4 Common Myths About Vocation and Discernment
I talk about discernment and vocation a lot. It’s kind of become my thing since I appeared on The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns. Because the show aired worldwide and occupied a year of my life, I have had conversations with many, many people about discernment and vocation and heard some all-too-common misconceptions. Despite being a cradle Catholic, I believed these four common myths myself for a while! Today I’m busting them officially. Tell your friends ;)
1. Marriage is the “easy way out.”
Um, nope. Yes, the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience sound pretty tough, but marriage has its own necessity to living out those vows.
Obedience: I used to say to myself “I could never be in an order where they have to wake up and pray in the middle of the night.” But you know what? My vocation as a mother has its own praying (nursing) in the middle of the night, often for greater lengths of time and more often than the strictest orders! Poverty: The nuns I work for get three square meals a day cooked for them by a kitchen staff. Me? I grab a piece of toast on the fly if I’m lucky after feeding my kids. Chastity: NFP is no walk in the park and requires much, much more abstinence than John or I anticipated which necessitates self-control and continuous sacrifice.
I’m not saying my vocation is harder than religious life, k? I’m just saying there is no easy way out. You really can’t compare which vocation is more difficult because God will challenge you within your particular vocation. Easy is boring, anyway. How about living an adventure instead?
2. People who are less holy are called to marriage, while people who are holier are called to be monks/nuns/priests.
I hear this one a lot. Why is there this intimidation with regard to discerning a call to a religious vocation? I think the root of it is ignorance. Many Catholics (myself included until I was 25,) don’t know what a day in the life of a monk or nun actually looks like. Religious life is hidden, which means you have to seek it out. I saw many marriages being lived out around me as a young person, but rarely saw nuns.
I feel very strongly about debunking this myth, which is a big part of the reason I started my Called and Caffeinated podcast. When I visited convents I got to live the life of a sister for a short time. I realized that we’re all just people. There are personality flaws, past wounds, petty arguments, and pride within every convent and monastery, just as there are within every soul and marriage on earth.
One of my most favorite sisters loves Dean Martin and ravioli. She comes from a big Italian family and drives to see them often. She didn’t stop being herself or a member of her community of origin; rather, her community expanded and she became more herself when she became a sister. (It’s worth noting that some orders do require you to give up seeing your family almost entirely, but many do not!)
JPII coined the phrase “the universal call to holiness.” That should be taken extremely personally by you, me, and every Catholic. No matter what your vocation, or whether you have found it yet, you are called to be holy.
3. If you are called to religious life/the priesthood, you “have a vocation.”
Maybe this one has mainly to do with terminology, but I think it also points to a false underlying attitude. Vocation is NOT something that some people have and other people don’t, as if God likes some people better than others.
Everyone has a vocation, meaning everyone is called to a particular state in life. God doesn’t love married or single people less, and he doesn’t have an automatic ‘get-into-heaven-free’ pass for those called to religious life. Every vocation involves complete self-gift and a path to sanctity.
4. Once I find my vocation I’m done discerning.
That’s maybe the craziest one I’ve heard yet… put another way, this myth is stating that if we can just unite our will to God’s once and get our magic answer about our vocation, we are all good to go.
Absolutely not! It is never to early or too late to ask the question: “What is your will for my life, God?” Discernment is a complex dance, stretching all the way to the end of our lives. It’s continual surrender, prayer, trust, relationship, receiving, and growing. Ultimately, discernment is becoming we are meant to be, not just we are meant to do. My podcast episode with Paul Krenzelok unpacks this beautifully- I recommend listening to him speak about it!
I feel so strongly about this myth that I wanted my podcast to be about discerning for young adult Catholics (note that I used “life choices,” not just vocation!) I discern the particular calls within my vocation and discern what’s best for my family. I discern where I am called to live and what God wants my future to look like. I discern all the time, and I always will.
Phew. Glad we got all that straightened out. What do you think? Leave a comment on what attitudes you may need to shift or you see the conversation as a whole needs to shift. If you know someone who would benefit from this, be a friend and pass it along so we can approach vocation and discernment conversations better as a Church.