One response that came up high in the results of the poll, What’s the Biggest Obstacle to Considering Consecrated Life, was a written-in answer that had a common thread:
- Fear of what others (especially family) will think of me
- Fear of disappointing family or parents
- Fear of disapproval or lack of understanding
All of these answers are about what others think and expect of us, especially family and loved ones. This fear is very understandable. But, being overly concerned or fearful about others’ opinions impinges on our freedom to discern. Yet in our discernments we are to consult with those who know us well. How are we supposed to take into account our family’s and friends’ advice when we are discerning something that they don’t expect, such as an unusual vocational choice? Should we even consult them?
Several Factors To Consider
1) Discerning our vocation is sacred, and if we truly feel that we might be called to religious life or priesthood, it’s important to discern it without letting our families’ or friends’ opinions prevent us from doing so. Our vocation is a sacred calling that is too important to let the resistance or disapproval of family and friends stand in the way of even exploring it. This doesn’t make it easy. But it is very freeing to seek our true calling, and if God is calling us to religious life or priesthood, he will give us the grace to work through our fears and all other obstacles.
2) When we are discerning, the people we seek advice from should above all be living a spiritual life, otherwise they may not understand or be able to support us in seeking God’s will. (Other qualities, such as wisdom and knowing us well, are helpful. But above all, they must also desire that we follow God’s will.)
3) Seeking advice or counsel is not the same as seeking approval. In consulting others, we are looking for greater knowledge and insight about ourselves, our situation, and how God is inviting us, but we are not seeking to please the person we are consulting with.
4) To know our fears when we discern is really helpful because fear can help us to reflect and to bring our discernment to prayer. However, fear in itself is not a sufficient motivation to decide whether or not to discern something, especially when it’s something as important as a vocation. Instead, we can make our fear part of our discernment by exploring why we are afraid, and then, offering our fears to the Lord and moving forward.
If we feel the need to discern something which we know someone important in our life (such as a parent or friend) is probably going to disapprove, then we need to seek greater interior freedom. Becoming free is the hardest part of discerning! In these cases, it is really important to detach ourselves from others’ opinions about our discernment, so that we don’t allow fear to control us and so that we can more freely listen to God’s invitation. This detachment is often a gradual journey that happens as we discern and God’s call becomes clearer to us.
Sorting Through Others’ Opinions
Sorting through others’ opinions—whether favorable or unfavorable to our discernment—can sometimes be helpful in detaching ourselves from them. We may want to ask ourselves a few questions:
A) Why do we think they would oppose a particular decision? Are we just unsure, or are we pretty certain that they will be disappointed? Will the lack of support be permanent, or is it just that what we are discerning is new, and they will need time to get used to the idea?
B) If we are pretty sure that this person(s) will not understand or be disappointed in our decision, do we know why? For example, some parents are hesitant about their daughter becoming a sister because they think they will never see her again, and they love their daughter and want to stay close to her. (Different congregations have different practices about their sisters visiting their families, so this particular concern may not even be real.) At other times, a parent might resist a child trying to follow a certain career (such as becoming an actor or an artist) because they know how hard it is to earn a living in the arts, and they want their child to have security.
These kinds of questions can help us to see past our own fears into the real concerns of our loved ones—concerns that we need to think about and perhaps address with them, if and when we tell them about our discernment.
Discerning Our Vocation Is Sacred
Ideally, we’d want to share our vocational discernment at least in part with our family, because we want our family’s understanding and support throughout our life. But sometimes a parent or family member will be so resistant to a particular vocation that we simply need to wait to tell them about it until after we have completed our discernment.
Our vocation is a sacred calling that is too important to let the resistance or disapproval of family and friends stand in the way. Countless priests, brothers, and sisters had to go against their parents’ wishes to follow their vocation. (The family of Saint Thomas Aquinas’s family kidnapped and imprisoned him to prevent him from following his vocation in the Dominican Order.) This is not an easy path to walk, but if we possess sufficient maturity and have discerned well, it is more important to follow God’s call than to give in to our family’s opinions. Jesus himself called his disciples to leave their parents and families behind to follow him.
St. John Paul II had this to say about following one’s vocation:
“Do not be afraid of the radicalness of Christ’s demands, because Jesus, who loved us first, is prepared to give himself to you, as well as asking of you. If he asks much of you, it is because he knows you can give much.” – Sept. 8, 1992