Up to a certain moment, I was convinced that I had to have just one calling: either family or religion. Even as a young girl, I struggled to figure out which one was the correct choice. In my tweens, I marveled at the “dresses” the nuns wore, but I soon realized that I was more curious about the fashion than the lifestyle. Later, I became afraid that God wanted me to join a convent. What was afraid of? Afraid that I wasn’t up to the challenge? (It’s no easy lifestyle after all.) I worried that fear was controlling my fate. Because fear is a powerful thing: It can obscure our other inner voices, and with it, our true callings.
But ultimately, in my heart, I felt I had a glowing neon light with the simple word no. The problem was that while that sign told me what path not to turn down, it didn’t exactly tell me which one to start walking, either.
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Of course, I was naive to simplify my life choices to two stark alternatives. There’s plenty to think about in between convent and family, sister and mother. And for anyone to know a true calling, we need to go deeper. We need to get beyond fear and surface worries.
Breaking up with fear
Much as I try to combat it, I’ll admit that fear has stayed with me into adulthood. But a few months ago I met with Fr. Stach Nowak, a Dominican who opened my mind to a couple of facts. Among others, that God does not have a ready-made “great plan” for each of us. “You are free, so you recognize goodness and make a choice,” he said. “So don’t be afraid that you will not fulfill your calling, that’s impossible if you want to work with Him.”
That was the moment I realized I had nothing to fear.
So what is a vocation if not a plan directly laid out by God himself? Is it a feeling that I want something? A feeling that I don’t want something, but should force myself into because I know it would be good for others? Well, no. Fr. Nowak explained that a calling is my personal choice, for which I am solely responsible. God has given us freedom; I can’t blame this on Him. And, while I shouldn’t let fear decide for me, it can’t be a calling if it makes me miserable.
“God will be with you in all your ways (Psalm 91: 11), that you choose,” Said Fr. Nowak. So there. A calling within Christianity requires that you are demanding of yourself. I’ll only grow by asking myself the tough questions, and that growing is necessary to discovering the truth about myself. And only in that truth can I discover my calling and unlock my deeply hidden heart’s desire.
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To light the way, there are a few things that Christians can do regularly: We are to proclaim the Gospel with our lives, treat others like Jesus, seek God, to know him better and be more and more open to His suggestions. That is clear and comes from our conscious decision to join or remain in the Church. After all, we are here of our own volition.
Accepting an ever-changing vocation
Yesterday a friend wrote to me asking if I had figured out my calling yet. Writing, learning to sacrifice myself, patience—those are some of my callings right now. A year from now they may be different. Every day I evaluate them, and I make choices. They derive from a classical mix — a bit of the Gospel, a piece of my heart, and a dash human desire. It’s a mysterious recipe, but it’s working for me.
Recently, I answered that childhood question from long ago: I love nuns, but I always knew I would never be one of them. That has left me wondering about marriage. Was that a calling I should be considering? Discussing it, a friend (and a relationship writer) offered me some advice: that it is possible to have a vocation to marriage with a particular person, but not to marriage in general. I saw immediately how true her words were. Once again I had to remember that a calling is never a binary choice. Life would be much simpler if it were.
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Vocations are so much less fixed, and so much more complicated than that. We can’t simply copy someone else’s idea of happiness to find the right path, whether it’s joining a convent or entering into a marriage. I liken it to #PinterestFails or trying to copy someone else’s living room set up with great difficulty. Why should I try so hard to emulate someone else’s creation, someone else’s style, someone else’s life? So long as I can make a life that I am comfortable living in, isn’t that the best way forward?
None of us will succeed in life exactly the way we would have liked, or dreamed about as teens. But the freedom that allows us to make choices (not just binary ones!) means we’re agreeing to take the bumps in order to be happy in our own way, a little differently than others. Knowing that, I feel confident that I will be happy, more than I could have ever dreamed.
We all have multiple callings. And we all need to make decisions about them, answering yes or no. But, in the end of the day, the only guidance I can really give you to help you answer your own tough question is simply this: His name.