Anxiety - Married or Religious Life?

Hello! :slight_smile: I’ll jump into it: I have clinical anxiety, and it makes discerning vocations very difficult, so I’m asking for prayers or advice. I’m a 20-something involved in the church and I am so confused about my vocation. I had a spiritual director until about a week ago when he got reassigned to a parish quite far away, so yes, I know that I need one. The problem is, despite knowing all of these things about needing a spiritual director, listening to God in prayer, trying to go on retreats, etc., my anxiety makes things difficult. I know very well that “perfect love casts out fear,” but I still have a chemical imbalance that I know is part of my cross. Passions and feelings are not always the “truth” which I know very well, but they are certainly powerful. If you have anxiety or any exposure to it, you’ll know what I mean - it’s quite isolating and confusing to most people on the outside (which also makes it very hard to find a good spiritual director).

     Anyway, I have always felt called to the married life, but I've had an aversion and large fear of the religious life.  I once heard that it isn't normal to have an aversion or fear of religious life, because you should be open to God's will no matter what.  I believe this.  I desire in my head to be open to God's will, and I hope that that makes its transition to my heart.  I grew up in a solid Catholic family, but since I was pretty much one of the only "normal" girls who was into my faith, people would ask "so...do you want to be a nun or something?"  I did not desire the religious life, and it would scare me a few times in high school because no one (including me at the time) knew about the universal call to holiness.  Here's a peak inside my brain: *"I am afraid of religious life, so since I have to surrender to God for that and surrender is a good thing, maybe I am called to religious life."*  Yes, it's good to surrender, but doesn't God inform our desires?  It would also help to mention that I felt that same spirit of "I don't want this, I have to surrender, so it's God's will" phenomena for pretty much my entire college career about a man I thought I was "called" to marry who I didn't even like, simply because he was holy.  It took me some therapy, prayer of course, and normal life to get through that one.  Now that I'm graduated from college, I was recently hit with the idea that we need more people to pray for each other, we need more souls asking for mercy.  Of course that is true, but it made me think...so am I called to be a sister?  I can do that.  And we are supposed to put God first; I'm afraid that I will put a human first instead of God.

     In addition, I have become recently acquainted with a young man who is just an incredibly holy and good person that I enjoy being around.  I think he's really cool and open to God's will as well (which is something I aspire to), but I'm afraid of dating him, despite wanting to.  We're interested in each other, but I'm afraid of dating him without ever pursuing the religious life, visiting communities, or going on retreats or anything.  I haven't explored that, but yet, here is this good man in my path, so what do I do?  Does God just want me here?  It seems odd to say "yes well that was a great date but I'll be gone this weekend as I'm trying to see if I'm called to be a sister."  Plus I don't know if you can really be unbiased that way. 

Please keep me in your prayers :slight_smile:

**PS **:slight_smile: I mean this in a kind, charitable way and I have been meaning to write an entirely different post about it: PLEASE exercise a little more prudence when you make very serious persuasions toward one vocation or another. Some people need that push, but please ask for wisdom, because you don’t know if the person reading it has something like anxiety that will make them think that what you are saying is a “sign.” I see it a lot with posts on religious vocations. That is a beautiful way of life, but not everyone is called to it, and you could influence someone who takes what you say very seriously.

Hello!

I had to post here, because you are describing my life!

Since I was a child, I have had mild OCD on occasion and was prone to scruples. Not consistently, but I went through phases. I am also a worrier. About everything! In my teens I developed a fear that God wanted me to be a nun - I don’t remember how it started, but it consumed me. I went to youth retreats and would end up in a cold sweat because some nun would casually mention that she didn’t want to be a nun and then had a “revelation” that completely changed her mind. I was genuinely terrified. I kept thinking everything was a “sign” that God wanted me to be a nun. To be clear, I never wanted to be a nun, I was afraid that God wanted me to be.

I had a boy I was interested in in my late teens, but I also felt that I wanted to put the nun thing to bed so I could have peace. I went to a convent for a weekend. Instead of fixing things, it made them worse - I still didn’t know what to do. My amazing and understanding father tirelessly repeated to me that God would make me want to be a nun if he wanted me to be, that I tried the weekend at the convent and since I still didn’t feel like I wanted to be a nun, I should operate of the assumption that I shouldn’t be one.

Anyway, long story short, I’m 25 now and married for nearly a year. Best decision I ever made! Of course, lots of worrying along the way about other issues, but I can honestly say that I have not worried about being a nun for years.

I am not here to tell you what to do or not to do - rather I just hope that my story will bring you some peace. I honestly believe, now that I can look at it from the outside, that a person with your anxiety has every right to follow their heart (in your case, marriage) and leave their life in God’s hands. If you trust him, he’ll guide you without you even realising. And that includes maybe guiding you into the arms of this guy you mentioned, who knows?? God leads people to their calling by making their heart desire it, not by speaking to them in a dream and leaving them terrified of how to go about it! So maybe your feelings towards marriage ARE God’s gentle calling to you.

