Vocation. It’s a big deal to those who are trying to sort out who they are, why they’re really here, and what the heck is going on in their lives. Does God want me to be married, single, or a religious? Those questions can drive you crazy if you’re not careful. And even when you think you have it right, something could change it all.
Jeff discerned the priesthood but a few years into seminary his superiors advised that he choose another path in life.
Bethany has been single for thirteen years but is still aching for marriage.
Bill was married for twenty years but his wife left him and their three teen-aged sons last month.
So what happens to your vocation when it gets cancelled, never shows up, or walks out the door? This happened to me when I had to face divorce in my forties and then the fifteen-year-long prospect of being single, and not by choice. It was an agonizing period—the best years of my life, I’d often exclaim!—where I was trying to find where I fit.
The answer is always to look to Christ. Seek him. Call out to him. But here’s the problem: when someone doesn’t really know him, or trust him very much, she will look to others for help. Like I did. And that’s where saints can point the way.
I do go to Scripture and read God’s words, but I’m also comforted by reading what someone like me has to say, someone who was not perfect, who struggled, fell, got back up, fell again, had doubts, got angry, cried, complained, but then surrendered to what he or she was seeking. I found some consoling wisdom from St. Therese of Lisieux, woman, saint, Doctor of the Church and someone who struggled with her vocation. She wanted to hang a label on it, mystical spouse, mother, soldier, martyr, and more, but each one—as helpful as it was—left her restless. Finally she found the answer, summarized in a little book called My Vocation is Love: Therese of Lisieux by Jean Lafrance:
To be your Spouse, O Jesus, to be a Carmelite, by my union with you to be the mother of souls, should content me… yet it does not… Without doubt, these three privileges are indeed my vocation: Carmelite, spouse, and mother. And yet I feel in myself other vocations—I feel myself called to be a soldier, priest, apostle, doctor of the church, martyr….
She, like me and maybe you, was consoled by the words of another saint, Paul, who talked about all the different members of the Body of Christ and their different gifts and vocations (1 Corinthians 12 and 13). Her struggles ended when she realized that no vocation had meaning if there was not first and always LOVE:
I understood that the Church has a heart, and that this heart burns with Love. I understood that Love alone makes its members act, that if this Love were to be extinguished, the Apostles would no longer preach the Gospel, the Martyrs would refuse to shed their blood… I understood that Love embraces all vocations, that Love is all things, that it embraces all times and all places… in a word, that it is eternal!
You may have a specific vocation based on your deepest personal desires, gifts, and talents. But that call to love may someday, somehow be adversely affected by circumstances beyond your control. When that happens, remember that your universal vocation is always there … to love. My suggestions?
Replace the sometimes clinical word “vocation” with “call to love.” You won’t forget its deepest meaning.
- Ask the Lord to open your heart first to receive more of his love so that you have more to give out to others.
- Thank God for his love for you.
- Let go of any anxiety that comes with waiting, wounds, or unrealistic expectations. Keep the big picture in mind.
- Look around. Who in your home, workplace, on the road, or in the store needs YOU to love them right now? What can you do to say that will ease pain, restore hope, offer kindness, build up, encourage, and be a generous gift of self?
That’s your primary vocation. No matter what else happens.