When I was in college, hours were spent in the chapel trying to navigate the life given to me and to determine the exact plan God had for me.
I often prayed novenas to find my spouse, and found myself wondering if that cute guy in my English class or at the coffee shop was the one. Or wondering if maybe God was actually calling me to religious life instead.
I spent a lot of time worrying that I would never figure out the path God had planned for me. I remember many anxiety-filled moments, afraid that I would spend the rest of my days alone.
Maybe this sounds familiar?
I treated my vocation like cheese at the center of a maze. Looking to it as the ultimate goal in our relationship with God, or as my one-way ticket to happiness.
God does have a plan for our lives. He desires to fulfill the deepest longing in our heart. Our joy lies in spending eternity with Him.
Discernment helps us distinguish what brings us closer to that plan.
As Catholics, we know Christ should be at the center of our decision-making, especially when it comes to big decisions like who, if anyone, we should marry. But we often want a step-by-step map for figuring out what God wants us to do.
Discernment, however, looks more like a process than like a to-do list and here are a few suggestions for starting that process:
Open your heart
I’ve heard many young women express fear over their vocation: “I don’t want to be a nun” or “I won’t make a good wife.”
While you shouldn’t immediately dismiss the idea of marriage or religious life simply because it seems less appealing in this current season or out of fear, you can trust that God will not force you into a vocation. He will not call you where you can’t flourish.
He will either call you where you already feel lead or He will transform your heart. Allow God the opportunity to flood your heart with His wisdom and grace and leave fear behind.
Work on your relationship with God
Every healthy relationship involves frequent communication, so unsurprisingly, to hear God’s voice we need to have a healthy and intimate relationship with Him. We can do this by praying everyday and receiving the sacraments regularly.
Try praying with scriptures, attending Mass at least once a week, frequent confession, or doing a daily examen to help deepen your relationship with God and allow Him opportunities to speak to you.
Make room for silence
Cardinal Sarah in his book The Power of Silence writes: “There is no place on earth where God is more present than in the human heart. This heart truly is God’s abode, the temple of silence… The Father waits for his children in their own hearts”
You won’t hear God’s voice if you have filled your life with noise.
Cultivating silence in your life and in your heart will help you grow more in-tune with the movements of the Holy Spirit. So try removing unnecessary distractions, especially when you pray.
Pursue excellence in your current state in life
You don’t have to find your vocation to begin your life. In fact, throughout history, God has called men and women in the midst of their daily life. Abraham, Moses, Mary, the Apostles were all called on what was an otherwise ordinary day.
God has given you this life, and He wants you to live well and trust Him to take care of the rest. So, if you’re a student, work diligently. If you are a young professional, do your job to the best of your ability.
Find a spiritual director
If you were going on an arduous journey, you would probably want a guide to help you navigate the difficult terrain.
Similarly, we might need help finding (and following) the path God has laid out for us. Seeking guidance from a trained spiritual director can help you interpret what God has revealed to you in prayer.
When it comes to discerning our vocation, we often get so caught up in making the “right” choice that we become paralyzed with fear and anxiety. We don’t feel confident enough to move, so we stay put where we can’t fail.
However, you can’t use the process of discernment as an excuse to not pursue God’s will for your life.
If you think you might be called to the religious life, go on a “come and see” retreat with your favorite order. Or if you think you might be called to marriage, consider saying “yes” next time you’re asked on a date.
By making the decision to act, you allow yourself to learn and grow in ways that will only help you discerning God’s plan for your life.