Updated: Sep 25, 2021
I first saw it on some not-so-random prayer card shortly after I had converted to Catholicism in my mid-20s. Back then, I had never heard of the guy whose writing spoke to me so piercingly, but I’ll never forget his words.
St. John Henry Newman, who was just canonized in 2019 and whose feast day was Oct. 9, wasn’t just another old, white-haired cardinal who died more than a century ago. As a convert from an Anglican priest to a Catholic one, he knew a thing or two about finding God’s personal call on his life … even if it was the last call he expected.
He wrote in the prayer “The Mission of My Life” words that applied to me twenty years ago, and still today:
God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it if I do but keep His commandments.
Therefore, I will trust Him, whatever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him, in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him. If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me. Still, He knows what He is about.
When I first read these words, I had weathered a Pauline conversion and gave up what had been a secular mission for my life. I surrendered it all, entered into marriage, and expected the natural elements of my vocation — being a wife and mother to hopefully many. I held onto the first half of this prayer, that my life would somehow have meaning not dictated by the world, but by God himself. And I had no idea what that really meant.
The babies started coming, but from the beginning, they were different. The diagnoses started from infancy and continued to pile up, the standing appointments began to dictate our life, and I felt more like my children’s nurse/pharmacist/medical scribe than their mother at times.
I couldn’t look to other mothers for much understanding of the details and weight of my children’s challenging lives. In a way, it was good they couldn’t relate to the medical jargon, life-threatening experiences and hours in exam rooms. But I felt very much mystified, bewildered and isolated. This is not what I had signed up for; I certainly wasn’t understanding God’s permissive will in the messiness of my life.
That’s when the second half of this prayer came into play. Looking at it decades after my first encounter with it, I can see how important it is for me to understand for myself and my children with their various needs. The rose-colored vocation of my youth is no more — it has matured through the perplexity, sickness, sorrow and desolation of being my children’s caregiver. It is heavier, yes, but richer for it.
I am living God’s will for me, even though I didn’t expect it, and probably wouldn’t have chosen it 20 years ago. He gave me exactly my children, and all that they are, for his own reasons. Through my caregiving vocation, he is making me who he wants me to be. He knows what he is about.
Annamarie Adkins has been many things: world-traveling college student, restaurant reviewer, Catholic journalist, Catechesis of the Good Shepherd catechist, and most recently, a substitute teacher. She and her husband live with their four children in Saint Paul, Minn.
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