How can I know what God wants of me? How does one discern well? How do I listen for His call?
While I’m no priest or trained spiritual director, most of my twenties were spent discerning my vocation, reading lots of books, hyperventilating, going on retreats, and eventually entering the seminary after hyperventilating a little more. I’ve been through the ups and downs, but above all I can attest to the fact that God is faithful. He’s got plans for your flourishing and not your woe (Jer. 29:11). God. Is. Faithful. Remember that.
You have been created as a unique individual who has something to offer the world. Every vocation is a call to follow Christ and bring others to Him. That’s our common call. In my first post, I wrote about how much a pain in the butt the “vocation” question is, but now I want to dig deeper into some practices and techniques to help any fellow discerners out there. So stop hyperventilating and let’s get quiet.
Silence is Golden
The world is too darn noisy. Find an elevator, lobby, or restaurant without music and it’ll be a Vatican-approved miracle. Every airplane seat now comes with an embedded television screen because heaven-forbid I talk to the guy next to me. And the phones …don’t get me started on the phones (spoken like the eighty-year old man trapped inside me). We abhor silence and it’s really an existential crisis. It’s also a great way to block out the voice of God.
Vocation is a call, and we can’t hear a call if we never get quiet and listen.
Apparently we’re all “busy” nowadays. I know a priest who calls it the “sin of busyness,” that never-ending cycle of work, checking the phone, and “getting stuff done.” We need to put aside our relentless activity and create space for purposeful silence to (1) figure out what’s going on in our own hearts and minds and (2) allow God a chance to speak. This may be a simple moment in your room, a walk in the park, or a stop into your local chapel.
“The Lord is in His holy temple, let all the earth keep silence before Him.” (Hab. 2:20)
For me, setting a timer on my phone for intervals of ten or twenty minutes for the purpose of committed silence has helped, especially in the post-seminary 40-hour workweek. Prayer doesn’t need to be a mystical ecstasy or an all-night marathon, but it does need to be a daily encounter. It’s better to practice the guitar consistently for twenty minutes every day than to rock out for a three-hour stint only once a month, and the same applies to the interior life.
Soaking up the Scriptures, reciting the rosary, or reading spiritual books can help as a lead-in to silence, but be careful that it doesn’t become a crutch to avoid silent, receptive prayer. Sometimes my spiritual reading is my unconscious attempt at avoiding pure silence, so I’ve had to challenge my own discipline in that regard. Again, when we make progress in the spiritual life, our strengths can be used against us (in my case, the love of reading). Make space to actively listen for the voice of God, and you’ll begin to hear where He may be leading you.
*Side note: the Missionaries of Charity often quote Mother Teresa as having called the television “Satan’s tabernacle in our homes.” Yikes. If we are serious about our faith and further understanding Satan as the prince of this world, let us be weary about the hours spent binge-watching our favorite Netflix shows.
Beware Vocational Paralysis
I heard the term “vocational paralysis” recently and I think it perfectly summed up my mindset in my early twenties. As the attraction towards the priesthood grew in my heart, I was afraid of making any concrete moves toward a possible vocation because I knew that involved making a choice. If I chose one option, what about the other? Could I screw up my vocation by making the wrong choice? It was easier to just keep it all a mental exercise and even avoid prayer to push these curiosities and desires down deep. That mindset leads nowhere. If we’re being dominated by the voice of fear, it’s probably not Jesus who’s got the wheel (thank you, Carrie Underwood).
Silence can help us get back to equilibrium and put us back in that receptive posture of Mary who trusted beyond all fear—“Let it be done unto me.” Beware the danger of getting so caught up in the question of your vocation that you doubt His guiding hand and forget about living in the present life God has given you now. The secret of holiness lies not a dramatic litany of prayers, but, as St. Therese would agree, it is in doing one’s daily duties with great love and bearing all sufferings with a generous heart.
A friend phrased it to me as this: rest in your Identity as a beloved daughter/son of God and allow your Vocation to be revealed so that you’ll be ready for your Mission in the world. That’s the proper order: Identity—Vocation—Mission. Know and remember your identity by virtue of your Baptism. Don’t make the question of your vocation a crisis and totally forget that God is calling you to Himself first. Look at your life thus far and conclude whether or not God can be trusted…the voice of Satan will lead you to anxiety, but the voice of the Lord will lead you in peace.
“Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)
In the next post, I’ll be bringing in St. Ignatius of Loyola as a cameo guest star for a primer in the discernment of spirits and sorting our emotions properly. Stay tuned!