What Now? 3 Ways to Discover Your Vocation

I love it when Jesus says to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” (Matthew 16:23).

Maybe it’s because that’s the name of an album by one of my favorite bands, The White Stripes. More likely it’s because Jesus reveals something about St. Peter: He didn’t understand what Jesus was talking about.

That gives me hope. If the women and men who had such close relationships with Jesus didn’t fully understand his mission, then I shouldn’t feel bad when I find myself asking, “Lord, what is it that you want me to do?” This is the central question when it comes to discerning one’s vocation, and we need to ask it throughout our lives.

In a way, the answer to that question is simple: Jesus says, “Follow me.” The follow-up question — “How should I follow you, Lord?” — is a much harder one that can take a lifetime to answer, as it did for St. Francis of Assisi.

Francis was praying before the crucifix in the dilapidated chapel of San Damiano when he asked that familiar question: “Lord, what do you want me to do?”

God gave Francis a very clear answer: “Francis, go and repair my house which, as you see, is falling completely into ruin.” Francis got up, stole some cloth from his father’s shop, sold it, and used the money to finance the repairs to the old chapel. Not until many years later did Francis understand that the Holy Spirit wasn’t calling him to be a handyman; his vocation was to revitalize the Church. Franciscans have been continuing this vocation ever since.

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Like Francis, I’ve asked the Holy Spirit to tell me what to do. And I’ve been fortunate to get an answer. First, it was to go through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) and come into full communion with the Catholic Church.

“What now, Lord?” I asked.

I had a sense of the Lord’s answer when the director for faith formation at my parish asked me, “Have you ever thought of becoming a catechist?”

“OK!” I signed up to be a catechist for the RCIA. Then, I volunteered to be a high-school catechist for kids preparing to celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation. But I still felt a calling for something deeper.

“Lord, now what?” I asked.

After reading a biography about St. Francis of Assisi, I felt the Lord nudging me again. “Why don’t you check out the Secular Franciscans?”

“OK!” Not knowing what a Secular Franciscan was, I did some research and learned that it was an order of men and women — some lay, some ordained — who desire to live the Gospel according to the life and example of St. Francis of Assisi. I found a local fraternity, went through formation, and by the time I was professed, I knew I had found my vocation.

But I still heard the Lord calling me to do more. “What do you want me to do now, Lord?”

Again, I sensed an answer. “Why don’t you become a spiritual director?”

“OK!” I researched several different programs before finding one that had the right fit, and after two years, I completed my training.

Once again, I find myself asking the Lord, “So, what now?”

I’m still waiting for an answer.

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Fortunately, I’ve learned a few lessons about discovering my vocation that makes the waiting tolerable:

  • Be patient. Patience means putting our hopes and desires aside for a moment and praying, “Lord, your will be done, not mine.” We are patient when we pay attention to the Holy Spirit’s movement in our lives. We are patient when we pray, “Thy will be done.” Understanding exactly what that looks like, however, will take time. Each time I asked God, “What now, Lord?” I had to wait. I didn’t try to find an answer to that question. Rather, I learned that it was OK to not have an answer. I learned to trust that the answers would present themselves in due time. And they did, usually in the form of opportunities that presented themselves. I heard my call to become a catechist because I was in the right place at the right time when the director of faith formation was looking for help.
  • Be discerning. Not every opportunity revealed an answer to my questions. I had to be discerning. I had to pay attention to the inner movements of my spirit and recognize what drew me toward God and what led me away from God. Before I became a Secular Franciscan, I was also interested in the spirituality of the Carmelites and the Jesuits. After reading a biography of St. Francis, I had a feeling of consolation that I did not have when investigating other orders. I heard God’s answer in the peace and joy that characterized that feeling of consolation.
  • Be free. Discernment requires freedom. I have to be open to God and the possibilities God might present; I have to discard assumptions about what I think I might want. Such assumptions will only constrain my options. This sense of freedom allows me to welcome God’s surprises. After becoming a Secular Franciscan, I thought my next step was to go back to school and get a degree in ministry. That was when God surprised me, and I felt the pull toward something else: to be a companion to others on their spiritual journey. God continued to surprise me throughout my training.

As I continue to discern my vocation, I’m getting a better picture of the person God imagines me to be. Every time I ask the question, “What now?” that image becomes less fuzzy. And the clearer that image becomes, the more I’m convinced that it will resemble Christ.

Originally published August 2, 2017.