Thursday, January 24, 2019

Questions Regarding Blindness and Personal Decisions

Lately, I've been thinking about blindness and the personal decisions I'd make if I were to go blind. No, this isn't something I'm experiencing (thankfully). I mean, my vision is terrible and I need the help of glasses and contact lenses to see clearly but that's not a factor in this. "If I had been blind -- literally or metaphorically -- would I have made the same decisions?" is a question I've been asking myself lately.

What brought this on? Re-reading Archbishop Charles J. Chaput's Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World. I had previously listened to it on audiobook and I had loved it, but I decided to read it more slowly and carefully and I'm so glad that I did. There were many things that made me stop and think but nothing quite like when he talked about our uber materialistic culture and how consumer-driven images have a greater influence on society as a whole than God and our faith.

With "influencers" making visually pleasing posts on Instagram and vloggers and celebrities getting paid (or simply receiving free items) to be seen wearing or featuring specific products for advertising purposes, there's no escaping it. We see things set up on Pinterest, Instagram, and other social media platforms in such a way that we end up wanting it. It doesn't even have to be products. People only show what they wish to show... in a way that plays up the best of the qualities.

Ever come across an Instagram account where the couple shares videos and pictures of their adventures, completely "loved up"? How about someone getting something you've always wanted but know you perhaps can't afford? It's easy to get caught up in this game where you become envious and want what someone else has. I'm a very visual person; perhaps that's why my favorite social media platform is Instagram. However, I'm also very careful about what accounts I follow (or who I allow to follow me back) in order to cut back on anything that would bring out the worst in me.

In my teens into my 20s, I often wanted things because they were visually pleasing; because a certain influential person used it; because I thought it would make me loved. I wanted the *insert brand name and item* because it was a symbol of wealth (whether I had wealth or not was a different story) or "cool" factor. I kept trying to keep up with the Joneses', the pretty people, and it all left me feeling terribly empty.

Now I come across these things and go, "Nope, I have student loans to pay off. Nope, I have my trip to fund. Nope, I know that that company donates to Planned Parenthood and/or exploits their workers." That's not to say that when I come across something -- e.g. a book or a puzzle (I'm a jigsaw puzzle fanatic) -- I don't want it, but now I feel like the Holy Spirit and my Guardian Angel tag-team to help me stop and remember that I truly don't need the item; that it will not enrich my life in any way. Hey, I'm saving up for a trip for an annual Oblate retreat so I don't want to be tempted to get anything I don't need.

Beyond that -- and coming back to the topic of this blog -- I thought about how much different life would be if I were blind; again, literally or metaphorically. If I were blind, would I want even a quarter of the stuff I want? If I didn't see the covers of books or pretty puzzles or even that awesome dress I've been wanting to get, would I want them? If I couldn't see what people looked like, who would I fall in love with -- the man who was handsome with some moral defects or the man who may not be considered the best looking but has strong morals and a love for Christ? Who would I listen to -- the celebrity selling me something I don't need or the person who might be as poor as a church mouse but who would inspire me to live a holy life? I hope the answers I came up with for this hypothetical set of questions are the same that I will choose despite having all my senses (thanks be to God).

When I fall in love -- if it's God's will for me -- I pray that I fall in love with a man who loves God above all; a hardworking, respectful man who loves his family. I hope I see who he truly is instead of being blinded by what he may want me to see. And, likewise, I hope he sees who I am deep down -- the good AND the bad -- and gets past the superficial stuff I may be unconsciously putting out there.

I hope that when I want something, it's because it'll bring me closer to my ultimate goal of getting into Heaven. I pray that God will remove as much of the materialistic side I may have as possible. I pray that I will always want to work hard but also share what God has blessed me with through that hard work. I still have a long way to go but I'd like to think I'm not a total lost cause when it comes to this.

Have any of you stopped to think about these things or am I just a massive weirdo who likes to ponder about these things?

Anyway, just some of my thoughts I wanted to share.

I hope you're all having a lovely week thus far.

As always, thanks for reading and God bless! :D

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Shhh! Silence!

It took me a week and a half to update this blog because I've been trying to embrace the silence in my life, including that which comes from eschewing social media and technology as much as possible.

When the New Year started, I decided to embrace the silence and calm of Advent and extend it all year 'round. I've felt burnt out on social media -- and the internet in general -- for so long that take any and every opportunity to stay offline. I love that I can go days without logging in and people don't notice. I suspect that no one really cares, either. It's both humbling and wonderful.

