Just over five years ago, I asked to begin formal discernment with the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth. At the time, I wasn’t really sure what I was doing, but I felt in my deepest self that I needed to do it. People told me I was making too big a commitment, that I was “wasting my life”, and that I was choosing this life just to run away from challenges.
I often hear young people labelled as “incapable of making choices”, or “unable to commit”. While there’s maybe some truth in this, I find myself uneasy with such generalisations, especially as they tend not to consider the issues behind the statement. We make comments like that about young people, but do we ask: why is it so hard for young people to make choices? What do they stand to gain or lose? And what does commitment involve these days?
When I was at school, there was pressure to be popular, pretty, and to have a boyfriend. When I was finishing school, there was a lot of pressure to go to university. When I was going through university, there was pressure to do well, find a job and become successful. Peer pressure is, perhaps, a normal part of life and something that can motivate us to improve, but it can also be so detrimental. Girls who do not feel popular or beautiful, or who are single, could feel like a failure. School-leavers who actually don’t want to go to university can be forced into a degree which doesn’t fulfil them or make them happy. Young adults unable to find a job can be labelled as “no-hopers”.
Our society also tends to have a general fear of failure. You should try something and get it right first time. You should move out of home by a certain age, be working by a certain age, married by a certain age, have kids by a certain age. I remember when someone I knew was wanting to change their university degree. They met with a lot of backlash from their family and friends who told them they had started it and should just stick it out. They were afraid to do what they really wanted to do – withdraw from university altogether – because of what others would say. Eventually they followed their heart and found happiness.
There is so much pressure placed on young people, even inadvertently, that sometimes I’m not surprised at the difficulties they face in committing. Through my own decision to live as a consecrated person, I’ve learned a lot about commitment and what it means to stick to something.
Committing to anything major involves risk. You need to have a sort of “crazy” streak in you to say yes. Things could fail from the get-go. You might say yes and have no idea how the situation will pan out. There is a lot of “not-knowing” in commitment, and a significant part of committing is accepting that we don’t know how it will go, that there is a risk of not getting it right.
Committing involves perseverance. I am really happy as a Sister of the Holy Family of Nazareth, but that doesn’t mean things have always been easy. I’ve had really difficult times during my formation journey, but with the help of prayer and discussion I’ve seen that my difficulties weren’t deal-breakers. They weren’t enough for me to end my commitment. You might commit to something – a new job, a new course, a new relationship – and be met with challenges straight away. It could be very tempting for you to say “I quit”. But first, step back and try to look objectively at things. Talk to someone whom you know could give advice. Consider: is this challenge enough to make me change my path? Is it possible things will get better in time? How can I make things better?
There are many paths you can take on your life’s journey. Consecrated life, which we celebrate today on the World Day for Consecrated Persons, is just one of these many paths. Taking the path of commitment isn’t a one-off decision. The journey requires a daily commitment, asking yourself: “can I live this life today? Is this what is best for my life and my journey with God?” When I have asked these questions of myself, the answer has to now always been yes. This is the path I have chosen and the path I am on now, and ultimately I entrust the journey to God and His guidance. I encourage you to think about the things you say “yes” to, and, even more so, the things you really wish to say yes to. What will it take for you to commit? What will bring you fulfilment? And what will help you grow into the person you are meant to become?
Article written by Sr Sophie Boffa csfn