When I was single, I often found myself feeling like a vocational orphan. I wasn’t dating or discerning marriage with anyone and I wasn’t discerning with a particular religious community. But to make matters worse, it didn’t seem like God was giving me many clear signs on which path I should take. I don’t think I’m the only Catholic single who’s ever felt like an orphan when it comes to vocational discernment.
If you aren’t experiencing peace when it comes to any vocation, here are five things Father Mike Schmitz recommends that you can do today to still pursue God’s will (even when it’s unclear):
1. Say yes to God and yes to sainthood
Although the path that God is calling you down can seem unclear, there is one call from the Lord that is clear as daylight – sainthood. Regardless of whether God desires you to be a husband, wife, priest, religious brother, sister, or nun, He’s calling you to be a saint.
The call to sainthood can be an intimidating call. Maybe what pops into your mind automatically upon hearing of that call is thoughts of pious saints, locked away in their convent cells, praying all day. But the call to sainthood isn’t something that should scare us. Rather, especially when God’s call isn’t clear, it should be something that excites us. “To be a saint is not necessarily doing a 30 day fast. To be a saint is not necessarily one who stays up all night in prayer,” Father Mike says. “To be a saint is not necessarily to be one who does all these heroic things. To be a saint is nothing more than someone who does the will of God.”
“Right now, in this day, in this moment, at this time right now, what does your ‘yes’ to God look like?” Father Mike asks. Regardless of where the Lord is calling you, and regardless of how many times you stumble along that journey to His heart, strive to say “yes” to God.
2. Say no to the things keeping from hearing the Lord’s voice
Just like we’re called to say “yes” to God’s will for our lives and to our call to sainthood, we also have to say “no” to anything that holds us back from answering the Lord’s call. “We have to say ‘no’ to the obvious ‘no’s’, the obvious things that are in your life right now that can’t be in your life right now,” Father Mike says. “We have to say no to those things that we already know are obstacles.”
What are things in your life that are keeping you from pursuing God’s will whole-heartedly? Maybe it’s a sin that you’re struggling with repeatedly. Have you fallen into a habit of sin? It’s never too late to start saying “yes” to God again! “None of us are perfect. We’re all going to fall,” Father Mike explains. “What happens after you fall? You say yes to God by going back to confession.”
3. Don’t wait for your life vocation to become virtuous
When you don’t hear God’s voice clearly calling you to a certain vocational path, it can be challenging to know what God wants from you. Is He calling you to seminary? To a come-and-see retreat with the sisters? To ask that woman on a date? To respond to the message from a guy sitting in your inbox on your online dating profile?
Father Mike shares the story of a young man who came to him for spiritual direction. The young man had spent time in seminary discerning a call to religious life, but realized after time in formation that the Lord was not calling him there. Then, after seminary, he discerned marriage with a young woman. Even though he cared for her greatly, their relationship ended in a break-up. He came back to Father Mike in frustration and said that he didn’t know what God wanted him to do.
After prayer and spiritual direction, the young man shared with Father Mike that he “realized that whether God’s calling me to be a priest, or to be a husband and father, or to be single for the rest of my life, He is calling me to be a virtuous man, and that’s what I can do now.”
This isn’t to say that discerning your life’s vocation isn’t important – it is. But if you’re looking for something you can do today to gain clarity in the Lord’s call for your life, pick a virtue. Maybe you need to grow in gentleness, or humility. After selecting a virtue to grow in, take active steps to increase that virtue in your life. Even though you may not know where the Lord is calling you to live out your vocation, you can grow into the virtuous man or woman He has created you to be.
4. Don’t stop praying
“People sometimes say ‘I have nothing better to do’. When it comes to prayer, you literally have nothing better to do,” Father Mike says. “It is the highest function of the human person, the highest thing a human being can do is to pray. In the scheme of things in life, there is literally nothing better for you to do at almost any given moment than to pray.
When the Lord’s call for your vocation isn’t clear, it can be tempting to stop praying. Because you can’t hear His voice, it becomes tempting to stop talking with and listening to Him in prayer. The world tries to sell us the lie that prayer is a waste of time. Our culture values productivity and busyness is a marker of success. In the world’s eyes, prayer is a waste of time. But God asks us to waste time with Him.
If you’re desiring to discern your vocation, one of the best things you can do is to keep showing up to prayer and letting yourself be seen by God. How can you hear His vocational call for you if you don’t know what His voice sounds like? Today, commit to a daily prayer life. Maybe you just start out with five minutes of silence in the morning before you check the notifications on your phone. Perhaps you can set aside twenty minutes for reading the Scripture and practicing mental prayer. Wherever you start, never underestimate the power of prayer.
5. Make decisions
“Ever since discernment became popular, no one’s made a decision,” Father Mike shares. “You need to make decisions. But we’re so afraid of making decisions because we don’t want to be wrong.”
If fear of making decisions holds us back, we’ll find ourselves having to make a lot of big decisions because we’ve avoided making little decisions along our vocational journey. “Waiting to make decisions until there have to be big decisions is a dumb time to make decisions,” Father Mike explains. It’s much easier to correct small decisions than big decisions. After you make a small decision regarding your faith life and vocational discernment, take time to evaluate where that small decision got to, adjust if you need to, then make another small decision.
“I promise you this,” Father Mike says. “If you do this, you cannot fail! Because God’s grace is with you. God’s Holy Spirit is in you. And God is on your side. It’s only up to you to say ‘yes’ to Him.”