A few months ago at Mass, I heard a story from the book of Samuel that sparked my interest. As the reading goes, one night in ancient Israel, the preteen, prophet-to-be Samuel lived in a temple working for the priest Eli, and he could not stay asleep.
God spoke Samuel’s name several occasions that night. Each call left Samuel thinking that it was Eli, probably reminding him of some temple chores. Samuel checked in with Eli, who sent the boy back to bed, confused and restless. It took a few more calls for Samuel to realize the voice belonged to God, speaking to Samuel directly to warn him about the fate of Eli’s family. This event began Samuel’s vocation as a prophet, as he accounted God’s words to Eli, and God’s message manifested later on.
Samuel’s relationship with Eli helped guide him to become a priest, prophet, and judge, but none of those vocations could satisfy his heart’s yearn for direct interaction with God. When I heard this reading, it reminded me that while God wants to help me find my vocation on earth, he also desires to spend time with me at every stage of life.
When I talk to other young Catholics in the midst of discernment or discovery of vocation, I notice we tend to use tangible, worldly terms: I feel called to marriage, to Holy Orders, to the single celibate life. I am recently out of graduate school and now work as a librarian, so I often think about the vocation to my career and how God wants me to use my education.
While God presents us with vocations during our time on earth, I often forget that our true calling is to be united with him in heaven. As much as I can find fulfillment in my family, my relationships and my work, none of it will take the place of time spent with God one-on-one.
Focusing solely on our earthly vocations can turn paths toward holiness into funnels we use to reach God. If external factors such as relationships or jobs serve as our primary means toward God, it can make the disappointment of a breakup or closed door feel shattering. While these things can be wonderful and holy in themselves, only an independent connection with God will sustain the fragility of funnels.
In college, I had many funnels I used to reach God. I took on leadership roles in campus ministry groups and developed a circle of close friends with whom I could share my faith. But other than a few minutes at weekly Mass and squeezing in a quick prayer before going to bed, I did not spend much time alone with God on a regular basis.
Every minute I spent in a small group discussing Jesus or walking out from the 9 p.m. candlelit student Mass with friends, I felt aglow in community and love. I figured that as long as I was talking and thinking about God, I was pursuing an active relationship with him.
These positive experiences ignited my faith as an adult, and brought me amazing, life-giving friendships, but they alone could not sustain my spiritual life. When college ended, I no longer had these wonderful people and places in physical proximity. In addition to the whirl of emotions that accompany life’s transitions, I found it difficult to continue growing in relationship with God on my own. I had relied too much on external factors to facilitate my spiritual life — as great as they were — and needed to learn to pursue an independent relationship with God.
A spiritual director later advised me to approach my relationship with God like I would with someone I’m dating. When we date someone, talking, texting and thinking about the person does not replace the exhilarating quality time spent together on a walk outside or lingering over coffees. God also wants to hang out with us, to get to know us and for us to get to know him.
I know people who spend time with God through conversational prayer, the Rosary, Daily Examen, journaling, daily Mass and many other spiritual practices. I’ve found that I need to set aside time to spend with God outside of quick prayers before meals or falling asleep in order to have an honest and fulfilling conversation. I aim to talk to God about my worries, joys and hopes for future vocations. I’m also trying to remember that he is available anytime — at breakfast, in the car ride home or on a walk.
Some days, I feel challenged to make it through even five minutes of prayer, and some days I hardly pray at all. I will always be learning how to become better friends with God, and need to ask for his help when prayer feels taxing and one-sided.
Of course, most of us do not hear God’s voice in the physical way that Samuel did – at least I don’t! As anxieties and longings for the future clog our ears, God’s voice gets muddled in the signal. When we ache to see our hopes and goals fulfilled, it may help to pose the question: Is God calling me to this or am I calling myself?
Discouragement and challenge crowd the trail toward attaining our desired careers, relationships and callings. Striving to grow a personal relationship with God right now, regardless of our stage in life, can ground us in our ultimate vocation amidst the difficulty. When I felt unsettled after leaving college and even now as I progress in adulthood, learning to spend quality time with God slowly becomes a comfort through the change.
As we strive toward the life-giving passions and relationships God offers us, we do not need to have it all figured out before we can pursue a relationship with him. I think that throughout most of life, the callings we receive resemble the invitation he gave Samuel: Let’s spend some time together.