“Miss Ruscello, I have a question: In this blog post, do you want me to be honest or do you want me to give you the right answer?”
“How long are we going to be in class together before you stop asking me that? I want honesty.”
There was a lot of presumption in that student’s question. He presumes he already knows the “answer”.
Not a chance.
He presumes he knows what I “want” to hear.
Who is he to decide what I want?
He presumes what he has to say, from his own mind and heart, is not what I want to hear.
He couldn’t be more wrong.
He presumes he’ll be punished for being honest.
He presumes, like they all do, he’s able to be something other than honest.
That last one is hilarious. The reason I love working with teenagers is that they are deeply honest even when they are trying not to be. They haven’t learned all the polish and coping skills to cover everything up and be “fine.” Their involuntary honesty is so precious to me.
I talk about working with teenagers and most people grimace and offer their condolences. It’s about the glory of running the entire gambit of human experience before lunch: The highest highs, the deepest, abysmal lows. They are conquering the world and it’s ending, all in one class. And they can’t help showing it. People look at that rollercoaster and think it’s exhausting. “They’re so messy.”
It’s all they have, and they give it.
It’s wonderful. (And exhausting. People are right about that.)
Lately, mess and involuntary honesty is all I’ve had, too.
Tears tumbled down my face and sploshed onto Sister Maria Catherine’s desk.
I share a classroom with a Dominican Sister. She wears the full-white habit, sensible shoes, and a black veil. The two of us teach 10th grade English, and she teaches in the classroom during my prep periods and vice-versa. She’s not much older than I am (or doesn’t seem it) and she is quirky and funny and patient and smart. Convent living and the demands of our teaching life limits our time together; but we were fast friends.
The other day, I lingered during my prep period to observe her English class. She had something else planned, but the class took an early turn and she found herself sharing the story with her students of how she joined the convent.
“I wanted to be married, but I wanted time for prayer and uninterrupted time with Jesus more…”
“I get to wear my wedding dress every day…my veil is like my wedding ring; it marks me as my Spouse’s”
“As Dominican Sisters, we are an Apostolic order of preachers. We read and study and put the fruits of our contemplation in service to love and our community…”
“I love my Sisters and we share everything…”
“I spent so much time running from this life. I can finally say I am truly, and deeply happy…”
It took all I had to keep it together as the students filed out for lunch. You see, I’ve been wrestling with God for the last couple months, especially—but really years—over what He has for my future. Her testimony tore the ropes off the ring.
As soon as the room was empty, the whelming flood broke the levy and, tears streaming, I confessed my longtime fear and fury. I told her that she and the other Sisters have been an exquisite gift to me in my new school. That they were so lovely and beautiful, and that I deeply admire who they are and how they live. And I feel like I’m ungrateful and hypocritical.
But I’m terrified.
I am terrified of my affection for the way she lives. Terrified that it’s a sign pointing me toward a future that I. Do. Not. Want.
I want a family.
With a marriage that supports and glorifies the Church, revealing Christ to the world.
And sons who play basketball. And the trumpet.
I want a home that can be an instrument in the ministries of hospitality and belonging.
I want to offer the fruits of my learning and contemplation in loving service to my community.
I want to lead people back to Jesus.
And I do not want to do this as a single person.
What a mess of involuntary honesty.
My Sister looked at me with such compassion. “Jess, I can’t look at you and see your future. I can’t say whether you’ll be one of us or not. Only you can know what God is asking of your life. No one can look at your future and discern that Vocation for you.
The peace I felt when she said that suggests I must have thought she could. My future feels so veiled that I’m willing to consider taking a veil of my own and hand its discernment to someone already wearing one.
What is it about my need to know what’s next that makes me so willing to toss that fortelling to anyone who will catch it? What drives that desperation to see around the corner?
This anxiety and desperation is crushing.
Which is what happens when I have apparently staked my belief in the Generosity of God on a particular outcome.
We stood in the dark much longer than we meant to.
“Why are you telling me all this?” he asked.
Because this is still a terrible mess, and I have to be honest about it.
Because I am at war with the Agents of Confusion and Sorrow, and they win when hurt and fear and anger are kept hidden. And I still have a lot of hurt and fear and anger. So I confess that.
Because the act of confession unlocks the doors and draws back the curtains. You see, Hope is due home in the morning, and He is bringing His friends Joy and Peace with Him. He promised. And I want to be sure they can get in when it’s time. Dawn will come, and it’s by that light of Truth that we’ll see their faces.
Because if we stay silent and separate, it’s even harder to find our way back. And I can’t bear the thought that either of us might mistake this—this darkness and mess—for how it’s always going to be.
I’m sorry hurt and fear and frustration are all I have to offer. I don’t want to be in this place anymore.
I am sorry we are still standing in the Dark.
But I volunteer to switch on the Porch Light.
“The crosses which we make for ourselves by a restless anxiety as to the future, are not crosses which come from God. We show want of faith in Him by our false wisdom, wishing to forestall His arrangements, and struggling to supplement His Providence by our own providence. The future is not yet ours; perhaps it never will be. If it comes, it may come wholly different from what we have foreseen. Let us shut our eyes, then, to that which God hides from us, and keeps in reserve in the treasures of His deep counsels. Let us worship without seeing; let us be silent; let us abide in peace.”
FRANCOIS DE LA MOTHE FENELON.