When and How To Share Our Vocational Discernment with Family

We continue exploring how we can best share our vocational discernment with our family, continuing from our last post. 

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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.

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Fundamental Stance in Discernment: Desiring God’s Will

tree-338211_1280The most important part in our vocational discernment is also the most important part in living our vocation: the loving desire to do God’s will. If our fundamental stance in our discernment is to do God’s will out of love, then God will bless us and lead us in our discernment. (When we offer ourselves to God so generously, God so delights in this kind of selfless love for him, that he cannot help himself by responding in kind.)

“Fundamental stance” doesn’t mean that we never sin or fail. Rather, it means that we are seeking to live and grow in an ongoing attitude of this loving desire to do God’s will in all things. We will fail sometimes in seeking God’s will, and we won’t always “feel” full of love. When, for whatever reason, we find ourselves holding back or acting in opposition to God’s loving will, we convert and return to this desire to lovingly live God’s will. Throughout our lives, we will need to repent and recommit over and over again.

Seeking to love God and do God’s will is a matter of our will, of what we choose. Loving God—just like our love for someone we care deeply about—doesn’t always feel good. The greatest acts of love usually involve sacrifice, which rarely feels good. Love of God is also not a matter of superficial feelings that make us feel good. We don’t always feel full of love for God. Rather, love is both the deep desire and lived-out choices of loving words and actions.

How can we grow in our love for God so that we will unswervingly seek God’s will—in our vocation discernment and in living out our vocation?

Build our relationship with God through prayer.

Prayer is our communication with God, whether we snatch moments through the day for short, intense prayers, pray the daily Liturgy of the Hours or the Rosary during our commute, make an hour of adoration or ten quiet minutes of meditation in the morning or evening. Whatever form our prayer takes, it is essential to build our relationship with God. It is essential to make sure, no matter how we pray, to leave time for listening. On occasion, putting aside some quality or “special” time for just us and God can bear immense fruit in our discernment, whether that means going away for a weekend retreat, or taking a long quiet walk.

Bring our relationship with God into our daily living.

Don’t keep God separate from the rest of our life. Our relationship with God is the most important relationship we have; our faith is one of the best ways to keep the joys and challenges of life in perspective.

God desires a deep union with us, and this is not an “on-and-off” union. By actively trying to bring God into our daily life, we deepen our union with God and open ourselves more fully to his grace. We can become channels of his grace for others with whom we interact.

While God never actually leaves us, we can try to “keep God out” of our daily lives when we ignore God’s presence, avoid prayer, or deliberately sin. When we prevent our union with God from growing and push God away from our awareness, we prevent the most important relationship in our life from having a direct influence on our daily choices. When we do turn to prayer, it can become harder, then, to experience God’s presence because we have ignored him all day. Inviting God into our day—especially the difficult times—gives us a strength and a joy we cannot imagine otherwise.

When we are able to become aware of God’s presence with us and around us in our daily life, then we are more open to hearing his invitations; we become more discerning in our daily life.

Although love is not a matter of feelings, it is helpful to stir up feelings of love for God so that it is easier to seek and do God’s will, especially when pleasure, fear, or something else inclines us in other directions. All prayer is good, but certain kinds of prayer are especially helpful in rekindling our daily fervor. Lectio divina, or making daily meditation (in the Christian sense of praying with the Word of God in such a way as to encounter God with our minds, wills, and hearts), is ideal for reminding us of God’s love for us and all the good reasons there are for our loving God in return. Praying with the Word of God in a way that personally engages us also helps us to know ourselves and to prepare us to live our day in union with God.

Practical Steps for a Daily Discernment

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When we feel the need to discern something big—such as our vocation—then ordinarily we need to take our time with it, and there are a number of steps we can follow. Discerning about smaller, daily choices may take merely moments to make. For me, it often takes just a few minutes to do the following:

  • an evaluation of the need(s) presented to me
  • a short prayer to the Holy Spirit
  • an honest glance at my heart, to make sure I’m aware of my desires and to uncover any unconscious “agenda” that may sway me
  • a renewal of my deepest desire: to live in union with Christ
  • a check-in with my current schedule/responsibilities and, when needed, with a mentor and the people who will be affected by my decision (e.g. the team I’m working with)
  • good old common sense

Then, I put all those together and make a decision.

This may seem like a lot of steps for a smaller choice, but they’ve gradually become automatic for me as I’ve grown in the art of discernment, and they help me to pay more attention to seeking God’s will. Becoming proficient in this spiritual art means that seeking God’s will becomes as habitual as breathing.

To Think About

What would be your list of steps for a discernment about a smaller, daily matter? If you can, share them in the comments or via email (and I’ll post them)!