Just a few weeks ago, I had a great time giving a presentation to a university women’s group on Theology of the Body and Genesis 2. After the talk and discussion, a young woman came up to me and asked about my vocation story. She asked about life as a Lay Dominican and how I chose that over vowed religious life and whether I discerned a dating relationship while I was still considering being a sister… this was obviously going somewhere. So finally I asked her, “What are you discerning right now?”
She opened up to me about the all-too-familiar fears that face a college senior. As I spoke with her, I was immediately transported back to my 21-year-old self, who faced many of the same questions: How do I decide what job to take? Should I accept grad school offers instead? I’m not dating anyone, but I don’t have a clear call about whether I should be pursuing religious life or marriage– what should I do?
I smiled and gave her the only advice I know:
If God hasn’t made things clear for you yet, then the best you can do is to make a choice that makes you happy and offer it up to God.
I then shared the story of my own senior year, when I was convinced that I wanted to do a specific graduate program. Then a couple of friends, independently, suggested that I check out a certain internship on campus. I was’t interested. But they kept asking if I’d at least meet with the director, so I relented. He and I went out for coffee and my life was forever changed. Having never even applied, I was offered the internship and took it happily, telling myself that I would just do the grad program the following year. Two weeks later, I met my future husband. He was staying on campus for a fifth year– and he happened to be part of the choir I would be working with during my internship.
So if you’re facing a transition, or feeling called to a transition but you’re not sure what yet, here’s my little list of tips, gathered from personal experience, my sagacious spiritual directors and the Bible:
- PRAY. A lot. (Phil 4:6) Ask for what you want, ask God about specific options, tell Him what you are thinking and don’t be afraid to ask for a sign. He can do billboards if He wants.
- Take initiative. (Matt 7:7) Pursue all of the options that are attractive, whether a job, school, religious life or dating relationship. Be not afraid. A closed door is just as much an answer to prayer as an open one.
- Listen to little voices. (1 Kings 19:11-13) Your family and close friends will be full of advice for you. Ask them what they think, but realize they all have ulterior motives. They probably have a vision for your life because they love you and want you to be happy. But their visions may lead them to give erroneous advice. I think it’s more helpful to listen to the voices of people (like my friends) who randomly offer advice, or make an off-hand comment that sparks something in you. Especially listen to the voices who are persistent for no apparent reason. The Holy Spirit will nag if you don’t respond.
- Take it one step at a time. (Matt 6:34) We like to know the big-picture right away. God already knows the big picture, and He wants us to trust Him. So you don’t need to discern whether that guy is marriage material when you first meet. You don’t need to discern whether that religious group is somewhere you can see yourself living forever, or this job will carry you to retirement. All you need to ask is: do I feel called to follow this path RIGHT NOW? Let tomorrow worry about itself.
- Open your heart to surprises. (Luke 5:1-11) You, like your family and friends, may have a vision for your life. Some times this vision is God calling to your heart and pulling you closer to Him. Other times, it’s a distraction. God has been known to go big (I think about a college friend who got locked in an adoration chapel until she finally agreed to become a sister. She’s incredibly happy as a Dominican Sister in Nashville). Tell God that you are OK with being thrown off your tracks, that His plan is better than yours and that His will should be done.
I’d love to hear about your discernment and vocation stories! What has been helpful or unhelpful for you? Did God “go big” with your story? Or was it a slow process of discovery? How does He continue to call you each day?