I am a Kenyan religious Sister of Mercy, vowed since 1989. My vocation to Mercy is tied to a yearning that I began to feel while I was in school with the Sisters of Mercy in Makueni Girls' secondary school. This yearning spoke to me for the first time while I listened to a Mercy sister speak to us students on a vocation to religious life. I honestly wondered if this yearning was real! I was sure 'nuns' weren't cut from my type of cloth! Anyhow, I chose to remain aloof, concentrate on my academics and may be if I failed my exams, I could then try it out among the nuns. I wasn't sure if nuns were into high grades for entry into the cloisters.
I left Makueni Girls' School and was sure not to be harassed by the yearning to become a religious. The months that followed saw me fight this stubborn yearning. In fact, I tried to bury the yearning deep inside myself in a place where I thought its voice won't be heard. To be candid, I chose to force the yearning out of my life. I did not care if I was alone in this. All I wanted was to resist this calling. One thing I know is that I was scared stiff! I feared that I was being called to do more than I could. This, in my wild imagination would lead to failure, embarrassment or whatever monster I feared most. Worse still, I dreaded the thought that the task I was being called to might be judged insignificant. I rationalized my resistance by saying to myself, "Why would I be called to become a religious when I am capable of so much more?" Happily enough, later on in formation, I learned that Catherine McAuley never even wanted to be a nun, let alone a foundress of a religious Order! You see, for me then, a religious was equivalent to a mere teacher, a nurse, a social worker etc. The work they did, defined who a religious was for me. In fact, my initial motive to be a sister was to be a dedicated teacher as my Mercy Sister teachers were, a notion that I held till my novice mistress managed to drive home the real meaning of a religious vocation.
I know of people whose callings are answers to a prayer. I also know of other people whose callings are the last thing on earth they would have wanted to hear of. I am not so sure where to place mine! Nevertheless, I am certain and I have no doubt whatsoever that I wanted to be like the Mercy Sisters who dutifully taught and showed me the beauty of human kindness. These women's lives spoke volumes to us young Kenyan girls. There was something beautiful in being a nun, most of us chorused in unison when we chose to test our imaginative spirits. Whatever it was that made the lives of these sisters so magnetic to us, I never asked God to make me one of them but I often prayed that I may be as kind to people as these sisters were to us students. Little did I know that in gentle ways, I was responding to God's invitation to a religious vocation.
Plucking loads of courage, I approached my school headmistress, a Mercy Sister and I confided in her my desire to be like her. I ensured I remained vague in my disclosure. I wasn't lucky in my vagueness! My headmistress seemed to read my mind and with the tactic of a wise religious, out to fish for her religious household, she invited me to their 'come and see' weekend. This was immediately after our form four exams.
You need to appreciate that , though I wanted to be like my Mercy Sister teachers, the idea of being a nun, unmarried and childless scared the life out of me! How could such weird news get to the ears of my villagers, let alone those of my mum and dad? Ideas of that nature were strange, foreign, and not for girls like me who had no blood sisters. In a bush village like mine where every girl-child was earmarked for bride-prize, the vocation to religious life was unheard of.
What I do recall distinctly is that when I eventually made up my mind to join the Mercies, though I wasn't so sure of my calling, the yearning remained. It was like the yearning was asking me to look harder at what it was saying. It felt like a wave challenging me to free myself from my misconceptions, activities, and the expectations of family and friends who would seek to control my life. This wave seemed to have an unrelenting message. It was a wave that echoed a presence of a job for me to do in this world, a job that could only be done by me. I wondered what would happen if I chose to ignore the yearning. Would the tasks meant for me be completed if I became a nun? What was this calling asking of me? Was it a call to build, organize, heal or protect? I hadn't the faintest clue what else apart from teaching and nursing the sisters of Mercy did. If I joined them, would I be driven to invent, discover, teach, nurse, entertain or explore? They always said in those vocation talks that, "you are urged to go where you are needed"
And so it has been for me since the day of my first vows. It has been a journey of a yearning that points me in my own very special direction. Over the years, I have developed an awareness of my vocation to Mercy and this has helped me to not only find my purpose in life, but to also begin to understand where I belong. The fish is now in the water. The eagle is in the sky. The deer has arrived in the forest.
