Embracing Our Greater Yeses: The Cost of the Call

September 11, 2022

After retiring, I had luxurious time to look back on my life and the surprising twists and turns it held. How was it that an introvert was thrust into a career meeting families from around the world?  How was it that 26 years before that, I went to volunteer at a nursing home and found myself hired that day to be its Recreation Director…then its Admissions and Social Services Director…then its Administrator?  I never thought  any of this was because God wanted me there, because there was work God wanted me to do. While I didn’t know anything about discernment back then, in those moments of invitation, however nervous I might have been, I just knew that I had to say yes.  

I can laugh at myself now when I think back on those twists and turns that I called coincidence or “accident.”   Each was God calling me to help someone…a call to comfort, to console, to encourage, to teach, to defend, to companion, to feed. 

The COVID pandemic emerged several years after I retired and submerged the world into isolation.  My husband and I were already home and had a very quiet lifestyle which I loved, but now there was more time than I knew what to do with.  I grew restless.  The “Overwhelmed No More” retreat popped up in my email and I couldn’t get it out of my mind.  I knew I needed to register. I had the time. I had run out of excuses.  I tapped the REGISTER box.  

Something changed in those days.  I changed in those days.  I was scheduling time, blocking out an hour each morning to “retreat.”  When the retreat was over, I kept blocking out hours on the calendar to pray.  The incidental relationship I had with God had become an essential one that I didn’t want to miss. Each day created a stepping stone on this new path. I began working with a Spiritual Director once a month, was led to the 19th Annotation of the Spiritual Exercises, and then to a Call to Interfaith Chaplaincy.  

The Holy Spirit invites us to consider the cost of answering God’s call.  We have a choice when we receive that call. Be it a whisper, a nudge, sporadic or persistent, it is gentle, it is respectful, it offers space and time…and God waits…for me, for you. Isn’t that a wonder? The tender Spirit of all patience waits for us to accept this invitation and helps us reach our decision. I asked what’s the worst that can happen and the dam opened.  There was an endless list of paralyzing worsts all meant to stop me dead in my tracks.  Desolation was a real adversary at this stage working to discourage me from saying yes to that gentle invitation. 

What was the cost of this request from God? I had to hear the whispers, open my mind and change it.  “Yes, Mary Ann, you are retired and there is still work to be done that you can do.  I would like you to do it and you have the time.”  It felt right.  I applied and was accepted to the program.  There were practical costs to going back to school; tuition expense, time for classes, clinical hours and homework, hours of winter driving and hotel stays.  Those were manageable.  

The true cost of this call did not come from my resources but from my poverty. It didn’t take long before the deep reflection necessary to work effectively with people in pain and crisis confronted me with my own deep, unacknowledged fears, pain, and losses.  I was being asked by God to surrender all of my life and my lived experiences, my memories, my fears, my intellect, my will and trust this path, this challenge, this narrow gate.  I was being led to the freedom of God’s will for me. 

“Oh, God, you made a big mistake picking me for this.  I said yes because I thought I knew what I was doing.  I could learn a few skills and build on what I already have and go “help” people.  This is so hard!  I don’t have words.  How can I do this?”  “Mare, you can’t do this on your own but together we can.  Trust me.  I will give you the words when you need them.  I will heal you. Please, trust me.”  

The Holy Trinity was asking me to live the words of the Suscipe.  That is the invitation we receive when God calls.  The true cost of my call was to surrender everything…what I know and what I don’t know…my fear of failure, my need to be perfect, my fear of vulnerability, my wounds unhealed, my fear of trusting even God…everything.  “Give me only your love and your grace…then, I will be rich enough and will desire nothing more.” 



Go Deeper:

  • Pray the Suscipe prayer and other Ignatian prayer resources here
  • God Isn’t Finished with Me Yet by Barbara Lee (Loyola Press, 2018) – Read a story of a retired woman’s journey to discover God had more in store for her! 
  • Looking for an online retreat to help give your prayer structure and help establish a prayer practice? We have a brand NEW retreat starting in October. Register here.  
  • In the hands of God “More than ever I find myself in the hands of God.  This is what I have wanted all my life from my youth.  But now there is a difference; the initiative is entirely with God.  It is indeed a profound spiritual experience to know and feel myself so totally in God’s hands.”  Pedro Arupe, SJ. “Hearts on Fire, Praying with Jesuits”, Edited by Michael Harter, SJ
  • Psalm 23 helps me stay grounded, content within my surrender.


Photo by Eberhard Grossgasteiger on unsplash.com

Mary Ann Gessner has worked with all generations as an art teacher, in Nursing Homes as Recreation Director, a Social Services and Admissions Director and Administrator. She was the Director of Admission with a focus on international student recruitment for St. Johnsbury Academy in Vermont and holds a BA in Studio Art and Art Education from the University of Bridgeport, CT and a M.S.A. from St. Michael’s College in VT. Since retiring in 2015, Mary Ann enjoyed the gift of time to nest, quilt, and cook. This gift of time led to Ignatian Spirituality in the Inner Chapel and Becky’s Overwhelmed No More retreat and the 19th Annotation of the Spiritual Exercises. Mary Ann is currently an intern in the Clinical Pastoral Education Program at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon, NH and is rediscovering her love of storytelling. Her two sons have moved gracefully into their adult lives with their families. Mary Ann and her husband still live in the log home they built 45 years ago in the woods of Sheffield, Vermont.

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