"In the world," as the outside of a cloister is commonly referred to within cloister walls, I experienced my new-found freedom in making personal autonomous choices as overwhelming. I couldn't decide what to order-- anywhere-- at a restaurant, at a coffee shop, etc. Even what to purchase at a gas station if I wanted a drink or a snack. I forgot how to WANT specific things. How to entertain natural preferences and inclinations for licit pleasures.
Four months post-Carmel, I was living in Ave Maria, FL, and had developed pneumonia. I was *cloistered* in a hospital for days and didn't know what to do with my ill self except watch movies, including The Great Gatsby. The line that struck me as completely applicable to my current state was: “I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.”
When it comes to granting freedom, the key to creativity is giving people autonomy concerning the means—that is, concerning process—but not necessarily the ends. People will be more creative, in other words, if you give them freedom to decide how to climb a particular mountain. You needn’t let them choose which mountain to climb. In fact, clearly specified strategic goals often enhance people’s creativity.Life gives us plenty of guidelines without us really needing to ask for them. But in certain cases, and for free-spirited, spontaneous people like myself, it can be very helpful to create some self-imposed guidelines, not to limit yourself, but in order to truly let yourself free-- free to move and take action in a creative way-- to really live, creatively, instead of making sure no one ever puts constraints on your ability to live. G.K. Chesterton put it this way:
Catholic doctrine and discipline may be walls; but they are the walls of a playground. [...] We might fancy some children playing on the flat grassy top of some tall island in the sea. So long as there was a wall round the cliff's edge they could fling themselves into every frantic game and make the place the noisiest of nurseries. But the walls were knocked down, leaving the naked peril of the precipice. They did not fall over; but when their friends returned to them they were all huddled in terror in the centre of the island; and their song had ceased.I can apply this to my current state: engaged to be married. Getting engaged-- committing to marry one person for life-- was not constricting, but liberating for Ryan and I. We finally felt free to really be in relationship with each other, now that we knew which mountain we were climbing-- the vocation of marriage, and with whom we'll be climbing.
Preparation for Marriage has been an opportunity for us to consider some priorities and goals for our life together. We don't really like planning and decisions and writing things in stone-- we prefer the seat-of-our pants style openness to whatever God throws at us kind of existence. But in claiming to be free for Divine Providence in this laissez-faire way, we may actually be stifling our ability to enter into the specific tasks that the Lord is asking of us. If I may quote a certain musician who I sort of hate to love: "Everything happens for a reason, is no reason not to ask yourself if you are living it right."
So, let's remember to pray for each other-- that we are given the grace of discernment and courage to make decisions that may seem to be constrictive in the short term, but actually set us free to live out creatively and productively the plan the God has for our lives.