’s easiest for me to resist the temptation to go haring off after imagined needs and enemies when I force myself to stay grounded. I turn my eyes away from ideological enemies or societal errors, and I pay attention to the specific needs of one friend or even my own moments of loneliness. If I respond to immediate needs, and not to my theories of need, I have a better chance of serving where I am needed.
When I’m tempted to wait for something “important” to do, I try to stay attentive to all the small needs that God might be offering me the chance to meet. And I try to remember that sometimes He’s waiting for me to help by offering my needs to Him or to a friend, letting someone be Christ to me, instead of holding myself aloof. The Benedict Option, as I practice it, is a crutch, not a glamorous charism. Creating community throws me into the paths of others, giving me more chances to learn to love them and to let them love me. I need practice in imitating Christ, so I place myself in spaces where the needs of others will be louder, where I may hear them and respond.
Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.