DISCERNMENT ARTICLES

Vocation cultivation

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From a perspective of faith, everyone shares some common fundamental questions: What is the true meaning for my existence? What is God’s plan for my life? To what fruitfulness am I called?

To discern one’s vocation is to find the answers to these fundamental questions of life.

It’s easy to think of discernment as a problem to be solved: plug the right information into a computer program – your tastes, experience, personality – and voila! you get the answer. But the answers to those fundamental questions are not logical – they can’t just be “figured out”.

Not a Problem, But a Tree

A better way to think of discernment is as a tree. After all, Jesus calls us to bear fruit that will last, so it’s His analogy!

Let’s say you are given a tiny sapling and told it will fruit after some time. You don’t know what the fruit is at first, but if you think about it, that isn’t the important thing to focus on at the beginning! You need to give your tiny tree good conditions for growing. You need to provide it with fertile soil, give it water, make sure it is in proper light, protect it from harsh weather. This will take time, effort, and most importantly patience.

After years of cultivation, if you’ve given your tree proper attention, you’ll see the first fruit blossoms, followed by the fruits themselves – and you will discover with great joy what that fruit is and be able to enjoy its harvest.

A vocation requires a similar cultivation. If you are to produce good fruit, you need to place yourself in the right conditions, adapting your lifestyle so that you are open to answering the call of God.

Allowing the Fruit to Mature

The basic conditions for cultivating a vocation to fruition are:

  • A real desire to give oneself totally to God. This does not require perfect abandonment; in fact, too often we use our own imperfection as a pretext to avoid answering God’s call. The point is that the desire should be sincere, and we are willing to work toward complete abandonment to whatever God wills.
  • Total trust in God. Jesus tells us to be like little children in our reliance on our Father for all things. Fear (of ourselves, our own fragility and sinfulness) is probably the main obstacle to good discernment. But God can and will give us the means to overcome any obstacle, no matter how insurmountable it seems, if we allow ourselves to trust His limitless goodness and love for us.
  • Faithfulness to personal prayer. God speaks to our hearts to help us understand what He wants for us. This is only possible if we are developing an intimacy with Him which allows us to hear and speak to Him.
  • Immersion in the Word of God. Answers are often found in Sacred Scripture, especially the Gospels. However, they are generally not found by opening the Bible and reading a passage. Allowing the scriptures to influence and form our minds and hearts will help us to be guided more clearly by the Holy Spirit.
  • While a sense of urgency in discovering one’s vocation is good, patience is also required. God wants to work with us more than we want to work with Him. His plan, however, may include allowing us to suffer through periods of doubt and uncertainty. This is normal, and if we are patient and faithful, our patience will be rewarded with “fruit that will last.”

Early Signs

It is important to note that God does not leave us totally in the dark during the long period of cultivation. Just as our sapling will show signs of its variety early on – the type of leaf it grows, its bark, even the shape of the branches – God reveals a little of what He is calling us to do as we cultivate our vocations. It is important to pay attention to these details. Your interests, your personality, and opportunities which are presented will help you to get to know yourself as God has created you, and this will help you to understand the purpose He has given to your life.

Understanding how to form your life will help you to approach discernment less like a logical problem and more like a growing self-revelation of whom God has made you to be. Cultivate your life so that you can understand your calling and bear fruit that will last!