by Jenna Legg
Stop praying about it. I know that probably seems counter intuitive, but hear me out. When it comes to comes to discerning a vocation, I often hear the question “How did you know?” In most of the vocation stories I’ve heard, there are multiple holy encounters and affirmations; there’s rarely a single sign that assures someone 100% of their vocation. Too often, I think we a paralyzed, stuck standing at the bottom of a staircase that is split in two directions. We try to pray our way to answers, trying to figure out which direction God wants us to go. In reality, I think God just wants us to go up. So often, we want to know the end of the story without starting or making it through the middle.
Discernment is a process. Just like any other process, there are steps and stages to go through in order. Think about a dating relationship. If you saw a person you liked, you would not immediately try to decide if you were going to marry that person. First, you would decide whether you should ask that person to get coffee or dinner. After the first date, you might think about a relationship. And it takes months or years of a relationship to discern engagement and marriage. You are not discerning the final decision, just the next step.
Religious life has a similar process. God is likely not calling you to become a nun tomorrow. He’s probably inviting you to e-mail a vocation director or do a google search for religious communities. In the same way you would get to know a potential spouse, you need to get to know a religious community. This includes chatting with the vocation director, spending a weekend with the community, or even spending a few months living the lifestyle of a sister. God will invite you to the next step along the way.
We have this idea that if we take the next step up on the staircase, then we are committing to going all the way up. But the truth is, each step is one in the right direction. Each step is one that is leading us closer to our ultimate vocation. With each stage of the process, we know more about ourselves and who God is calling us to be.
Again, recall dating relationships. A long-term relationship that ended in a break-up is not something to regret. There were likely important experiences that led you to who you are today; previous relationships help you improve future ones. Exploring religious life is the same way.
If you check out different religious communities, make a few retreats and even live with
Sisters for a few months, all of those experiences will shape you for your future vocation, regardless of what it is.
In terms of our discernment staircase, we will not always know what is at the top of the stairs. But we need to stop standing at the bottom and start climbing. Take a break in praying about your long-term vocation. Ask God what He is inviting you to do right now. What’s your next step?