Sister Michelle Bittner, SDSH

When I was 16 the Sacred Heart Sisters were leading the youth group in my parish, La Purisima Parish, Lompoc, California. I had never met religious sisters before and what impressed me most was their joy, their teamwork, and the way they spoke about Jesus. They really knew Him, and when they taught I wanted to know Jesus with that same joy and intensity. The Sisters invited me and two other friends to help at a Vocation Day for elementary age girls at their convent in Solvang. Driving home at the end of the vocation day, my friends and I were discussing what we had seen. It’s interesting, but sometimes when you ask married couples about when they first met their spouse they remember vivid details about the encounter. In some ways this was the same for me; I clearly remember pausing at the stoplight, the color of the sky, and the excitement when I first thought that God could be calling me to be a Sister. It took me by surprise. Unfortunately, almost as soon as God presented this invitation I silently pleaded with Him, “Wait! Wait until I’m done with college. Then ask me again.” I did not tell my friends in the car.

I went on to college and had a great experience as a Graphic Communications Major at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, California. During that time I worked at an internship for a design firm in San Francisco, and later at a summer job in Sacramento that promised a job when I graduated. I was also dating a young man and we talked about getting married. Everything was lining up the way I had planned, but as I entered my last year of college I was unsettled and restless and I didn’t know why. Finally, I went on a retreat at Catalina Island. It was a week long study of the Gospel of Mark. The leader focused on the passage in Chapter 8 where Jesus powerfully tells His followers, “You must lose your life to save it.” (Mk 8:35) This stirred something in me. I took my bible and sat on the beach and honestly told Jesus, “I give up. How do You want me to lose my life for You?” It was the first time I had the pure intention of seeking His will and not my own. The answer was an immediate thought of religious life, of the Sacred Heart Sisters who I had lost contact with over the years. I couldn’t believe it! Religious life was a radical answer and a larger one than the answer I had hoped for – but then, I had asked. And from then on the thought was persistent and it returned at odd times; like when I was bike riding, or in class, or even on a date. It was too definite to be of my own design, too personal and loving to resist. I knew I had to respond to Him.

“Losing your life” for Christ is an amazing paradox. It seemed frightening because it involved trusting in God’s plan which was beyond my own vision, and frankly, beyond my control. “Losing your life” or renouncing my own will in favor of His is a life-long process. What is fantastic is that every time I trust that He will work, the barriers of my own pride come down and He is able to love me and even work through me in ways I could never plan. He is infinitely loving, trustworthy, and humble enough to wait for my small response. I can never stop thanking Him for His invitation and the grace to respond. I thought I was losing my life, but instead I have gained everything.