A four-part teaching from Br. David Vryhof on how discernment in prayer can help us to discover our vocation. We recommend taking time with this offering and praying with each part in turn, perhaps over a series of days.
What is it and do I have one?
Another word for vocation is calling, and every person has one. Each of us has a purpose for being in the world that relates to the purposes of God. We often think of vocation too narrowly, imagining that only those called to ordained ministry in the Church have a vocation from God. In truth, everyone has a vocation, some particular work that God is calling them to do. A vocation could be any work or service we do that furthers God’s work of helping, healing, reconciling and restoring the created order.
Not only does every person have a calling from God, in fact, most of us have several callings! For example, one person may be called to be a teacher and a parent and a member of a political party and a member of a parish church who visits the sick and advocates for the homeless. And this person may experience in each of these things a sense of vocation. Your particular vocation can be carried out only by you. It is unique to you; no one else can do it quite the way that you can. Thus your vocation will always be rooted in who you are; it will reflect your gifts, your temperament, your personality, your interests. Resist the temptation to compare yourself with others and find a vocation that fits you. Better yet, discover the vocation that is already calling out from within you.
How do I find mine?
Discovering, or “discerning” your vocation is a process. You won’t finish it today. The good news is that you already have everything you need to begin, because the best place to begin is with yourself:
· What do you already know about yourself?
· What are your interests?
· Is there something you’re particularly good at, or that you especially enjoy doing?
· What kind of personality or temperament do you have?
· What are you passionate about?
· What has your past experience taught you— through success or failure?
· What particular gifts do others recognize in you?
· What activities have you been affirmed in by others?
· What activities have made you feel most fulfilled?
Answering these questions helps us scout out our inner typography, to know who and what we are. Discerning vocation is a process of self-discovery. As you go deep into your past and present desires, you’ll begin to get a portrait of yourself, which is the first step toward discovering your vocation.
Take some time to think deeply on these questions. Start gathering data. Examine your past choices, and consider what they reveal about you. Ask your parents and friends what they see in you. You might journal about the answers you discover, to give focus to your thoughts. As you do this, ask God to teach and direct you.
God wants to be part of this process, because God wants us to become the people we were created to be. It’s not that God has a pre-determined, set plan in mind that we must discover and accept, whether we like it or not. It’s more that God has a deep yearning for our well-being that arises out of God’s great love for us. In this, God is like a good parent. Good parents don’t dictate the particular path their children must follow; rather, they hope that their children will find work that is meaningful and worthwhile, that they will use their gifts for the cause of good, and that they will experience happiness and fulfillment – no matter what particular path they choose. So too, God’s chief concern is not whether we live in Poughkeepsie or Des Moines, whether we practice law or run a business, or whether we marry or remain single. God’s chief concern is that we discover life – the life we were created to live – and that we live that life as fully and as completely as we can.
How do I know if I’m discerning God’s will or my own desires?
We often imagine that there is some vast divide between our desires and God’s desires. The phrase “God’s will” sounds heavy and onerous, as if God’s will must certainly be terrible and burdensome to fulfill. When we think about responding to God’s will for us, we certainly do not expect to fulfill our own desires in the process.
But in fact our deepest and most authentic desires are God-given. They reflect the unique gifts, talents and interests that God imprinted in us at our creation. Our best desires are given to us by God, so it’s important to pay attention to them. Now, having said that, it’s also true that not all of our desires are good – or good for us. Some desires are selfish and even destructive. Some of our desires are not reliable indicators of God’s will for us.
Here are some things to consider as you try to determine if a desire comes from God or from your own selfish motives. Ask yourself:
- Will this choice I am making be of service or benefit to others?
- Is this choice reflective of my true self, the person I know myself to be or the person that I want to become?
- Will this choice I’m about to make bring glory to God?
- What are my motives in choosing this option over others?
- What other ‘voices’ are weighing in as I consider this choice (e.g. the voices of my parents? my friends? popular culture?)? ”
These kinds of questions help clarify our motives and help us to imagine what effect a choice might have on us and on others. You can probably think of some questions you would find helpful to ask yourself, perhaps even some questions you would find it hard to ask yourself. Ask yourself those questions and meditate on the answers. This is what discernment is all about.
Discernment is the process of sifting through our desires to discover which ones reflect our deepest and most authentic self. Our deepest and most authentic desires reflect who we are and who God wants us to be (or to become). When we locate our true desires, then we find ourselves coming alive! As Irenaeus said (in the 3rd century), “The glory of God is a human being fully alive!”
Hearing God’s Voice
If God speaks, why don’t I hear anything?
In the Bible we read that God spoke to people like Abraham, Noah, Moses and the prophets. Sometimes they even carried on conversations with God, conversations we can read in the Bible. God also spoke directly to Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and Paul. Reading these conversations, have you ever wondered: Why doesn’t God speak to us today as clearly as God spoke to people in biblical times?
There are times when God speaks to an individual in a dramatic or unusual way. But most of the time, we receive God’s guidance in the deep places of our hearts rather than through a voice that audibly speaks to us. In fact, I suspect that much of the time this is what was happening with the people in the Bible as well. I suspect that Noah and Moses and Mary were no different than we are, even if they seem in the scriptures to have heard God’s voice more directly or clearly than we do. I suspect that they heard God much as we hear God, in the quiet movements of their hearts. The scriptures make explicit and dramatic in these stories the way that, most of the time, the quiet voice of God speaks within us.
It takes time and practice to learn to recognize the voice of God guiding us, challenging us, encouraging us, and loving us. Hearing the voice of God is like knowing a person really well, so that you can anticipate what he is thinking or how she is likely to respond. As we come to know God intimately, we will also come to recognize and respond to God’s voice.
The greatest problem we face in hearing God’s voice is taking the time to listen carefully for it. When we are constantly running about and filling our days with busyness, we are less likely to perceive the voice of God. This is why silence and solitude are important spiritual practices. They create the space in which we can ‘tune in’ to that voice. God’s voice is best heard in silence. Why not take some time to listen for it today?