Your life has a purpose that is unique to you.
It’s an affirming truth. You may not realize your purpose yet, but you have one.
What are your gifts? And how should you use them? The answers require vocational discernment: the process of discovering and responding to your vocation.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines vocation as “the calling or destiny we have in this life and hereafter.” It is an individual call to pursue holiness and evangelize others.
It sounds elusive, but your vocation is not a singular role or relationship. It is a God-given mission that rises above any earthly state to bring you eternal happiness. And it’s just for you.
The concept of vocation is understood in both a specific and a more general sense. The Second Vatican Council reminded us that we all — every single one of us — have a vocation to be holy. Then there is the more specific understanding of vocation, that refers to a calling to the priesthood or consecrated life, or discerning your choice of a spouse.
All of that is a lot to take in. And sometimes you might take it in a little too much. Vocational discernment can trigger a spiral of anxious thoughts: Where is my life going? Am I doing what God wants? When will I know for sure? What if I miss a sign?
You should discern your vocation seriously and intentionally, but don’t let it monopolize your thoughts and prayers. The Vatican offers practical tips to help you discern the right way in the Preparatory Document for the 2018 Synod of Bishops themed “Young People, Faith, and Vocational Discernment.”
It outlines three phases of the discernment process: recognizing, interpreting, and choosing.
After recognizing your inclination toward a particular vocation, it’s easy to get stuck in the second phase of interpreting. Listen to your feelings and emotions, but guard yourself against unproductive introspection. When done right, interpretation prompts action. Choosing, the final discernment phase, is the only way to really know what you are (or are not) called to be and do.
The Vatican explains the necessity of action, “A choice cannot remain imprisoned in an interiority … but is called to be translated into action, to take flesh, to embark on a path.” Discernment is a proactive process, so don’t waste time pondering possibilities.
With all this in mind, here’s why you should lighten up about your vocation.
Too much contemplation can hold you back
Live now. You shouldn’t put your life on hold to figure out your vocation. Father Christian Raab, O.S.B. explains, “There comes a time in the process of exploring who we are and what we want to do with our lives that we must take a risk and try something. God rewards our efforts, and God can do much more with a mistake than with inertia.” Pursue your passions, and God will make your calling clear.
However, your vocation is not something that just happens to you. Bill Donaghy, Curriculum Specialist for the Theology of the Body Institute, advises against undermining your own role in discernment since it “creates a kind of spiritual stalemate that waits for God to make a move.” Human action and divine guidance are both needed. Discern thoughtfully and prayerfully, but don’t let contemplation or uncertainty paralyze you.
Vocational discernment is a lifelong process
It’s an ever-evolving process. Even when you feel confident in knowing your vocation, it may change or mature later on. You probably have experienced this evolution already, maybe the end of a long-term relationship, an unexpected call to religious life, a job opportunity that took your career in a different direction, or a sudden setback that turned into a blessing. Stay open to vocation pivots. It’s important to protect yourself from distractions while discerning, but don’t ignore the potential of another purpose. Whatever phase of discernment you’re in, look for ways to take your calling to the next level. You can always grow.
Everything you do leads to your vocation
Know that every decision, prayer, mistake, celebration, struggle, and success leads you closer to your vocation. It is all part of the discernment process. On the World Day of Prayer for Vocations in 2001, Pope St. John Paul II explained this cumulative effect, saying, “[Discovering the plan of God] will happen by means of continual decisions that prepare for the total ‘yes,’ by which one’s whole existence is placed at the service of the Gospel.”
Now, this doesn’t mean you should worry about the significance of everything you do. Dr. Peter Kreeft, philosophy professor at Boston College, asserts, “If you truly love God and His will, then doing what you will, will, in fact, be doing what God wills.” Your desire for doing good will lead you to your divine mission.
His plan is way better than you can imagine
It really is. So trust in it. You may doubt it at times, but what God has in store for you is greater than anything you could dream up. You just have to let go a little so God can step in. And prove your trust by diversifying your prayers. As Tim Glemkowski, President of L’Alto Catholic Institute, shares, “The greatest mistake you can make in discernment is making your entire spiritual life about this one decision.” It’s wrong to view your current life phase as inferior to what could be ahead. Although you might feel that you haven’t quite achieved your full potential, don’t think that your life isn’t complete right now. Your entire life is designed by God, including the present.
So think less, and put your vocation in God’s hands. You won’t be disappointed.