Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Single living - not single minded

I've been seeing a lot of cute and nice blogs or inspirational quotes or images about single life lately, but few of these seem to capture single life in a vocational sense. To me it seems there's a whole lot of "wait patiently for the right man" single life going around (hey, guys get frustrated about being single too - the friend zone is real!!!) It seems to me that there can be a single mindedness about single life - that it's just about not having a boyfriend or girlfriend. I beg to differ. But first, a quick review:

In the Church we talk about four "States of Life":
    • Ordained (deacons, priests and bishops)
    • Married
    • Religious (or Consecrated; including nuns, sisters, brothers and other consecrated men and women)
    • Single
It's the single that is the hardest to pin down, since it can be expressed in so many ways. So here's my short guide to living singly - but not single minded!

1. We all live the single vocation at some point in our lives
All of us spend some time being single by virtue of not being in one of the other States of Life. Call it "Consequential" or "Temporary" single life. The reasons for this time could be simply because you haven't been asked out yet, or because you're discerning one of the other vocations. Living singly isn't necessarily an intentional choice.

Interestingly, this includes people that are dating. In my own case, I consider myself living the single life even though I'm not "single". Though I am in a relationship, I'm not married yet, I haven't made that ultimate binding commitment to my partner. Yes, I am committed to her and to our relationship; but we haven't made the marital commitment to each other, so to expect that level of commitment of her other would be an unfair burden. Furthermore, a mark of marriage is that it is a free commitment of individuals to each other. To adopt a marital-level commitment to each other now would make marriage a progression, not a choice. I think this applies to any vocation: when we're discerning we still live the single life, because to adopt the commitments of another state of life binds the freedom we need to freely choose that vocation.

2. The single life can be an intentional short-term commitment
In my own life I've committed to being single for a time. This isn't "voluntary loneliness", rather its making one's life fully available to a purpose or a mission. For me this time was when I was serving with NET Ministries. The choice not to pursue a romantic relationship freed my attention to serve my teams and the youth we ministered to. It doesn't have to be a mission-related choice: I have friends who, because of different circumstances, just aren't ready for a relationship. They've made the choice to work on themselves first before sharing their life with another. 

3. Some people choose single life as a lifelong commitment
No, these aren't crazy people! These are people who have discerned that God calls them to a specifically different purpose than ordained or religious or married life. Being permanently single allows one to commit their whole life (time and resources) to serving God, the Church or others.

4. There's a difference between being alone and being lonely
The greatest fear that comes with single life is loneliness. Choosing the single life is not choosing loneliness, it's choosing to be alone. Being alone is a far different thing to being lonely. We see this in Jesus' life in the Gospels. He is constantly surrounded by people, but he also goes off to be alone. Realistically though, having time alone comes with all states of life: ordained and religious men and women obviously make this choice too, but even married couples will have time away from their partners. As a society we need to stop believing the negative connotations of being alone. 

5. Single life necessitates choice
At some point, living singly leads to a choice, whether it be to a relationship or to specifically discern the ordained or religious life or to remain single. "Consequential" single life isn't a permanent choice. When single life remains consequential then it becomes single mindedness, it becomes avoidance of any other possibility. Make the choice to be intentionally single or be open to the idea that God might be calling you to something other than what you're waiting for.

6. But while you are single, do something amazing!
For me, being single allowed me to travel across Australia, to live in different cities, to explore the priesthood and discover what I sense is my life purpose. For friends it has given them the space to resolve issues in their life allowing them to fully commit their life to someone else. The marital vows or the religious vows or the promises of ordination aren't burdensome - in fact I think they're freeing, but that's a whole 'nother article! Those commitments however are specific. Since single life remains so undefined (in a legislative sense), there are endless possibilities for how one can serve God, Church and the world while living singly.

As a vocation single life isn't the painful last alternative, not does it need to be ignored because its hard to define. Living singly is a reality we will all experience at least for a time. It's important that we seek to understand how God would call us to use those solitary times in our lives.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

The right fit

Winter has begun and it's cold. So very, very cold. I wasn't ready for it to be this cold. Admittedly, I'm never ready for it to be cold. Maybe it's my Filipino genes, maybe it's my last name (Burns), maybe I'm just a wuss; but my body just doesn't cope with the cooler climates of winter. Disappointingly, my once reliable collection of old hoodies and my only pair of track pants (which was once part of my high school basketball warm up uniform) lacked the necessary warmth. Thus, I decided it was time to ditch the sentiment in favour of actually being warm.

So it was that I found myself in the menswear section of a store, searching for the right fit. It seemed I got to the "buy warm clothes" party about a week late, as I dug through messy mounds of winter wear. What began as an innocent search for new clothes quickly became a battle of comfort vs style: to what level of dagginess was I prepared to stoop to in my search for warmth?

However, in the end it became a search for something that would actually fit me. The process looked a bit like this: Adam picks up garment, Adam decides said garment meets warmth and/or style conditions, Adam tries on said garment, said garment does not fit Adam, process repeats. My usual clothes shopping routine is nowhere near this involved, however the rather diminished range of sizes forced me to actually try on each piece of clothing to check if the bigger or smaller size would still fit.

