Discerning your vocation can be an intimidating task, but it should not be a frightening one – it should really be exciting, because to discern your vocation is the first small step in the great journey of uncovering the mystery of God’s will in your life. And it is a journey well worth the effort! As St. Augustine said, “to fall in love with God is the greatest romance; to seek him the greatest adventure; to find him, the greatest human achievement.” The journey of discovering your call is not always easy, but it is always joyful, because to find and follow God’s call is nothing other than to learn the way God wants to love you. It is God’s desire to romance every human heart, and discerning your vocation is a matter of sifting out how He is asking you to let Him love you.
Before we can understand what God is asking of us, we must learn to speak His language, and that language is prayer. It is a part of every vocation to love God more every day, regardless of whether or not you are called to religious life, so it is essential to develop an intimate relationship with the Lord in prayer. It is in the silence of prayer that God reveals His love for us, that He consoles us in our confusion, and that He shows us who we are in Him.
It is also here that the true desires of our hearts are revealed. A wonderful way to pray while discerning is to ask the Lord to make His desires your desires. Prayer keeps us focused on Christ, the one who calls, and this sacred time with Him disposes us to answer His call. This being said, it is clear that there can be no discernment of God’s call without a faithful life of prayer.
From a generous life of prayer ordinarily comes a desire to share the love of God received in prayer. Service is a normal part of any Christian life, so you should seek to find formal and informal ways to serve the people in your life. A life of prayer should never tend towards being self-focused or self-serving, but rather should always result in self-donation. Additionally, one of the best indications of growth in the spiritual life is the evidence of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Ask yourself, “Am I growing in patience, gentleness, self-control, peace? Am I joyful, loving, and forbearing with those whom I live with? Is my life characterized by goodness and faithfulness?” Such questioning is always challenging, but should be marked by a sense of the Lord’s presence and love.
A great help in the life of prayer and service is a spiritual director. Such a person can help to “read the signs” that God gives you in your life and to know how to respond fittingly. Also, as you grow in self-knowledge and awareness, you will probably realize that there are areas in your life in need of conversion or of healing. Take these promptings of the Holy Spirit and the advice of trusted priests or advisers seriously – we are only able to give ourselves freely to God and the world in any vocation if first we reach a certain level of wholeness. While it is part of the human condition always to be broken and needy, community life demands a healthy emotional and psychological makeup and resilience. It is crucial to take the time and energy necessary to seek out appropriate avenues for healing in order to be ready to give ourselves wholly to God.
Above all, discernment should not be fearful, anxious, or nerve-wrecking. God only desires to love you and to teach you how best to share in His life. Do not fear the Lord! He longs for your true happiness and has more in store for you than you could ever ask or imagine. If Christ is calling you to be His alone, to follow Him in poverty, chastity, and obedience, you will uncover in your heart a corresponding desire to be united with Him in the special bond of religious consecration. So cast out into the deep! You will find that what seems like a stormy sea is nothing but the abyss of God’s merciful love.
Guest post by Sr. Agnes Thérèse Davis, TOR