One of the most consistent images in Christ’s teachings is that of the faithful servant, one who is going about his duties when our Lord returns. Therefore, the question of vocation (known as ‘calling’ in some circles) is something pressing upon the good Christian souls. If you have not thought about it as a Christian, perhaps you should. Christians of good conscience often have great angst about whether they are doing what GOD wants them to do.
Now, at one level, our vocation (note the singular) is the same: to love and glorify GOD in all things. The “all things” is a clue, that following a vocation is not so much a ‘thing you do’ but rather a ‘being you become.’ In one sense, a vocation is the image of GOD best expressed in you and your life.
Using discernment, we can discover these godly possibilities and opportunities along the way. Discernment is finding that synergy between what has been formed in your inner being through your experiences with the light of GOD in the world around you. It is when you find a particular cause or way of life that embodies most fully the good built up within you. This way of service to GOD, once discerned, is known as a vocation. We experience it as an inner urge, a desire to live a certain life, committed to a certain cause, sometimes within a certain institution. One of the ways we identify this is by the inner peace the thought it brings us.
Your vocation can be nearly any way of life and is not limited to simply ‘positions within the visible institutional church,’ but can be nearly anything that can be conceived. We should not put it in constraints, thinking it has to be something to do with the organised Church, or something we see as ministerial.
A vocation is not a static thing either. It evolves in how it expresses itself because it is a way of being human, not just a specific task. A teacher over the course of her career may start in primary schools, but could end up doing private work in the home schooling network or home tutoring. The task is not fixed in form, but the ontology is. A pastor will be a pastor to his dying day, but may not pastor in his youth the way he does in his twilights years.
However, throwing yourself into a ‘vocation’ without properly thinking it through and reflecting on it can be dangerous; as dangerous as trying to be something you are just not! If done badly, this can damage you and those around you. Therefore, the maxim is… the bigger the calling, the bigger discernment process (and yes, it can and should take years). My own discernment started four or five years ago and I am still doing it.
So, what can you do in the meantime as you learn to develop discernment? Simply go to the Bible! Do as our Lord’s apostles command, perform the works of mercy (temporal and spiritual), love and serve GOD in His Church (the people of GOD) and among those in need (your neighbours), and bless your enemies where you can. Work to establish justice by opposing evil and building up the Church. Take on as much of this as you can bear and work on the rest.
A simple way to find your vocation in the every day is to seek out the love of GOD in each day. Where have you met with beauty, kindness, goodness, self control, patience, hope, love, faith, encouragement, justice? These are evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit. Where have you met them in others, offered them to others in word and deed? Attuning yourself to the work of the Spirit in the world is a way of meeting GOD in the here and now. St Ignatius of Loyola encouraged us in ‘The Examen’ to reflect on where we meet GOD in the here and now.
However, what about the big sweep of life? How are we to plot our being along the grand scope of life so that when the Parousia of the Lord occurs, He finds us ‘the good and faithful servant?’ I would like to suggest to you some gates which, I stress, ALL must be open at the same time to help you find your vocation.
- You have desire: You must have an inner energy about your discernment, in that you want to do it, and that when you do it, you feel alive for having done it. You get a high from doing it and when you can not do it, it leaves you frustrated that you can not do the thing you want to do. One way to tell you have the desire is when you find yourself thinking about doing it, even when you have no need to!
- It does not contradict the apostolic teaching: All other things are immaterial to this. No matter how much you might want to be a stripper, you’re never going to be able to find a justification for it in the apostolic teaching. As such, it is not your calling! I used an example that was hyperbole, but I think you see my point.
- You have a talent for it: This is something you already have a skill for, which you probably acquired due to you having a desire for it. This may not be honed yet into a sincere skill, but could be with some work, training, and practice. The point is, there is potential!
- You have the opportunity: GOD would not call you to something that you can not do; I thought for the longest time my calling was to work in missionary organisation, that works amongst Muslims, and yet, each time I tried to push on the door, I found resistance, and rejection, clearly the door was closed to me – it was not within my financial means to work for them. Opportunity, does not mean of course no resistance, but for instance, in my case, it was clear, in how the organisation was responding to me, that they were not thrilled to have me and, I was not in a place in life to work with them (I did not own a house, which nearly all of their missionaries did). Also, the more I learned about them the less peace I had with working for them.
- It makes you a better Christian: What kind of vocation is it that would take you away from GOD, make your discipleship worse, make you less godly, or make you sin more? Simply put, if you start doing something that you think is your vocation and you find you sin more, become less charitable, pray less, care less, et cetera, then you can be sure this is not your vocation. Conversely, if what you do draws you closer to GOD and makes you a better disciple of the Lord, then this is a good sign you are on the right path.
