“Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16). This was the question put to Jesus by the rich young man. So fundamental is this question that everyone, at one time or another, will have to embark on this quest for the answer to this question. Some may have tried this pursuit of happiness with a hand-me-down family trade or tradition. Others may have tried to fulfil the expectations of society and the world today. Yet this story of the rich young man hints at happiness that is something more than affluence, material comfort and luxury (which are all good). For him the question was a what. However, unlike the familiar routes of success, wealth and recognition which stresses the doing, Jesus’ answer to that million-dollar question is a who.
Who are you?
Firstly, Jesus reminds us that our identity is one deeply loved by God, sharing His life not as slaves but as friends. In this relationship, there is a mutual exchange of love. And, we also participate in God’s vision and dream for our world: that all will know of this relationship of love from which our being (not doing) proceeds.
Secondly, what are our gifts? Many options in life can confuse those who seek to do God’s will: “God is found everywhere, so how do I know which life is meant for me?”
Psalm 139, which beautifully describes each of us as uniquely and wonderfully made, expresses this multiplicity of gifts: if we were to count the designs of God, they would outnumber the sands! This gives us a clue that every seeker will be different in the road their journey will take. Alone, but not in loneliness.
Our gifts and personal charisms will naturally draw us to certain ministries and activities revolving around particular ways of life. For example, retreat work, befriending the troubled, helping the poor, being a teacher, doctor, preacher, etc. As we discover and understand our talents more deeply, we begin to feel a desire to serve in a particular ministry. In this, we experience the joy which is lasting, and finally come to truly know ourselves.
We learn, however, that enjoying certain activities does not mean there is a call, and just because we are challenged in others does not mean we do not have the capacity to grow. This leads us to the last point: our capacity to respond generously. Vocation, whose root word, “vocare”, means to call, recalls again this relationship with God who initiates, and ourselves who are called to respond. Discernment of the response to this call then brings us to the fundamental question:
Who is your God?
Only in the experience of God’s deep love and affectively knowing who Jesus is can one trust enough to take the risk and the leap of faith to respond.
Sr Christine: I remember how I stumbled in contemplation during my early vocation discernment/search-in process nine years ago. Well-rooted in the corporate world then, like the rich young man, I, too, found it difficult “to sell everything and come follow me [Jesus]”.
“Must I really sell everything just to follow you? There are so many ways of giving, right? I can really benefit the Church and mission with the possessions I own.” Well, as you can guess, I too, walked away crying in the prayer exercises.
It was almost after a year of struggling in and through prayer that I learned that God did not need me to “sell everything”. Rather the act of giving up – my grip, obsession, control, self-preservation – was only for my well-being.
This does not mean that God does not desire abundance for me or that He takes pleasure in my material poverty. But if I find myself unfree to surrender what was gifted to me to begin with, I know I have already created and adopted an idol.
And so, as we draw close to God in prayer, prayer always reveals our true self: Who am I?.
Regardless of which state of life, there will be life-teaching moments that break our hearts, test our characters, confront our vulnerabilities and question our decision. Discernment, therefore, is a prayerful process towards decision-making. Prayerful because it is rooted in this love relationship with God; a process because it will take time and investment of self, experiences of trial and error, growing in self-knowledge and the ability to understand and come to conclusions.
We find ourselves moving towards making choices, in as much freedom as possible, among the options our discernment will reveal.
In this journey of discerning vocation, we are encouraged to seek spiritual direction, principally to help us clarify what is taking place. For example, there might be a need to understand the meaning of God’s will. The spiritual director might also suggest ways of praying, using spiritual practices like the examen, journaling, reflecting on life experiences, sharpening attentiveness to inner movements and their meaning.
The decision is not the end of the journey; it is but another step towards that “place of knowing” where and how God is calling for us to give ourselves.