I started going to daily Mass when I was in college and continued doing so over my summer breaks. There, I encountered an unexpected hurdle: the other regular Mass attendees (or what some people might call “the little old ladies”). They were excited to see a “young person” at daily Mass on a regular basis, and it wasn’t long before they started asking me questions after every Mass.
These chats involved some very personal vocational questions. In fact, almost all of them asked me, “Do you want to be a nun?”
Even worse, the petitions always included a prayer for an increase in religious vocations, and these well-meaning souls would all smile at me “knowingly.”
What they didn’t realize—and what I’m sure none of them intended—is that they were doing more harm than good. They made me question God and how I saw Him working within my own life. This included the direction He was giving me in regards to my vocation.
Because I didn’t entirely “know His voice” yet (John 10:27), it was hard for me to recognize whether these promptings were indeed from Him or simply someone else’s opinion.
This self-doubt then became a tool that Satan used against me. Though I loved God and wanted nothing more than to please Him, I was not attracted to religious life. Still, I thought that maybe I had made a mistake in my own discernment. Why else would it come up in conversations so frequently?
It got to a point where I was afraid to go deep into prayer. I became afraid of intimacy with God. I avoided praying about my vocation and stayed clear of convents, religious sisters, and those who were trying to converse with me about the topic. This was the norm for almost a decade.
It finally got to a point where I couldn’t handle the agony. I had to confront it. I spoke with priests, sisters, my biological sisters, my friends, and my mom: the people who really knew me. In prayer, I was also incredibly honest, vulnerable, and frank with God. I wanted the answer, even if it was the answer I didn’t want to hear.
How to Listen to the Holy Spirit in Vocational Discernment
This situation was not resolved with a simple change. Discernment was messy, painful, and very, very difficult.
Here are some of the defining pieces of advice, words from prayer, and life experiences that helped me to finally figure it all out.
Know God’s Voice
I wish I would have turned to prayer more. Not to solely pray about my vocation, but to know God’s voice. If you’re dealing with a discernment dilemma, I think this is the absolute best thing you can do for yourself. It’s the foundation you need. As Christ said, “my sheep hear my voice… and they follow me…” (John 10:27); we can’t follow Him if we don’t know His voice. Spend time reading Scripture, frequent the Sacraments of Confession and the Eucharist, read about the lives of the Saints and how God moved in their lives.
Rest in His Goodness
On a similar note, pray the words of Psalm 23 on a daily basis and take them to heart. God wants nothing more than to give us good things. In His goodness, He wants us to be satisfied. He wants us to be blessed. He wants us to be protected. The Good Shepherd will not lead us any place that we will not be happy and feasting.
This doesn’t mean everything will be all sunshine and roses. No matter our vocation, there will always be a cross. And crosses are painful. What’s weirdly cool is that God leads us a the vocation in which we will desire to embrace our cross. That’s the “feast” (or at least the beginning of it).God leads us into a vocation in which we will desire to embrace our cross. #BISblog // Click To Tweet
Trust in His Word
Do not second-guess answers that you have received from God in prayer. I can think of four different instances in which God answered me clearly about my vocational discernment. Then, as time passed and things weren’t happening according to what I thought was a good time table, I started to doubt. I wasn’t doubting God per se; more doubting my own perception of what I heard. “Maybe I misunderstood him…” I’d think to myself. I’d let go of the gift of consolation He had given to me, thinking I was being humble. In hindsight, I can tell you this was not the case. I was faltering.
So, stand firm in God’s consolation and promise. Do not go backwards. Disregard every thought or word that goes against the truth of the Lord and His Church and what He has spoken to your heart. This honors Him. You aren’t being closed, you’re being faithful.
Look to the Godly Women in Scripture
Read the Biblical stories of Eve and Sarah. Ask for their intercession. Both women received clear messages from God, and both doubted. Since both women are considered Saints within the Catholic Church, it’s safe to say that they would be more than happy to do what they can to help you avoid this kind of mistake.
In Eve’s case, God told her, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat…” (Gen 2:16-17). Then at the beginning of the very next chapter, the serpent plants the seed of doubt: “Did God [really] say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?” (Gen 3:1). He makes his way inside her head by confusing her. It is once he has her questioning God that he gets her to believe his lie and eat the forbidden fruit.
Sarah’s case is very similar. God promised Sarah and her husband that He would give them a son. Years passed since this promise was made and they remained barren. Like Eve, Sarah probably thought that they misunderstood God. Perhaps He meant to give them a son, but it wasn’t through natural means.
So Sarah gives her servant Hagar to Abraham (a common thing to do at the time) and nine months later Ishmael was born. Thirteen years later, Isaac comes into being and Ishmael’s presence becomes a bit of a problem as he is a threat to Isaac’s inheritance (as well as God’s original plan (Gen 12, 16-18:1-15, 21:1-21)). Doubt of God’s promise is what led to all this difficulty.
Rejoice in the Universal Call to Holiness
Rest assured that everyone is called to holiness. Religious life is beautiful and necessary, but it is not possible without the vocation of marriage (the Martin family is a perfect example of this). God designed new life to enter the world by the fruits of marital union. This is no small task! It is demanding, and the constant death to self for the sake of one’s family is relatable to crucifixion. It’s why St. Teresa of Calcutta said, “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.”
Holiness is not exclusively meant for the religious. It is meant for everyone! Pope St. John Paul II said, “My dear young people…do not be afraid to be the saints of the new millenium!” Then he went on to canonize 482 saints (children, single, married, religious) as proof that anyone can become a saint!“My dear young people…do not be afraid to be the saints of the new millennium!” -JPII #BISblog // Click To Tweet
A Final Note on Vocational Discernment
Just because you love Jesus and want to serve Him does not automatically mean that He is calling you to religious life. He might be asking you to be His bride through religious vows, or He might be asking you to be the bride of one of His beloved sons.
Holiness has no limits and God has plans to make you a Saint no matter which vocation He is calling you to. And until you are confident in your vocation, be at peace in God’s timing. Heed the advice of St. Paul: “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving…” (Col 4:2).
Do you struggle with discernment in your vocation? Do you ever feel influenced by the opinions of well-meaning people who don’t really know you? How do you handle that?How to Listen to the Spirit (Instead of the Flippant Opinions of Others) in Your Vocational Discernment #BISblog // Click To Tweet