What do I do Next?

Obstacles

Many factors can get in the way of our vocation; they can make it difficult to discern or difficult to make a commitment once we have discerned. There is no space here to look carefully at all these difficulties. Sometimes it is enough just to flag them up, so that if they are present in your life you can notice them more easily and face them more honestly.

Here are some of the common difficulties that arise when people are discerning their vocation, together with a single thought about each one to encourage you or help you. If you meet a real difficulty, pray about it, and talk to someone about it, so it does not become too much of an obstacle.

Try not to worry. Be at peace. Trust that God is more powerful than all your worries. Tell him your honest anxieties, and put them in his loving hands.

Lack of trust

You may have a distorted image of God. You may think he is like an absent parent who doesn’t love you, or a kind uncle who will never make any demands on you, or a vengeful tyrant who is punishing you for something, or an unpredictable boss who wants to force you into a vocation that will not be right for you. Instead, trust him. He is a tender Father who is both loving and demanding. He cares for you more than you care for yourself. Sometimes he might challenge you and call you to something unexpected – but it will always be for your ultimate good and happiness.

Noise, busyness, overwork

Perhaps you can’t hear God’s call because you never make any space to listen to him. Every hour is full up, and your mind is constantly cluttered with work, noise, music, and other distractions. Make space for God and for at least some moments of silence in each day.

Not praying, not living your faith

You will never know yourself properly or know the call of the Lord if you are not making some space for prayer each day and trying to live your Catholic faith.

Sin, worldliness

If you are trapped in some habitual sin or caught up in a completely worldly lifestyle, it may be impossible to listen to your own heart or to God. Be honest with yourself; go to confession; try to make a new start even if you are still struggling.

Addictive behaviours

Alcohol, drugs, pornography, sex, gambling; even activities that are harmless in themselves like work, sport, texting, the internet, gaming, Facebook – they can become like addictions that cover up our deepest needs and cut us off from true selves. Try and break any addictive patterns of behaviour your are trapped in. And if you can’t – then get help.

Avoiding the question of vocation

If the question of vocation is nagging at you, don’t just run away from it. It will come back whether you like it or not! And in the meantime you will make yourself more and more unhappy. So face it honestly, in prayer and in conversations with someone you trust.

Fear of commitment

We rightly value freedom, but in the Western world we confuse freedom with being able to choose from an endless variety of options. Commitment to anything, let alone for life, seems like a limitation, even a loss of oneself. But to have a series of endless options is actually to have no options – because you never embrace any one of them with your whole heart. God may be inviting you to make a lifelong commitment, to put down roots so that you can truly flourish, to build one concrete life rather than to fantasise about innumerable possible lives, to take responsibility for your own life. It is sometimes better to do one thing with your unreserved commitment than to drift through life without any firm sense of purpose.

Desire for certainty

It’s unlikely that you will ever be 100% certain about any significant choice – of course there are doubts and questions. But you can be sure enough that this is a reasonable step to take, when things come together and the time is right. Yes, it’s a risk. But it’s also a risk not to make a choice. Life is full of risks. God is always with us, supporting and guiding us – even if we make a decision in good faith and things seem to go wrong.

Fear of your own inadequacy

Perhaps you fear you are not the right person for this vocation, even though you feel attracted to it. You worry that you are not holy enough, not intelligent enough, not qualified enough, not loving enough, too shy, too sociable… Perhaps you are right. But perhaps you are underestimating yourself or underestimating God. He chooses the weak and makes them strong. Sometimes he invites us to do what seems impossible, and only later on gives us the strength to do it. Why not take a step anyway – and let God decide further down the line if it is really not for you.

Attachment to personal ambition or lifestyle

Any lifelong commitment will involve some sacrifice and cost, giving up something you are attached to now (lifestyle, habits, income, pleasures, people), letting go of what could have been (freedom, dreams, ambitions). Sometimes we have to move on – it’s inevitable. Trust that if this is really your vocation, it will be a treasure that will be worth any sacrifice, and that God will ‘reimburse’ you in other unexpected ways. Remember that our minds usually exaggerate the difficulties; and God will help you to deal with the ones that remain. And be honest if the real reason you are reluctant to follow your vocation is simply selfishness.

