After finishing my master’s degree at Oxford about a year ago, I felt called to look seriously at the possibility of entering religious life. I visited a couple convents, had soul-searching conversations with trusted spiritual guides, and was pretty sure that I had a religious vocation. Family and friends expressed concern that I was throwing away a good education and plenty of worldly opportunities. But I didn’t care. I imagined myself wearing the habit, praying the hours, and getting rid of all of my earthly possessions. God had led me to this precipice, and I was ready to jump.
Then it wasn’t so clear. The communities I was most interested in didn’t seem like a good fit. Whether it was the charism, or the type of apostolate, or even misalignments about the idea of what a vocation is, something was always a little off. While it may be that God has a plan to draw me into religious life on His timeline, I don’t have immediate plans to join a novitiate.
I have to admit, it feels a bit like God has been gaslighting me. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, it’s slang for the kind of emotional manipulation that makes you feel vulnerable so that someone else can exercise greater control over your actions. Somebody makes you feel like you’re crazy and can’t trust your own decisions.
I wouldn’t be the first one to have this experience with God. Have you ever thought that Abraham might have actually been angry when he wasn’t called to sacrifice his son, Isaac? God instructed him to take all of the radical steps leading up to it, and then redirected him at the last second. Kierkegaard has a beautiful analysis of this in Fear and Trembling, when he points out that God was also asking him to sacrifice his moral standing in this test. In essence, God had commanded Abraham to become a murderer. I’m sure Abraham was relieved to spare himself and his son, but wasn’t there a part of him that cried out: “What gives? Why would you put me through something like this if you didn’t want me to do it?”
With someone like Abraham, we’re peering into the spiritual depths that we’ll never fully understand. This is why Isaiah talks about God’s ways being above our ways (Is. 55:9) and the saints recommend abandonment to Divine Providence. I have not figured out what it all means in my own life, but I do know this: God tests people when He wants to invite them into greater trust in Himself.
If anyone else were to do this, it would be manipulation and emotional abuse. But God ought to be in charge of our lives, and reminders of that are a blessing. If it feels like God is gaslighting you, that’s because He probably is. And it’s a good thing.