I went to Tuscany seeking answers regarding my vocation. I looked forward to the quiet respite, the chance to think deeply about who I am as a writer and where I want to go. I anticipated experiencing much beauty, art, contemplation, prayer, community, and above all, vocational clarity there.
I found much of that amid the rolling wheat fields and ancient, cobblestone streets; among a new group of acquaintances-turned-friends; at the table laden with good wine and food; alone on hot afternoons, tucked under the wisteria vine, bees buzzing into lavender, lizards sunning emerald on the path.
But I also found something in Tuscany I never expected and certainly didn’t invite. I found more questions than answers, questions that had been stewing just below the surface for a long, long time.
On the very first morning, sitting at a tiny, metal table in the courtyard garden of our hotel, the questions bubbled to the surface, and along with them, a startling revelation.
“The reason I’m not clear about what to do (my calling), is because I don’t truly know who I am (my authentic self). And the reason I don’t know my authentic self is because I don’t truly know who I am in God. And the reason I don’t truly know who I am in God is because I don’t know God in a deep and intimate way.”
Thankfully, as I told my travel companions later that week, I was still struck numb by jet lag and couldn’t quite wrap my sleepy brain around what I’d just penned into my journal. My mind was still encased in a layer of gauze, a timely protection against so stark a realization.
That morning, I simply stared at the words I’d written for a moment, and then clapped my journal shut and joined the group for a tour of Florence.
Two days later, though, the reality of that revelation hit me hard. There I was, tucked into a shady grove with my journal open on my lap, a stunning view of the Tuscan hills unfurling in bands of gold and cypress as far as my eyes could see, and I couldn’t stop crying. I also couldn’t stop repeating, “Shit. Shit. Shit.”
It was the Sabbath, and the theme of our morning reflection was rest. But the pages of my journal that morning stayed blank. I’d written only a single sentence: “I don’t have rest in my life because I don’t have rest in God.”
That’s when the revelation fully revealed itself. Everything begins with our relationship in God. We don’t have rest in our lives if we don’t have rest in God. We don’t have clarity in our calling if we don’t know who we are in God.We can’t know who we are, period, if we don’t know who we are in God.
God had given me clarity. But it wasn’t the kind of clarity I’d expected, or frankly even wanted.
“I wanted a different story,” I wrote later in my journal. “I don’t want to hear what God is telling me. I keep asking, ‘What should I do next? Where should I go?’ and he keeps giving me different questions, harder questions.”
Earlier that week, our spiritual director had told us, “God’s greatest invitation is to know God deeply and truly. And to know yourself in light of that.”
I wasn’t in Tuscany to find answers to my vocational angst. I was in Tuscany to come face-to-face with my deepest fears: that I didn’t truly know God; that I didn’t truly have a relationship with him; that I still wrestled with deep questions of doubt and even, at times, of unbelief; that I still struggled fiercely in my faith.
As it turned out, the “hope to which he had called me” had nothing to do with my calling and everything to do with knowing him.
Truth be told, there had been hints of these smoldering questions in the weeks and months preceding my trip. Sometimes, in the early evenings when I walked Josie and sat for a moment on our favorite bench, I heard unexpected questions bubble to the surface. One cool spring evening, for example, this question presented itself, seemingly, inexplicably, out of nowhere: “Why do you have trouble with intimacy?”
I didn’t know where that question came from or what in the world to do with it. And frankly, it was easy for me to ignore it, to allow the distractions and busyness of my life to sweep it away. To get on with deadlines and laundry and walking the dog.
The question makes perfect sense now. I struggle to form intimate connections with friends and loved ones because I have not found intimacy with God. Because you see, our relationship with God is the foundation, the everything. All things — relationships, community, vocation, satisfaction — are built on that. My identity as a beloved child of God is everything. Without that, I have nothing. Without that, I am nothing.
I’d love to tell you I found everything I was seeking in Tuscany. I love to be able to wrap up this story all pretty with a big, shiny bow and a sigh of relief. But that’s not quite the case.
I do believe I was invited by God to that specific place at that specific time in order to go deep, deeper, perhaps, than I’ve ever gone before. I do believe my time in Tuscany was transformative. That’s what I’ve told people who have asked about my trip. “It was life-changing,” I say. And I mean it.
I just can’t quite see exactly how yet. But to know I was invited to Tuscany and wooed by God there is enough for now.