Now, in all fairness, I could be projecting my experience onto you. But I have heard priests talk about similar issues and the general consensus is generally to follow your heart.

I wish you the best.

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Oh actually, a couple more things.

First, your “P.S.” message was spot-on. People with scruples and anxiety issues are very sensitive, so be gentle :slight_smile:

Second, since you sort of asked for advice regarding the relationship :slight_smile:

The guy (now husband) who I mentioned was very close to me before we became official. We were best friends and DEFINITELY had romantic feelings for one another. I told him after I went to the convent that I had gone and that I didn’t want to be a nun, but that I wanted to give God a chance to call me. He was very understanding and told me that he had wanted to be a priest at one stage as a child. Now I’m not saying that you have that kind of relationship with this guy and I don’t know how he would react, but again, since we have so many similarities I just wanted to share that.

So here is my advice. You can go to a convent for a weekend if you want, but don’t expect it to resolve anything in your head. What you can do is tell God that you are giving him a chance to open your heart. If you don’t leave that convent crying because you want to stay and be a nun forever, you can assume God wants you to get married until such time as you do feel like you can’t live another day without donning the veil (which probably won’t happen!)

I also think it is perfectly valid for you to just pursue the relationship with this guy right now and see where it leads. He sounds like quite a catch and you can always return to discern the religious life later on if it doesn’t work out! If I were pushed, I would give you this advice, but again I am afraid to insist it’s the best advice since I don’t want to project my life onto yours (nevertheless, I am fairly sure it’s a solid course of action!!)

I think that you want to be certain that you are not called to be a nun to get rid of those lurking, nagging fears. Unfortunately, while they run their course, I’m not sure that visiting convents, etc, will clear your head. You should find someone to speak to (a priest or parent or something), who understands anxiety - it’s hard for people who have not experienced it to relate to what you are going though.

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@ShrodingersCat Wow haha. I was going to quote your post but the whole thing was good. Seriously God bless you for taking the time to respond, and I’ve thanked God that you did, because if anything, I know that I am not alone. Not only am I not alone, but you ended up where you wanted to be (though I know that it doesn’t mean that the same will happen for me and perhaps I would be very joyful in religious life). Thank you for affirming the desires of an anxious person from a place of experience because I don’t know if I’ve ever heard of someone so close to my situation. It sometimes makes me so anxious that I waste entire days (at work, at home, wherever) just googling “am I called to the religious life” because despite that giving me more anxiety, it’s almost addictive. A big part of anxiety is obviously a lack of trust but also wanting to know the answers right now. I know that I won’t know the answers right now, but I do know that someone has made it through and is now happy, which is very hopeful. I am so glad to hear that you are married! I can’t tell you how many of my friends and family members have thought I was crazy because of my anxiety, so it’s great to see a kindred spirit who gets it! (And also I’m not trying to lump you in as crazy because neither of us are haha but I mean it’s just like I’ve literally been searching real life and the internet for years to find someone with a similar experience)

If you could say a prayer for me and that I find the right person to talk to about this/figure out if I should go visit a convent or just proceed with dating, that would be great! I’ll say a prayer for you! :slight_smile:

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If my experiences really do help you then they were worth it :slight_smile: now that I am through them, I am almost baffled at how much they consumed me! Totally been there with the Googling haha! It’s literally the worst thing you can do but it is very addictive!

I will of course pray for you. I’m sure this will work out and you’ll be as happy in your vocation as I am. Just remember God wants you to be happy so as long as you aren’t doing something immoral (and pursuing marriage or religious life as vocations are both the OPPOSITE of immoral), doing whatever makes you happy isn’t wrong.

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Oh and also feel free to PM me if you like :slight_smile:

Praying to the Holy Spirit to give you guidance, direction, strength, fortitude & wisdom in your time of need.

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I would recommend taking a deep breath and remember that you don’t have to make any sort of decision right now. Give yourself a pat on the back for getting a spiritual advisor and being involved in your church. Maybe in the future someone will come into your life that makes you realize marriage is for you, or you meet a sister who introduces you to a group that you know is right for you?

I too suffer from anxiety am in your same age group and can understand the anxiety of the unknown. I always try to remember that all of this is in God’s hands and he will make the right plan in my life clear to me as long as I keep my head and heart open to receive it. I will pray for you!!

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It sounds more like anxiety or OCD than a true vocation. I understand because I worried like that for 20 years and lost my young potential dating, marriage and childbearing years to this obsession. It turned out that I had OCD and no religious vocation whatsoever. I wasted many years allowing the obsession of becoming a nun consume me.

If God wants you to be a nun, He will give you a deep desire for it.

A good spiritual director will help guide you. Also you may need to visit a physician to treat your anxiety.

Praying for you.

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