When I was a little girl, I often daydreamed about my future wedding: donning the perfect dress and veil while gracefully carrying a cascading bouquet. When my friends and I played “Imaginary Wedding,” I nearly always requested to be the bride (regardless of who was the groom).
But then I became a young adult and was burnt by the betrayal of potential spouses. In college, my faith was paramount, and I attended daily Mass and Eucharistic Adoration with my mom. Naturally, the retired folks at our parish beamed with the assumption that I must have been discerning a vocation to the religious life. A few of them even commented to me (on more than one occasion) that I needed to dump my boyfriend at the time and enter a convent, much to my dismay!
You see, it wasn’t that I was repelled at the possibility of having a religious vocation, but I truly did not feel the call. Instead, it became more and more apparent to me that married life was, in fact, God’s purpose for my primary vocation, though I went quite a while without a serious boyfriend.
I was conflicted and confused at this increasingly intense understanding that God intended for me to be married, and I had to learn a courageous trust in Him to bring me the spouse He had in mind for me when no prospects were even remotely available or interested in me.
As a single young adult, there was a period of time when I believed that discerning a vocation was clear to everyone, but I quickly learned that this wasn’t the case at all. I grew up in an era when parents didn’t typically raise their children to recognize that religious life was a viable option for them, and despite my Catholic elementary education, no one really discussed how to hear God’s voice and know what you are called and created to be.
One of my close friends in college was a man in his mid-thirties. He had never been married, so he lived a chaste and holy single life, not knowing when – or if – God would call him to marriage. When he neared forty, I asked him blatantly (because that’s my style, you see), “How do you know if you will ever get married? Do you even want to get married someday?” Thankfully, I knew him well enough to ask him this flagrant question! But his answer both startled and humbled me. It was simple and yet profound: “Well, I have always wanted to get married, but I never had a girlfriend, so I’ve just lived a chaste single life serving the Church and waiting for God to call me to marriage. If He never does, so be it, but if He does, I will respond favorably.”
He went on to say that he believed our vocation can be somewhat fluid. That’s not to say that when we make a permanent vow to religious life, then God may eventually call us into the single life. But what he meant was that perhaps God calls us to be single for a time, then enter into religious life or get married. Perhaps, if a spouse dies, we might be called to the religious life or consecrated single life. The point is that vocation isn’t always static for a lifetime.
We must learn to discern worthily God’s call. But how can we do this in a practical sense today? Here are a few suggestions worth trying:
Open your heart to God’s call. This means you shouldn’t immediately dismiss the possibility of a vocation that seems less than appealing to you today. Be truly open to whatever God desires for you, because He knows the desires of your heart and what will truly sanctify you in this life.
Find a spiritual director. I would suggest that young men find a priest or layman that is trained in spiritual direction, and females to find women religious or laywomen. It’s perfectly acceptable to conduct a somewhat informal “interview” of two or three possible spiritual directors in order to find someone who won’t sway your decision one way or another. Instead, you want to find someone who can teach you how to discover what God is calling you to do.
Surround yourself with holy friends of all vocations. I’m so grateful that Ben and I are close to a diocesan priest and religious sister, as well as holy married couples and singles. Because of this, our girls are being exposed to men and women who are authentically living out the call of their primary vocations, and in turn the girls are more likely to be open to the possibility of religious life one day.
Discern one vocation at a time. In other words, if you are a seminarian, don’t start dating while you are in seminary! If you are engaged to be married and your wedding is only weeks away, don’t drop the news that you think you might be called to the priesthood instead! Usually the call to a primary vocation occurs over the course of time. Most people who share their vocation stories can pinpoint patterns in their lives when the Holy Spirit was nudging them in a particular direction toward the priesthood or religious life. The same was true for me toward the married life.
Keep in mind that the devil will dissuade you. If you are feeling confused, conflicted, overwhelmed, or afraid, then most likely you are getting spiritually attacked. This is why I feel it’s really crucial to take these feelings and thoughts to your spiritual director, who can accurately portray what is going on and objectively guide you through the attacks. The attacks may become more intense and frequent while you are preparing for the final steps in your primary vocation, too, such as a week or days before your wedding day or shortly before or after you are ordained to the diaconate, priesthood or religious life.
Attend a vocations retreat. Most dioceses offer vocation discernment weekends for men and women, so consider attending one. It’s a perfect way to open the conversation with a priest or religious sister about why you are there.
Keeping all of these in mind, it’s important to also maintain a healthy prayer life and to avoid mortal sin (of course). Staying close to the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist will be powerful tools of grace for you to confidently discern and follow God’s call for your life. The path of discernment is nearly always messy, but the reward for faithfulness is never disregarded.