The energy in the room was palpable, and I could feel it reverberating around the room capturing the attention of even the dullest and unexcited person in the gymnasium. I was 13 and at my very first night of worship and adoration, hosted by a local parish. From the moment I walked into that boisterous space, I knew I was in for something special. I was ready to be challenged and changed…
And then, I hit a nun.
OK, that sounds dramatic. I didn’t hurt her, I promise! But, the events that led up to and followed that innocent jab to the shoulder were totally and completely dramatic in my own feeble experience.
I had been minding my own business, dancing along (a little exuberantly) to a song that I didn’t know when, BAM!, my fist made contact with the shoulder of an unsuspecting nun. Embarrassingly I apologized, she smiled, and I moved on with my awkward pre-teen dance moves.
But then, a woman from our group said something that rocked me to my core.
From about three seats away, with an all-knowing grin, she said “You know… if you hit a nun, that means you become one, right?”
You couldn’t have peeled me from the floor at that moment if you tried. Those words were like a death wish. How did I cause this to myself? I didn’t want to become a nun! I didn’t even know what extracurricular activities I wanted to be involved in next year let alone my vocation!
I was devastated. I was anxious. And I carried those words in my mind and heart for a long time thinking they were true.
More than a Guessing Game
What I didn’t realize until (unfortunately) much later is that the vocation God has in store for us to discover is not a game He plays with us. It’s not like the Sorting Hat from “Harry Potter” assigning us to our future community despite our input, or like some maze, we have to navigate in order to arrive at an ending we are blind to along the way.
Discovering our vocation is found in an intentional, daily relationship with God. It is more than just knowing the state of life He desires us to live in within the body of the Church (married, single, religious), it is ultimately about discovering ourselves each and every day found most perfectly in Him alone.
What your Vocation is NOT
From that very first fateful run-in with that very dramatic misconception of vocation to today (after six years of marriage), I’m still trying to understand what it means to live out the vocation of life God has called me to. While I’ve learned a lot since I was 13, I think perhaps the easiest way to understand vocation is not necessarily to define it until we’re blue in the face, but to call out the lies and recognize what it is not.
1. Vocation is NOT an urgent matter. There is a popular misconception that we must figure out our vocation on a certain time-table. While we are not called to drag our feet when we hear God’s call clearly in our lives, we also are not called to rush a decision that we do not hear Him calling us to. What is most important is that we listen to God’s call, daily, we remain patient, and – above all – trust in His timing.
2. Vocation is NOT meant to be lonely. The whole point of vocation is discovering your life within the community of the Church. If you actively discern religious life and visit an order only to find yourself incredibly lonely, it’s likely that specific order is not for you. And, similarly, if you date someone only to find yourself even more lonely in their presence, they are probably not the person God is calling you to begin a family with. God does not call us to a life of boredom or unrest or loneliness, but rather one of joy and peace and belonging.
It’s also important to remember that vocation is not a cure for loneliness. Even within the context of the vocation God has called you to, only He can satisfy your deepest need for communion.
3. Vocation is NOT a random decision. Remember what I said about vocation not being a game with either a winning or losing outcome? God created you, so God knows you perfectly and most intimately, right? If that’s true, then naturally it follows that He knows exactly what you need in this life to fulfill your desires. This alone should give us reason to trust Him in the plan He has in store for us.
4. Vocation is NOT earned or a problem to be solved. Our vocation isn’t a reward we earn for “good behavior.” And, it is absolutely not the solution to a problem. Our vocation is a gift freely given by God and not contingent upon anything that we do or say. We must not view our vocation as a reward but, rather, as an invitation to remain open and receptive to His will.
5. Vocation is NOT something to be feared. What frightened me the most that fateful day I hit a nun wasn’t that I thought religious life wasn’t a good and honorable vocation. It frightened me because I knew nothing about religious life and how it could draw me, personally, more deeply into a life of holiness. God doesn’t call us to a life of fear; if the thought of one particular vocation is causing you fear, ask God to bring it to the light and teach you more about how holiness can be found there.
6. Vocation is NOT necessary for holiness. One of the holiest women I know has not entered into the Sacrament of Marriage or made permanent vows to the religious life. She is in her 40s, single, and living her absolute best life. She is open to God’s call to marriage or religious life… if He calls. But, in the meantime, she gives of herself – in every present moment – exactly how God is calling her to. Our holiness is not contingent upon our vocation. Rather, our vocation is just a means to aid in our pursuit of holiness.
If you’ve gotten all the way through this blog and are still lost, allow me to offer you a few definitions:
Vocation: “a call from God to a distinctive state of life, in which the person can reach holiness.”
You: “a person who has many different vocations.”
The vocation I’ve been referring to throughout this entire blog is your vocation to either marriage, the priesthood (men), or religious life (men and women). The reason why we speak about these vocations with gravity is because they are a lifelong commitment that one makes to a person or community.
However, you are also called to other vocations (some call them “the smaller v vocations”) such as your job or occupation, your volunteer ministry, or service commitment. Another definition I love for vocation is “the gift of being invited to sacrifice of one’s self so that a person might grow in holiness.” Think of the state of life you’re in at this very moment. Do you see this state – perhaps as a student – as being one you can grow in holiness in? There is every opportunity at whatever point of your life to seek holiness. And, that opportunity begins now.
Ultimately, you are called to where you are right now for a reason, and God is going to gently lead you wherever you need to go next. Stay grounded in a life of the Sacraments and an active relationship with the Lord and you will not be misled in your journey to each and every vocation in life. Trust in His plan and His tender tug. He’s got you.