I remember first learning that the word “discern” comes from the Latin “to set apart,” or even “to wrestle” with a decision, and boy would I agree. It’s still one of my least favorite words. Of course, I write regarding discerning one’s vocation, not whether or not I should put bacon on my sandwich (always put bacon on your sandwich). To discern is to be considering two potential good options, and that’s not an easy, cut-and-dry decision.
The awful thing about discernment is how much energy is seems to take up. Emotional, spiritual, mental, even physical energy. I have many grey hairs already that I fondly refer to as my “discernment hairs.”
“What does God want from me?”
“What is my vocation?”
“Why doesn’t He just TELL me what to do?”
Ah, been there. Said that. Over and over again.
Often it’s from the young, the driven individuals who genuinely want to do the will of God in their lives…but the question is what is God’s will for my life? There’s often a tug-of-war within the heart of the individual, and this is sad, because it clouds the fact that we’re called first to love our God, our neighbor, and ourselves—and the struggle over one’s vocation can often take the place of this first principle and rob us of our peace and whatever it is God desires to bring us in this present moment.
Our vocation—our universal call—is firstly to be with God. That’s it. That’s the end, that’s our destination: to know, love, and be in eternal union with God.
How we go about that changes from person to person. Many are called to marriage, some are called to a generous vowed life as a religious sister, brother, or priest; some will feel the call to be missionaries, others will be dedicated teachers, coaches, businessmen, or artists. We all have a note to play in this grand symphony, but it’s up to the Composer to tell us when and how to play. We’re on God’s timetable, not our own.
It’s a great mystery why God allows his beloved children, especially those willing to serve him wholeheartedly, to stay in darkness. Perhaps we’re not ready to know the outcome, perhaps we’re still spiritually immature, or we don’t desire him enough. Maybe we’re missing or being oblivious to the signs God is actively putting in front of us, or perhaps our own sin is blinding us to them.
For me, it took about 8 years from the first stirrings of discerning a potential call to the priesthood before finally standing on the altar next to my wife. There were lots of ups and downs along the way, many moments of agonizing over God’s will, and I hope to write more on this and other aspects of discernment soon. But I can look back now and see how the patient Artist was at work, chipping away the pride, vanities, and insecurities, knowing that the journey was, in some sense, always part of the destination.
Maybe God’s calling you to simply be a first-year college student or a single person or even a seminarian right now. Let that be enough. Take life one year, one month, one day at a time. Trust that God has you in this very moment for a reason and there is good to be done in and through you.
The journalist John Kavanaugh once asked Mother Teresa to pray for him to have clarity and certainty in his life. She responded, “I’ve never had clarity and certitude. I only have trust. I’ll pray you have trust.”
May our trust increase. In the meantime remember that God is faithful, always faithful.