Of course, it's not easy to stay completely offline. Almost everyone in my life seems to live on social media... or, at the very least, use it to communicate rather than sending emails or text messages. I've tried to get a few people to text more regularly so I can use social media less but it seems like too much of a hassle to them. Thankfully, my best friend probably dislikes social media more than I do so our friendship is lived out offline, albeit through texts since we're both in different countries at the moment.

I use the internet for work as well. I can't write or send in my work without the use of it. Although I sometimes wish I had something else to do, I do actually enjoy writing. It also seems to be what God wants me to continue doing. Trust me, there have been times when I've said, "God, what else can I do?" during Mass and an internal voice says, "Write. Just write" before I get a lot more writing work.

I'll admit that I envy those who have fuller lives offline, giving them excuses to avoid the use of it. I admire (and envy) my best friend and two other dear friends who are so busy with work (bestie) and their families (two other friends) that they don't have a lot of time to sit around to scroll through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. I wish that were the case for me -- that I had other things going on that would give me an excuse to avoid it.

Actually, my time has been taken up by prayer and housework lately. I pray as many hours in the Divine Office and the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In fact, I took a break from writing this to pray Vespers. Do you know how long it takes me to get through all my morning prayers when I wake up -- and I do intentionally pray before I do anything else? Anywhere between half an hour to an hour, depending on how much I have to do and how asleep I am. If you think that's too long, think about how much time you spend scrolling through social media each morning. Yes, that's where I got my time to pray -- using social media less and using that time to pray in silence. Ditto with housework.

I enjoy the silence. I didn't always use to. In fact, silence made me uncomfortable. If I'm being completely honest, it still occasionally does. Sometimes I feel like I need to have an audiobook, a podcast, or some music on even when I'm trying to fall asleep.

Why is that? If I feel so overstimulated, why do I feel the need to fill the silent moments with more noise instead of just letting my mind simmer down in the silence? For those of you who feel burnt out and overstimulated by noise and social media, I ask the same questions. Think about them. Why do you add more when you already feel overwhelmed?

For me, it came down to the fact that it's because it's what I've been accustomed to... and what scared me. Most of us are used to having dozens of things going on at once. Most of us can't even read one book at a time; we need to have at least two going on at once. We have many tabs on our browsers open. We have our phones closely because of the FOMO and the addiction to those pesky notifications. We have music or something on in the background while we do just about anything in our waking hours.

I had one big question to ask myself as I embarked on this journey: What was I so afraid of that I needed to keep noise in my life at all times? I'm still not quite sure I know the full answer but I have a feeling that perhaps I've been afraid of hearing what God had to say to me.

I'm genuinely afraid that I won't have the strength or courage to do what God may call me to do. I fear that I'll just crumble under stress or discouragement if I fail to do what is asked of me. I did that with my vocation discernment for a long time. When I finally opened up myself to whatever God willed for me -- even if it was something that took me away from something I wanted to do -- the silence stopped bothering me as much. Opening up myself to His will and not my own helped... but I still occasionally have my moments of self-doubt and that's when I want to default to bringing in more noise into my life.

As a budding Benedictine Oblate, I've had to learn to use my time more purposefully; to not waste it away like I use to. I try to work AND pray in silence as much as possible. Think cleaning an apartment in which two adult women live is easy? Nope. It's neverending cleaning, cooking, and washing. Instead of waiting to clean one or two days a week, I try to do little bits every day. I try to do one thing at a time because my concentration is so horrendous from multitasking for most of my life; also done in silence since I've found that it helps with concentration. All of that silence and work adds up and that usually means I don't have much time for anything else before I have to (correction: choose to) shut my devices (iPod touch, iPhone, Kindle, laptop, TV, etc.) off.

As I try to keep up with the Divine Office AND the Little Office, I have less time to scroll aimlessly through social media. I turn off all social media and emails at 9:59 p.m. and don't pick them up again until the following day. If I don't feel tired enough to sleep at 10 p.m., I take out a book and read. I'm trying to "wean" myself off of using the Kindle at night, opting to use a booklight and read a physical book. I've had a weird sleeping schedule (anywhere between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m.) for about two weeks now so I'm trying to see if that helps get my internal clock back on track.

In the morning, I don't touch anything that isn't part of my prayer routine. Most days lately, I don't even have time to go on social media until the afternoon because I spend most of the early morning hours praying or making breakfast or doing something else. It's a routine that I've been loving most days. Yes, some days are harder than others -- especially when I'm feeling more sociable -- but it's been what has best worked for me and my spiritual life.

