We continue exploring how we can best share our vocational discernment with our family, continuing from our last post.
3) Our previous and current role in our family is part of our vocational discernment. Praying about our previous role in our family helps us to understand ourselves better. Praying about our current role in our family enables us to see how our vocational choice will affect our family, and how God might be calling us through our family.
For example, if our family relies on us for food and shelter, or one particular family member relies on us for day-to-day care, this is a special circumstance that we need to take into account. If the obligation or need is temporary, then we can discern after we are no longer needed (for example, after a younger sibling turns 18). If instead the need is permanent or ongoing, then the discernment might include looking at other ways the family’s needs can be met. For example, if someone is an only child with an elderly parent who is suffering from a severe medical condition, God may indeed be calling that person to to take care of their elderly parent, which is their mission at this time in their lives. Or, if we are discerning marriage, perhaps staying close to one’s parents—even including our parents in our new living arrangements—can become an important part of our discernment.
If we are supporting the family by providing, or helping to provide, food and shelter, that could be another indication that God is calling us to take care of our family, at least for now. But if the burden of the family’s support is resting solely or primarily on our shoulders, and others in our family could contribute but aren’t doing so, then that becomes part of our discernment too.
Being an only child highlights one’s responsibility towards elderly parents in our vocational discernment. Rather than ignore this, we bring it into our active discernment. (For example, someone who is an only child may discern to enter a religious community that is physically near their parents and allows frequent visits, rather than becoming a missionary on another continent.) Many “only children” are called to priesthood, religious life, or marriage. Whatever our relationship and role in our family, we need to discern how God is calling us.
God doesn’t call us to turn our back on genuine familial obligations, but Jesus speaks very strongly in the Gospel about the primacy of God’s call in our life—that God comes first. (See Matthew 8:18-22; Matthew 10:34-39; Matthew 12:46-50; Matthew 19:27-30; Mark 1:16-20; Mark 10:24-32; Luke 2:41-52; Luke 9:57-62; Luke 14:25-27. ) If we are struggling to understand our responsibility to our families during our vocational discernment, we may want to pray with some of these specific passages, as well as consult especially about this with our spiritual director.
4) Involving our family in our discernment doesn’t mean living up to their expectations. However, it does mean being sensitive to their concerns and needs, especially when we initially talk to our family members about our discernment. Their feedback and advice can be helpful, especially when we know they, too, are seeking God’s will. But even in the best of families, parents or other family members may resist our following our vocation, especially at the beginning. Perhaps they don’t like our chosen future spouse. Or perhaps they simply don’t want to lose daily or close contact with a loved child/sibling. To help our family accept our vocation, we can:
a. Explain our motivations
b. Explain what is truly involved (especially when aspects of our vocation are unfamiliar to them, such as priesthood or religious life, or our future spouse lives outside the country)
c. Talk about the next steps we will take to follow our vocation
Being open and explaining our motivation can help our family to see that we have considered and discerned well, that we are convinced that God is truly calling us in this way, and to understand what our following our vocation means for them.
In some cases, one or more family members may simply be opposed to our vocation. Once we have truly discerned our vocation, we cannot let their opposition prevent us from doing God’s will. Discussion and further explanation may not be helpful in some cases. Although our path may feel lonely and hard without the support of our family, above all, we want to seek God’s will. When we do this, God will not just bless us, but God will bless our family as well.