Discernment is a tricky thing. Often we think of it as deciding which big step to take—usually regarding our state if life. “Am I called to marriage?’ “Am I called to the religious life? What kind?” “Am I called to the single life? Is that even really a vocation?”
I’ve never felt like I’ve seriously, actively “discerned” anything. I lived a typical young Catholic’s life life with Church on Saturday vigil and high school theology teachers all along the Catholic spectrum. But I was never taught how to “discern” or to listen. I prayed. I thought about what I needed to do that day and what I wanted to do later in life and who I am now and who do I want to become as a person. In some ways, that is what I think discernment is.
My book editor, who is also kind of like a life editor, has a question that I think supports that belief:
What am I called to do right now?
It is her belief*, and now mine, that discernment of one’s vocation is really about the call in the here and now, rather than focusing on big-picture questions (like should we adopt, do I marry this guy, do I enter this order or that one). And to me, that is discernment, really. Getting up in the morning and saying “Okay, what do I need to do today at my job?” and “How will I act?”
I think by practicing these small acts of discernment, we grow in our ability to truly pray and think about our vocations. As a bonus, we also extricate ourselves from the fraught worry of “not having a vocation” because we don’t know or can’t tell if God is calling us to be in Sphere 1: Religious Life or Sphere 2: Marriage. And what are we supposed to do if we’re in that squiggly-lined Sphere 3: Singleness** that keeps trying to join the other two on the atom that is capital-v Vocation or is like a bowl that pours its singleton contents into one of the other spheres for good. What Sphere 3 actually is and does depends on who’s driving and who you’re listening to. (Hint: it’s not God. I don’t think.)
Our primary vocation is to end up in union with God in Heaven.*** Our secondary vocation is optional. We get a secondary vocation if we actually enter into it. We’re not required to have all three (Tertiary is something like our jobs, hobbies, etc.)
But, as I am ever the planner, I can’t just go through life not making decisions that will effect some kind of outcome. So I wonder—should I tour convents? Should I sign up for Catholic Match the umpteenth time? How do I discern this?!? Luckily, I had another question to help me, this time from a religious sister.
Where do You live for me?
At a sister’s profession of vows Mass, her spiritual director from college, a priest, said during his homily was that this was the question Sister Beata asked herself during her discernment. I loved thinking about my own discernment in this way. It really forced me to think about where I found God in my life—where He lived. Where could I find Him best? Where do I see Him alive most?
Pondering these questions helped me come to the thought that He lives for me in the witness of gift of self, most often in marriage. I have been blessed with the opportunity to see religious community life firsthand, to know about the forms it takes in other orders, and of course, to see Catholic marriages lived out. I also read A LOT about Theology of the Body, marriage, and communion of persons for work. Unlike working at a candy shop, in which one tires of the product and can’t stand it, continually indulging in the Catholic teaching on these concepts has only made me more aware of how this way of life is where I see God alive most and how I can help witness to Him to others—much more so than if were to enter into the religious life.
But how else can you know? Once, when I conferred with my editor on what to tell young children what they can do during adoration, she suggested this:
Ask Jesus to speak to them in ways that they can understand.
Throughout my twenties (post-college especially), I started noticing more and more how I was feeling attuned to God communicating to me some answers—or at least a cheat sheet—to my big questions through the ways I best expressed myself: reading, writing, listening to music, and imagining. When certain notions flitted across my brain, I discovered that some had more staying power and more peace than others. One idea that consistently stuck with me was that I’d like to be a wife and mother. I’ve heard that God doesn’t put a desire on your heart that you don’t really want. The one thing to be careful of in discernment is to be sure that what you’re receiving is from God, and not your own ego. How do you tell? Your wants are things that will lead you closer to God.
*She is a former DRE with an MA in Ministry; mom to 8, eldest of which is only 2 years younger than I.
**Obligatory footnote: Plenty of people have plenty to say about the single life being a capital “V” vocation on the level of marriage. I have opinions, but do not feel jumping into the fray actually aids others’ discernment.
***Just wait until you see my post on Soulmates.