Image taken from Still.
It can be a common experience for younger people to be frustrated about “when their life is going to start”. Always feeling like they aren’t quite living the mission that they are made for, discouragement about their current state in life can set in. “Will I ever be the man/woman God created me to be? I read about the saints and I sure don’t see myself…” It can be exasperating to experience a deeper conversion, beg God to use you as His instrument and then feel as though He’s not.
Let’s look at some saints and “almost saints” (if you’ll humor me) for some perspective, to see that there is no need for impatience, discouragement or frustration.
Mother Teresa didn’t start doing ‘Mother Teresa’ kinds of stuff (she didn’t even dream of the Missionaries of Charity) until she was 36 years old.
On September 10, 1946, following her yearly custom, Mother Teresa left Calcutta for eight days of spiritual retreat.. At Howrah Station, she boarded the train that wound its way from steamy Calcutta and the broad, flat plains of the Ganges Delta, north into the verdant forests and cool nights of the Himalayan hills. Once again this year, Sister Teresa had left behind her work and her students to dedicate herself to prayer and reflection in the hill station of Darjeeling, where the Loreto Sisters had their retreat house, praying over what had taken place during the past semester, and preparing herself for the new school year to come. Somewhere along the way, Mother Teresa had an extraordinary experience of God… “a call within a call”.
St. Ignatius of Loyola, who died at age 65, pursued ephemeral things for the first half of his life until a conversion began to stir in him at age thirty.
Iñigo was thirty years old, which was far older then, and yet he found himself wrought up by questions about his purpose on earth that his friends had put a halt to as teenagers.
What’s more, he didn’t become a priest until he was 45 and didn’t found the Jesuits until two years later, when nearly three-fourths of his life was already spent.
Peter Kreeft, who has published 75 books and been one of the principal sages for the millennial generation, didn’t write a book until he was 42 years old.
St. John Paul II didn’t finish school and set off on his main life’s work until he was 34 years old.
St. Teresa of Avila, who achieved the utmost reaches of the spiritual marriage, wandered in lukewarmness until she was 40 years old.
Teresa started her time in the convent [at twenty] with reasonable fervor… But after a few years she settled into a routine that contained within it many compromises with worldliness and vanity, which blocked further progress. Only when she was almost forty years old was she awakened again to a fervent life, and she began to make progress on the journey. (The Fulfillment of All Desire)
Dante considered himself ‘lost’ at 35 years old (‘halfway’ through his life).
Halfway along the road we have to go, / I found myself obscured in a great forest, / Bewildered, and I knew I had lost the way. (This is the first line of the Divine Comedy)
And, I think we all know that Augustine didn’t start doing everything he is remembered for (writing over 100 books and becoming one of the greatest heroes of the Church) until after his conversion at 31 years old, which was a reasonably seasoned age for the ancient world.
Really, though, we needn’t compare ourselves or have other people’s greatness make us worry about what our life will amount to. Hunger to be great and to serve God and pour ourselves out like a libation are all beautiful stirrings of the Holy Spirit. But we must remember that we aren’t the final judges of our lives – how much we ‘accomplished’ or ‘achieved’, even in spiritual matters. Our life need only be (please God!) what Jesus wants to make of it. It need only be in the will of God.
But just in case you are still bothered by ‘when will my life start’, read this:
In the August of 1991, I was invited by Mother Teresa to visit her at the Convent of San Gregorio in Rome. When I arrived there, however I found the place filled with journalists. Apparently, Mother Teresa had declined to do an interview, but the journalists refused to go away. The interview, they told her, would be reproduced across the world; it would be written up in all the major journals. They were simply helping her, they said, to get message across the world. Mother Teresa still refused saying gently, “Not today, thank you.” When, finally, they left, taking with them all their lights and cameras and equipment, Mother Teresa and I sat down. We began to talk. Almost the first things she said was: “You know, they don’t understand. Jesus came into the world with the most important message of all time, and he had only thirty-three short years to communicate it. And he spent thirty years doing nothing!” (I Loved Jesus in the Night)
Jesus too was a ‘late bloomer’ by our standards. He had lived 91% of his life on earth before he began his public ministry.
Our Lord paid a great deal of attention to time and the gradual approach. How often he said to His apostles: “It is not for you to know, now, what I am doing; but you will understand it afterwards,” or “My time has not yet come,” or “The time is coming…” (Cardinal Suenens; chap. 17, “Learning to Relax”)
Funny, I think his life was still pretty successful.