Accepting my Mercy vocation, for me means, that there is no longer any reason to waste my energy trying to deny who I really am. This energy has so far been spent productively serving my purpose in life. In my work as a university counselor, I have become aware of just how much unspoken pain lies buried in the hearts of people. At times, as persons open the doors of their hearts and let me see in, I feel like I am standing on "holy ground", for I am allowed to look into the innermost chamber of their souls where God alone dwells, and where they hurt the most. I have also discovered anew the wisdom in the Scriptures, which tells us to "bear one another's burden, and so fulfill the Law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2). More than ever before, I now know that when we're psychologically unable to function, we desperately need someone to care about what happens to us. From caring professionals, friends and relatives, we draw added strength to survive.
I have found the above surge of energy tremendously empowering. Surprisingly, my call to Mercy has brought with it some untold bounds of spiritual energy that seems to unite with my physical and psychological energies bringing forth magnificent force. I must confess that as I struggle to live my mercy vocation and to minister as a Mercy Sister in a public university, I cherish a personal power that emerges as my three sources of energy begin to harmonize.
I do not wish to give you the impression that my call to Mercy is a perfect one. Far from it! My Mercy vocation has its wonderful times and perfect moments, but it also has its anguish. However, I am convinced that if I wait for a path without pain, I will wait forever.
Being aware of the possibility of failure in my vocation to mercy has made me more effective in the work I do in the university. This realization keeps me focused and it seems to produce a level of anxiety that enhances my performance as a wounded helper both as a religious and a professional in the field. In deed if we bring the fear of failure into our awareness, it can be motivating. This is an example of how one's shadow side can bring benefit to oneself if one accepts it and integrates it into one's life.
Along with the possibility of failure is also frustration. This isn't the easy way. Not only is there frustration as I endeavor to spread Mercy in my place of work but much of the frustration I have to deal with alone.
Being alone with frustration and failure can lead to doubt. Every one's road has doubt. Sometimes we deny it because of the anxiety it generates. When the thought, "may be I'm not where I should be", arises, it produces fears of having to start allover again some place else. Avoiding the discomfort means denying the doubt. But this is what I keep telling myself: if I can accept the doubt and bring it into my consciousness I find that this too has its rewards. It forces a re-examination of who I am as a Mercy Sister, working and bringing the compassionate face of Christ amongst the university community; and where I am going. I find this soul searching rejuvenating and more often than not, it leaves me with a new enthusiasm for what I am becoming. Strange enough, working through such doubt, makes me a happier, healthier person! Has anyone anywhere found the happy ending until he/she worked through the junk?
My call to Mercy has not been pain free. Besides the failure, there is the loss of freedom, characteristic of religious vocation. Surely, choosing one path means forsaking many others. At times I often think I may have been successful in those other efforts. These memories of success haven't gone away simply because I am a vowed woman. Whenever I hit a rough patch of the road, those memories have a way of kicking in. I think they remind me of how much easier it could have been if I had taken a different path. But is this always the case? I am not yet convinced! And I dare say I don't need any convincing to the contrary.
No calling is painless. Besides the dark side that seems to be part of all callings, there is a shadow side to my specific Mercy vocation to counseling in a public university. As you may know, healers are in constant contact with suffering. And as one called to the ministry of bringing psychological healing to the students and staff of Kenyatta University, I am consciously aware of my need to integrate the shadow side of my calling. I believe such integration will help me live with a far greater awareness of where I am and what needs to be done. But, again, this awareness comes with a price. I must look at the immensity of the task at hand. Once I look at this, the chances are that I'll either grow or shrink. It all depends on whose mission I am about. If it's God's mission through the charism of Mercy, no doubt, growth emerges. But if it be my own mission, doing 'my own thing', then shrinking, no doubt, will manifest. Thank God, so far, I am convinced I am doing the business of God!
But as I look back over the years, I realize that my call to Mercy has led me to more than a job in Kenyatta University. My vocation to Mercy calls me to a life. My job as a university counselor may create an interest. But the life I am meant to live as I work in the university creates a yearning. I am convinced it is not about how I will spend my time; it's about how I will make my contributions. And more importantly, it is about finding the work that will love me. This is important because we often think of looking for a vocation that we can learn to love.
As a matter of fact, all callings ask us to accomplish something. Consequently, those who live their callings live with the threat of failure. Because they have already come this far, they have already demonstrated a willingness to risk. Still, failure especially in endeavors as important as one's calling hurts. People who seek to accomplish live with failure. It's part of their lives, a painful part. I can't prove it, but I'm prepared to believe that every one who lives his/her calling fails at one point or another. I also believe that most people know this at the time they accept their callings.