Fear of failure

If this is the right step for you, then God will sustain you. If he wants you to flourish and find happiness here, then you will. If he is actually leading you somewhere else, and it seems like you have failed in your provisional decision to try a vocation – then trust that this will be part of his loving plan. He writes straight with crooked lines. What matters is not success or failure, but whether you have tried to be faithful to his call at each moment.

Conflicting desires

You are trying to listen to your heart, but you find that there are many conflicting desires there, and not one of them seems to be more important than the others. Then follow the advice in chapter 6 above: Pray, wait for as long as you need to, and if everything is still unclear, then take a step in one direction just to test the water. The Lord will gradually show you whether this is the right step or whether you should go back and try another.

Desire for perfection

Perhaps you want to be a religious brother or sister but you can’t find an order that is good enough for you; you want to be a Diocesan priest but don’t like the bishop in your Diocese; you want to be married but no-one matches up to your standards. It may be that you haven’t found the right person or diocese or congregation yet; but it may be that you need to settle for what is ‘good enough’. No person or congregation is perfect, and if you are looking for perfection you will never find it. The search for perfection might strangely be a way of avoiding a vocation. Try the 80% rule: If 80% of what you are looking at is good – then that’s pretty good! Perhaps you can live with the other 20%, or see it in a new light, or change it.

Age

You fear you are too old to get married or become a priest or consecrated person. You fear you have missed the boat. But the Lord wants you to accept that this is the age that you are. Give thanks to God for who you are and where you are, instead of regretting what has not happened in the past. If you are pulled towards a certain vocation, whatever your age, then take a step and test that vocation. If God wants you to follow it, he will make things possible.

Opposition from people you love

Your family or friends are against you taking this step. It may be true that they have some insight that you don’t have, and you should certainly listen to them respectfully. But it may be that they are unable to support you in your vocation because of their own lack of faith or personal fears. Sometimes you need to be strong and do what you feel is right, even in the face of opposition or misunderstanding. If you have carefully discerned that this is the right step, then explain it as best you can to those you love, and take it courageously – trusting that God will help them to understand or at least to accept it some time in the future.

Opposition from the culture and society

Some vocational choices, even Christian marriage, will sometimes be misunderstood or mocked by contemporary society, and perhaps by friends or colleagues. Recognise that to be a Christian will involve some misunderstanding and even persecution, especially if you make a lifelong vocational commitment. Be as loving and kind as you can, and explain your choices gently to people if they ask. Don’t stir up opposition and seek controversy. But if it comes, don’t be deterred.

A long-term relationship that is drifting

If you have been dating someone for a long time, and the relationship is not deepening and drawing you in the direction of marriage, and if you are in effect going out with someone simply for the sake of it – then this can make your own discernment of vocation very difficult. The relationship is taking up your time and emotional energy and taking away your freedom to discern properly. You can’t be properly open to other vocations; you can’t even be open to meeting other people. Even though there may be a real love and commitment between you both, if you are drifting, then it is usually better to make a proper decision about marriage, or draw things to an end – so that each of you can be free to discover what is God’s plan for you.

Fear of not having a family

If you are considering priesthood or consecrated life then you may well be anxious about the idea of not having a husband or wife and a family. This is quite understandable. And perhaps you should indeed get married! But this anxiety might stem partly from the fear that a celibate life will be a life without love. You need to believe two things. First, the celibate life is a life full of love – of the intimate love of Christ, and the love of all those you will meet and work with and live with. And you will, God willing, discover an aspect of ‘spiritual fatherhood’ or ‘spiritual motherhood’ in your vocation – loving and nurturing those in your care – that will be deeply fulfilling. But second, there are certainly sacrifices made in a life of celibacy, not least in letting go of the possibility of the love of marriage and family. But there are also huge sacrifices made in marriage, and sometimes much loneliness. The cost of loving is high in any Christian vocation. What matters is that you find what is right for you – and trust that God will give you all the love you need, through prayer and through others, to sustain you in this vocation.

(Photo: mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk)