When you feel you’ve lost Jesus, turn to Our Lady of Sorrows

Joyful religious sisters, brothers and priests are almost magnetic in how they draw young people to consider living lives of radical holiness. As a young girl, I felt this attraction to religious life, and during my early adulthood, I seriously considered this way of life. It was certainly a winding journey, one that climaxed with a beautiful moment where the Lord spoke directly and clearly to me in 2020. After a few years of seriously discerning with a religious order, I understood that God was not calling me to enter the convent after all. This realization initially brought the fruits of good discernment: peace, joy and clarity.

But this moment didn’t last forever. As a member of those who have officially “discerned out,” I quickly experienced a surge of discomfort and sadness. In addition to the peace and clarity, there are also bumps, hills and drops filled with doubt, uncertainty, mourning and even shame — shame that, somehow, I must have missed my cue. I was left not knowing what direction to take, and at times I felt stuck or even lost. Even three years later, I sometimes experience the uncomfortable feeling that maybe I heard God wrong, that maybe my current singlehood is an indication that I messed up.

Praying fiat amid the sorrow

Recently, I took a weekend away at a hermitage to rejuvenate and refocus. Prior to going, I felt drawn to meditate on Our Lady’s Seven Sorrows. I spent long periods praying through each sorrow, but at one point, my own discernment journey began coming to mind. I attempted to shove down the familiar queasiness at my guilt and confusion. After a bit of internal fighting, I finally brought it to the Lord and shared my thoughts with him: While I wanted to trust him, I couldn’t help but feel discomfort in still not knowing my vocation. I had been so sure where God was leading me, but then I ended up somewhere completely different, and I wasn’t sure what to do about it.

Well, Our Lord (an excellent Retreat Master, by the way) quickly responded to my prayer — not with answers, per se, but through a strong sense of Our Lady’s presence and empathy.

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One of the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady was losing Jesus for three days in Jerusalem. If anyone has experienced the sensation of “discomfort in not knowing,” it was certainly Our Lady when she, Joseph and Jesus went to Jerusalem when Jesus was 12. One moment, she had her son, and the next — gone. I’m sure she felt her heart drop to her stomach like every mother does when, for half a moment, it looks like her child is missing. Except this was for three whole days.

I read a meditation that considered what was going through Our Lady’s mind during these three days. Scripture is clear that she and Joseph searched with “great anxiety,” but what flashed through her mind? Did she consider, “is this my son’s time?” Did she fear that she would never see him again? Did she think, “I never should have let him out of my sight”?

Despite our questions, we can be certain of one thing Mary would have done: She would have repeated her fiat: “Your will be done.” A phrase once said in joy at the Annunciation, but one that encompasses Our Lady’s spirit of surrender to the Father, as she certainly would have done in these moments, too. When day after day passed without finding Jesus: fiat. When she finally did find him and exclaimed, “Why did you do this to us?,” his answer that he must be about his Father’s business left her perplexed. And still, in spite of lingering confusion, she would have prayed: fiat.

Trust in the waiting

It was in contemplating this mystery that my own shame melted away. The Blessed Mother, my mother, understood me so completely because she had lived it herself. She was following God’s will by taking her son to the annual Temple pilgrimage. And yet, somehow, the trip was completely turned on its head. I felt Mary’s reassurance that, in my vocational discernment, I didn’t fail God. She, too, didn’t always understand what God was doing in her life, where he was leading her, or why she had to wait to find him again. What is important is continuing to trust God and surrender to him even in our lack of understanding.

Our Lady’s presence and companionship is something in which we can all find comfort. Whether we are still discerning a vocation, worrying about a loved one, or heartbroken over loss, Mary is the best empathetic listener to our sorrows. She can comfort her children in ways only a mother can. And, in her motherly way, she lovingly shares her wisdom with us and helps us to take the next step out of our uncertainty and worry and into trust: fiat.

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