After an extended amount of time (certainly a longer period than I would normally have patience for) I lost all hope in this particular store and decided it was time to investigate another store (searching more than one store further indicates my desperation). As I cleared the menswear section, I spotted a clothes rack in the corner of my eye. Had I checked it already? I wasn't sure, but I decided to walk past it and give it a quick scan, not wanting to commit lest I be greeted by further disappointment. And there it was: a blue jumper, thick material, only minimally bogan-looking AND in the right size. It was too good to be true, so I double checked for any tears, holes or stains. It was good. Finally, I found the right fit.

My shopping experience somewhat resembles the vocational journey. Like my search for the right winter clothing, the discernment journey has many elements. When looking at ordained, religious, single or married life, one might ask: which option would best function for me? Which looks good? But then one might come to a point where they look beyond the aesthetic value and get to what we might call the "nitty gritty" vocation question: "is this where I fit?"

It's crucial that this process of "trying on" actually happens. Window shopping for a vocation will rarely lead to the conviction one needs to fully live God's call. I think part of this is seeing a vocation as a lifelong decision making process, not one decision made for life. That's why, for example, a man goes through a discernment and application process before they even go to the seminary, then spends almost seven years in formation before they become a priest. Similarly, before getting married a couple spend at least some time dating before they get engaged and undergo marriage prep before their wedding day. Regardless of which state of life we end up in, it's still a daily decision. Every day I have to make choices about who I am, I'm not automatically me. Likewise, every priest, nun, sister, brother, husband, wife and lay person has to choose how they live out their vocation regardless of which state of life they are in.

Additionally, it's not something we decide on our own. When my girlfriend noticed my new jumper (which I interpreted as approval), it was confirmation I had made the right choice...though now I'm realising she didn't actually say she liked it, she only asked if it was new! If we base our vocational decisions only on our own thoughts then we will only serve ourselves in our vocation. However, if God, family, friends, mentors, the Church and the community are involved in the discernment process, then the living out of that call will fundamentally involve them.

Finally, discernment isn't one size fits all. It took me numerous attempts at discerning priesthood before I realised it wasn't where I was called, whereas some of my mates knew they were called to marriage the moment they laid eyes on their now wives. The only way to know is to step into the store and try on the product. Or perhaps more accurately, to step out of ourselves and to find where we truly fit.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Get on with it

I just submitted my last essay for this semester at uni. Honestly, it has not been my favourite semester of study. Far from it. I was slow moving at the beginning, still carrying lethargy held over from the previous semester. I found that I couldn't get into the subject content. My timetable was inconvenient. And several work related trips and a holiday prevented me from getting to numerous classes. It was just a very random, very slow moving, odd sort of semester. Hence my excitement to have submitted this final essay.

That same staleness extended into my work life too. For a good portion of this year so far, a significant proportion of my work was accompanied by rolled eyes and groans of despair. Yet, when I look back on the beginning of this year, its hard to pinpoint just what went wrong for me. Sure, my year started of with an uncertain living situation and several other personal messes; but for the most part it has been business as usual.

It was only recently that the answer dawned on me. You see, 16 year old Adam decided he didn't want to "sell out". I wasn't going to play the games of what I saw to be a corporate-driven, resume-ic society, interested only in what you've done or what you can do, not in who you are. Part of my anarchic, rebellious, free-spirited attitude was born of big dreams. Most of it was underwritten by uncertainty of what I could actually do and a laziness to figure it out.

That led to a wild, free-wheeling adventure - at the least significantly wilder and more free-wheeling than a sixteen year old introverted homebody could imagine for himself. A real job or an education were the last things on my mind.

Fast forward to the first few months of this year and I found myself it what seemed like an unending game of catch ups with university and work. Sixteen year old Adam was raging inside of me in the form of disillusionment and impatience. It was all becoming too much like hard work and that big dreamer in me felt like the dream had died.

That's not where my head's at now. The last few months I wrestled with the seeming plain-ness of my lifestyle and somehow discovered my legacy in it. Ok, that's a dramatic leap, but somewhere within the mounds of assignments and paperwork I found myself taking responsibility for my life. Every word of that 1600 word essay or work-related email was a subconscious choice to be something more than an inspired thought. I'm not just studying or working for the sake of it.

See, that dream that sixteen year old Adam had was to make a difference in the world, and I thought that meant I had to be different. It's easy to be different by doing less - or being less. This year life did feel different because I was doing more: more work, more study then I ever had before. Doing more I hope will lead to being more. And being more is significant as my dreams become more specific. As a (nearly) twenty-five year old, (what feels to be like) nearly graduated, (relatively) somewhat experienced Church worker; starting a family and working a full-time job where I get to impact the community is more reality than a idea.

The point of all of this is that I grew disillusioned by a process. I think in wanting to make sense of our life and experiences, in valuing our call or vocation, we try to give meaning to everything in life. That's not realistic. There are things in life that don't carry the same weight as significant objectives, there are things in life that are simply processes. The processes still matter obviously - if I didn't care about my uni work I would fail my classes and what help would it be to me then? - but they don't have to be packed full of excitement.

As young people or as dreamers perhaps we look for that excitement everywhere and in everything. When we don't find it we grow disillusioned and lose sense of the bigger picture. In learning not to get bogged down in the processes, I grew in my self-knowledge. In just getting on with it I learned about the things I actually prioritise and I was able to get on with being about who I know I'm called to be.

Life is more than the processes. We shouldn't get so caught up in them we lose touch with the bigger picture.