It all comes back to God. I'm embracing silence to best hear Him, even if I fear I'll fail. I'm embracing the Benedictine spirituality because it's what's helped me grow in my spiritual life the most; what's helped my relationship with God. Yes, that sometimes means praying when I can be doing something else like sleeping or chatting online. I choose to pray before I do anything because I know that as soon as I check emails and/or social media, I won't be able to concentrate on the prayers. All of this is done as quietly and intentionally as possible.

My routine isn't perfect. Sometimes I will log into social media or hit the "email" app out of habit. Sometimes I will turn on the KUSC or Overdrive apps because silence is bothering me. When this happens, it usually means I need to stop and listen to what God may be trying to say to me. Still, I try and start over if I have to. That's better than giving up or not even trying in the first place.

Does anyone else have the occasional problem with silence? If so, have you figured out what has been causing it? If you've been able to break a social media habit or the habit to have continuous noise in your life, do you have any tips you can share?

Anyway, that's it for now. I'm sure a lot of what I wrote was me going around in circles or not making much sense but I needed to get it out as a way to hold myself accountable for continuing this routine. That and it's almost 8 p.m. and I haven't had dinner yet. Oops. Yet another thing that I will need to do that will cut into my social media time before 10 p.m. Darn. ;)

I hope you've all been having a lovely month so far.

As always, thanks for reading and God bless!

Saturday, January 5, 2019

I'm Letting Him "Court" Me: Where I am in My Vocation Discernment

"Let him court you," was the phrase that popped up in my mind after nighttime prayers this past Wednesday.  "Let Jesus court you."

I started. I was putting my Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary on my bedside table and I laughed uncomfortably. "Wait, what? *awkward giggle* How can Jesus 'court' me? What does that even mean?!" I was confused as to why such a phrase would pop up in my mind. I'm still confused as to what that phrase means.

Before the New Year began, I made peace with the idea that God may be calling me to stay single. As much as my heart desires marriage and a family, I've resigned myself to God's will. If it's His will that I stay single for the rest of my life, I'm not going to fight it.

I certainly made efforts to get out there and meet people last year. It was... not fun. I didn't meet anyone I could potentially see as more than a friend. There were too many yellow and red flags. I even went on Catholic Match for a couple of weeks and was reminded of why I hate (yes, hate) online dating sites. I'm not calling it quits because of that but I have finally accepted that perhaps I'm just not meant to marry.

Does it stink? Tremendously. Am I still willing to meet more guys and date/court? Of course. I'm not closing myself off to the possibility... but I've decided to live my life as if I am going to stay single.

What does that mean? For me, it means actively pursuing my lay Benedictine oblate discernment (side note: I'm still waiting to hear back from a specific monastery). I'm no longer going to play the "what if I can't make it to an annual retreat in a couple of years because I'll have a family?" game. I'm not guaranteed a husband and/or children. However, the Benedictine lifestyle and spiritually has been wonderful for the state of my soul and spiritual life. If I am blessed with a husband and/or children in the future, I'll figure it out then.

It means planning my time and money towards things I may need as a single laywoman -- my own emergency fund, getting rid of my only debt (student loans for 3 degrees), and making sure I can take care of myself if I need to.

It means doing what I can to make sure I stay on the proper path that will lead me closer to God.

Perhaps that's what "let Jesus court you" means. Maybe it means living my life in a way that follows Christ radically (for our day and age); in a way that allows me to unreservedly give my whole heart and life to God. Perhaps letting Jesus "court" me means that I need to let go of the little apprehensions that stem from fear and lack of trust and let him guide me with the rest of my vocation discernment.

I'm also open to the possibility that "let Jesus court you" means that I'm called to become his bride as a consecrated virgin. I've discerned enough to know that the religious life isn't for me -- and I'm also too old to enter the order I would've loved to have joined if it were my vocation. If I'm called to this, it'll be a new adventure but one I'm prepared to embark on. I will certainly be in good company.

My mother -- like most parents of only children -- doesn't seem to keen on the idea that there's a possibility that I won't marry; that I won't give her at least one grandchild. However, I've entered a season of my life where, despite the love I have for her, my sole goal to is to do God's will... even if it goes against she and/or I want.

Perhaps the phrase was just a fluke; a random phrase that popped up in my head that has no actual significance. Who knows. All I know is that whatever God has in store for me, I made it my (only) resolution to continue abandoning my selfish will to His. Last year He showed me that the decision I made to abandon myself to His Divine Providence was the best decision I ever made. This year, I want to go a little further and let go of the little things I was (and, honestly, still am) afraid to let go of.

Please say a prayer for me as I start this new adventure... because it feels like a new adventure. This all feels like the start of one of the greatest and most thrilling things God will have in store for me.

Alright, Jesus... take the lead. Everyone else. welcome on the journey!