By Valerie Soop
I recently spoke at a discernment retreat for women in their 20s and 30s.
My first word to the retreatants or anyone in the midst of discerning a major life choice is: RELAX. Seriously. It’s going to be OK.
My peers regularly stress out as they seek answers to the questions: what am I supposed to do with my life, what is my vocation, etc. While most often fueled by a sincere desire to be the person God created us to be, to fulfill our unique mission in life à la Blessed John Henry Newman, we can easily succumb to the belief that our life hasn’t really started yet.
We get the feeling that life won’t really start until we’ve discovered our specific mission, until we’ve learned our vocation, until we’re married, until we’ve taken vows, until …
C.S. Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters” come to mind and I imagine old Screwtape instructing his demon apprentice Wormwood on how to distract mankind from doing the will of God by getting him to merely think about it.
And not only think about it, but become so fraught with anxiety over discerning God’s will, fearful of making a wrong decision, that they surrender the peace and trust necessary for good discernment without even realizing it.
Or, if they have, for example, discerned their vocation but not yet taken the vows of matrimony, the final vows of religious life, been ordained, or begun a certain mission as single for the Lord, then Screwtape would keep them daydreaming about what good Christian disciples they will be in the future once they’re fully living their vocation and their lives have truly begun.
Sound familiar? Stop being duped by these sorts of lies! The enemy is a wily one and he knows that he must be subtle in opposing the work of committed Christians.
So what are we to do? Stop living in the future and start living now. The present moment is the actual point in time where man encounters God.
Now is a good time for a reality check. What is life all about? The short but profound answer is God. God is the goal. He is our end. The goal in this life on earth is to grow in holiness so as to enjoy eternal life. And what is holiness but that perfect union with Christ that St. Paul expresses when he says “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20)? And what is eternal life but … wait for it … union with God? Are you seeing any connections here?
While God calls each of us to a certain vocation in which we will best flourish and grow in holiness, the goal in life is not to discern your vocation — the goal is God. We can “work towards” that goal by living in the present and doing God’s work. Even in the midst of discerning choices for the future, you can love God and the people around you. I once heard a priest say that if you don’t know what your mission in life is, just start doing the corporal and spiritual acts of mercy. Good advice.
Do not wait to do God’s work. Do not play into the enemy’s hands. Keep things in perspective. Keep the focus on God and not on yourself. Then relax knowing that God’s will for you is to be united with Him in love and you can experience that now.
God’s love for you is not contingent upon you discerning the right vocation or the right mission. He loves you infinitely right now. Quick math review: adding anything to infinity still equals infinity. There is no such thing as infinity +1 just as there is no such thing as God loving you any more once you’ve discerned your vocation.
Trust in that love. Let your soul be at peace. Now you’re ready for discernment.
Valerie Soop is the associate director of Young Adult Ministry for the Diocese of Charleston. She can be reached at email@example.com.