- You have others who are pressing you on: It is a good indicator when those who love your soul and care for your walk in the Lord are encouraging you to press on with it. It’s reassuring when they see the good for you and for others in what you seek to do, and see how it will bless the Church and advance the Kingdom. If these people are resisting you, you should consider this with all seriousness and see if they genuinely have a point. It may be that you should consider the gate closed, or tweak your direction accordingly.
- You meet resistance from the enemy: Expect the world to resist the idea of your vocation and discourage you along the way. It comes with the territory for your vocation to face resistance from the enemy through people, structures, and circumstances. Conversely, if those who usually reject your walk of faith and resist your pilgrimage as a disciple, yet are encouraging you in your vocation, this should give you pause for thought! If ‘the way’ does not meet with resistance from those opposed to the kingdom of GOD and the Church, this should make you ask questions whether this is the way our Lord is calling you.
There are a few other important points I think you should hear on vocation. Firstly, do not confuse your vocation with a job or a source of income. Economy is based upon what others feel is of value, and are thus willing to part with money. Not every vocation is valued by society or even by the Church. Therefore, there is the possibility that you will have to be a ‘tent maker’ while pursuing your vocation. I would not pay to sponsor a ‘prophet.’ This does not mean people can not have that vocation, I just would not pay for one. You are fortunate, indeed, if your vocation is valued by the whole of society, like those called to be a medical practitioner. You have my deepest sympathies if GOD is calling you to be a man at arms when there is no Christian organisation to join and many nations are committed to anti-Christian causes.
You may have to carve out something entirely new and not meet with any worldly success. Following your vocation guarantees some level of suffering and sacrifice. It is not a path filled with worldly blessings (though it may have some of those if society values what you are doing). Therefore, do not equate following your vocation as being about a job or worldly success. Naturally, you may be fortunate to have a secular job that isn’t necessarily your ‘calling,’ but which allows for you to fulfill that calling and live a good life. You are blessed, indeed. However, we are not called to success in this world, but to faithfulness in the task GOD has given us to do.
Now, from my personal opinion, if you are reading this and are 24 years old, you are at the perfect age to begin the process of discernment. Start as soon as you can and commit your life to a vocation that GOD gives to you. If you are reading this and you are younger that 24, I would suggest you work on finding out who you are first. Learn yourself, and then you will be in the best position to work best with what GOD is making you to be. However, for those who are older – start as soon as you can! I was 33 years old when I started my journey. The time I have to give to that duty GOD is calling me to is ever shorter. You never know when your ticket is up and will have to cash in your chips and give an account for how you did!
So, the urgency is real! However, what if you feel you have missed part or all of your vocation, I know, by the reflection I gave above, that I should have married. Fret not brethren, our Father’s love exceeds His judgment. Mourn your lost opportunities, ask for forgiveness in the knowledge of His mercy, and find what you can do with the time you have left. I am sure you are going to find He will still use you where ever you are. Furthermore, whatever you feel your calling is, if you are married, that is your vocation; to your partner and to your children! You may have married the wrong person, that is possible, in which case you make the best of the bad situation. Whatever else you feel GOD is calling you to, you must work it in and around your family and not at their expense. Lastly, do not fear being wrong, in a godly sense. If you give your life to something that is not what GOD wanted of you, but is still godly non-the-less, GOD will use your offering in any case. You will receive a reward for your good work, just not as great a reward had you found your calling.
Do not despise the simple acts of service, if that is what GOD is calling you to. I know a women in a fellowship who serves the whole congregation by cooking and cleaning. I can not say this is her vocation; I do not know. However, if it is, she is faithful to it and does not despise the modesty of her work. And I know it is appreciated by all of those who take the time to look. There is no promise that your vocation will be earth shattering, amazing, revolutionary, or great in the eyes of GOD and men. Some vocations are expressions of service in the smallest things; some never see the spotlight. All those Christians called to business and economy to make money, who fund so much of what the Church does, rarely receive any worldly recognition for their sacrifice.
One penultimate observation is that your vocation does not, in any way, excuse you from carrying out the rest of the apostolic teaching. I have heard Christians use the language of vocation to excuse themselves from doing other things commanded by the apostles, including solidarity with the Church (especially the persecuted Church) and evangelism. This would be like me saying that my vocation excuses me from praying because – well – I do not have a vocation to a life of prayer! This kind of drivel is a sign of poor spirituality and discipleship.
Finally, I can not stress the importance of having a spiritual father or mother in this journey. Find someone whom you trust and know, who you feel you can confide in and speak to about the journey, and whose council you find to be wise. Talk with them about it. Pray about it often. And take time to reflect on yourself, the process, and the journey.
GOD speed your way to a good and faithful service!